You see, I work in the mornings, which means my girl is generally dressed for the day by her dad. Photo: Mike Baker
I vowed not to be a mother who committed fashion faux pas on my daughter.
I promised not to dress her up like an accessory, or a Paris Hilton pet. I swore I'd take a back seat and let her find her own sartorial signature. All very noble in theory, but I'm starting to wonder if I've actually let her down in the style stakes.
I knew I was in trouble when a lady at the shops referred to her as a "cute little fellow". Not a big deal on its own, but it was actually the third such slip-up in a fortnight! I looked at my baby girl (she's five, but still my baby) and realised we had a problem. She was standing next to me in knock-off Blundstone boots with footy socks, boardshorts, a Bintang Beer T-shirt and a Batman cap. I didn't know whether to cry at my negligence or ask her to knock up some shelves.
You see, I work in the mornings, which means my girl is generally dressed for the day by her dad - and the look they've settled on in my absence appears to be late-'90s Gold Coast building-site apprentice.
"That's what she wants to wear, babe!" pleaded her dad, leaning casually against the kitchen bench. It was then that I noticed he was wearing the exact same outfit as the kid. I wondered if I was actually an extra in a cute Tap Dogs reboot.
I didn't think it was a big problem.
"I can do tomboy fabulous!" I told my husband with a very straight face as I whirled out of the house, on the hunt for feminine but frill-less threads. Later that day, exhausted and thoroughly shopped out, I presented her with a new wardrobe that would make Joan Jett foam at the mouth: red-and-black-checked post-punk pants, androgynous jackets, kick-butt boots and edgy tees. It was a triumph.
She looked at the clothes laid out on her bed, and then looked at me with an expression I recognised instantly. It was the same one I had on my own face when my recently sight-impaired father proudly told me he'd bought some nice mustard - as he held aloft a bottle of pink Persian salt for all in the deli to see.
She saw how much was riding on this situation for me, and she toyed briefly with pretending I'd succeeded. I suppose that just as I'd considered dropping my dad home with his "mustard", and letting Mum break the news to him at sandwich time, my daughter probably thought she and her dad could ignore the new clothes together while I was happily, obliviously at work.
In the end though, neither of us shied from the truth. I told the old man he'd bought posh salt, and my girl told me the new clothes "didn't suit her" and would be much appreciated by others at the op shop.
To his credit, my father took his medicine with a lot more dignity than I took mine. I was bereft.
"But don't you care that people think you're a boy?" I asked her as I sat glumly among the lovely new clothes.
"People don't think I'm a boy, Mum," she said patiently (and a bit condescendingly). "They just think I'm a really cool girl."
Maybe they do. In the end, I suppose what matters is her perception of herself in the world, which seems to be that she's a really cool girl. Maybe it comes from having a great relationship with her dad, who accepts her completely as she is.
As for me, I took the clothes back to the shop and exchanged them for a couple of things for myself. I bought a lot of black clothes so that people might think I'm thinner. I bought some make-up so they might think I'm younger. I bought uncomfortable shoes that might make my legs look longer, and hair dye to make me more interesting.
I suppose there are none so blind as those who will not see.
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, a contemporary thriller great for those of us locked in the eternal search for the next Gone Girl. This isn't it, but it'll stave off the hunger pangs for a couple of cold nights. My book club (me and two other mums from school) attempted Shantaram abouta fortnight ago, with lacklustre results. It was my second attempt and I'm never trying again. If I wanted to follow an arrogant try-hard's obnoxious travels, I'd follow Justin Bieber on Instagram.*
(*Actually, I do follow Justin Bieber on Instagram.)
I've just finished season three of Vikings on SBS. My husband refuses to watch Game of Thrones because he "doesn't do fantasy". Can you imagine my frustration? So I watch GoT on my own, usually at the gym. (Now there's a whole other conversation about appropriate public-viewing material.) Vikings is a great substitute we can watch together - guts, glory, epic sword fights and no dragons.
A subtle winter makeover. You know, just some teeth-whitening, a juice cleanse and a face full of Botox. Because I'm worth it. I would urge everyone to treat themselves in some way as the weather closes in. Winter depression is very real. Don't wait until a workmate points out you've worn your PJs to work three days in a row.**
(**My friend Liza once wore her PJs to work three days in a row in a winter funk. I know for a fact she keeps a secret Snuggie under her desk now, but hey, whatever gets you through the night.)