My daughter has known since she was four that she is going to be a fashion designer. Believe it; I know her and I do. She will also be a top model, albeit under a different name — a single, first name kind of thing, ala “Madonna” or “Cher”. And get this: she will model her own designs and no one will suspect that the top model and the world-class designer are one in the same.
At a very young age, she had already mastered dozens of ways to tie a bow, knot a scarf, bling out her Ts, paint her sneakers, put up, put down and put wave in her hair – anything that served to make a thing more beautiful, more stylish, more uniquely her. She spends more time in front if a mirror than anyone I know and does not leave it until everything is precisely as she intends it to be. That casual stray wisp of hair over her left eye? Nothing casual whatsoever about how she got it to do that.
All of which presents me with what is perhaps the central mystery of her life: how can anyone so meticulous about her personal appearance be such a slob? I’m not talking about the usual kid disregard for messes but a piggy-ness that is quite simply, transcendent.
She notices if a casual friend is wearing her ponytail just the tiniest bit higher today, if the cashier is wearing an eye shadow that doesn’t suit her coloring, if I’ve lost just two pounds. But the precise moment a thing leaves her person or her grasp, it becomes invisible to her. It is as though clothing, toys, food, wrappers, dishes, toiletries, yes, even body wastes, once their usefulness is exhausted, cease to exist. Now I’m no neat-nick myself, but I am humbled by her towering greatness in this regard.
When I say that these things cease to exist, I mean she really cannot see them. Stand next to her, bend down to her eye-level, point to the filthy socks left right here on the kitchen table, and she looks confused and angry. WHERE? Oh, those? Those are my clean socks. Watching a movie together, we all laugh as the obsessive compulsive protagonist gets his first look at his beloved’s slovenly apartment. All except my daughter. “What? What’s funny?” Just doesn’t see it. “It’s extremely messy, honey.” “Oh,” (laughing now) “that’s funny.” It’s like translating the world for a color-blind individual.
We have a family rule: Food only in the kitchen, toys anywhere but the kitchen. It’s simple, it’s catchy, and it makes perfect sense. So why is it I am forever trying to track down the source of that stench coming from somewhere in the living room — or the car, or behind the computer, or wherever else she’s left some half-eaten thing to rot? My son has a hard enough time managing his one chore: to empty the wastebaskets — but a season of fruit-fly-exploding wastebaskets just about scarred him for life.
Naturally, we’ve read everything we could find that suggested a solution to our slob problem. “Oh”, she said to me one day when I suggested making a game of cleaning up “you got a new book, huh?” We reasoned that having and being allowed to decorate a room of her own would be a good motivator. A room of one’s own, in which to entertain friends, play dress-up, have sleepovers. The other day she burst, shrieking, into my office. “Ima, there’s something in my room!! There’sapile0fclothesinthebackofmyclosetandthere’ssomethingstucktothemwitbugsonitand something LIVING in it andyouhavetocomeseeanddosomething!! EeewwwEewwEewwgetridofit!! EEEWW!” Okay, first of all, what have I been saying about food in . . . what have I told you about putting away . . . why haven’t you . . . *sigh*. “Show me”, I say to her. I am stopped just over the threshold. Literally. Stopped. I don’t see any evident place to put my foot for another step. “Honey!” I say, “Good god, this mess is ankle deep!” She actually had the chutzpah to look down at my ankles and then up to my eyes. “Not yet.”
As a new parent, I believed that pointing these things out would result, eventually, in her being able to recognize them for herself. As a seasoned parent, I now know this to be magical thinking; the age at which she can be expected to clean up after herself coincides with the age at which she will wish you dead if you don’t stop nagging her to do so. But I’ll win in the end, once she’s old enough to date: I’m compiling a list of cute obsessive-compulsive boys.