My 8 year old daughter was invited to a “high tea” 9th birthday party. She hasn’t played with the birthday girl for years, but they’ve known each other since they were 2. The invite was probably just a courtesy invite, but when I asked my daughter if she wanted to go, she said yes. I was surprised that she wanted to go, but birthday party invites are few and far between for us, so she jumped at the chance for cake and a goody bag!
She knew all of the others attending – they are all in the same grade and have been in the same class over the years, but none were in daughter’s class this year. Not only that, but the others are very girly girls – trendy clothes, fashionable hair cuts, play with Barbies, go to Girl Guides, have sleepovers, etc. The other girls are lovely, but they have never invited my daughter over for a play date nor has daughter asked to have them over, so I figure they are just acquaintances. It’s safe to say that my daughter was the odd man out, but one of her best friends was invited too, so at least she would have ONE good friend there.
The invitation came a few weeks back, so we didn’t give it a thought until the day of the party. I asked daughter what she would wear. I got a blank stare and *shrug*. I googled “high tea” and “what to wear” and the sites all said pretty much the same thing: nothing too fancy, nothing too loud. If it’s a dress, make it plain and knee-length. We went through everything in daughter’s (and son’s) closet – not a single dress that fit her. Huh. Daughter wanted to go out and buy a dress – the party starts in 1 hour and we’ve yet to buy a present. I had $20 for gas and $10 to buy a present. So I told her she could either buy a dress or buy a present, we didn’t have money for both. Oh the betrayal. My daughter never has hissy fits – EVER – and though she didn’t have one now, I could see that she WANTED to!
So I dutifully texted the host parent to ask what her daughter would be wearing. A cream dress with a belt, was the answer. I texted daughter’s good friend’s Mom to see what friend would be wearing. Not sure yet, was the answer, but they would err on the side of “casual”. I picked out some clothes for daughter that I knew she liked and knew she would be comfortable in – capri leggings, jean skirt, flowery tank top. I told her “the invitation said you can dress up if you want, you don’t have to.” Just dress in something comfortable so you can relax and have a good time – if you wear these you can still bounce on the trampoline! I told her “if I was going to a high tea party, I would wear something COOL not something fancy because that’s just my personality.” But here’s the thing: she’s not me.
We were the second guests to arrive. Birthday girl was there in her stylish cream dress with a belt, and daughter’s good friend was there in her oh-so-far-from-casual puffy fancy dress. Two more cars pulled up just as we did and out came more girls, each with a dress more fancy than the next! Daughter’s shoulders slumped. She looked ashamed and dejected. I whispered “do you want to go home and change?” She looked down, shook her head, probably thinking the same thing I was: there was nothing there to change into! “Are you sure you want to stay?” I whispered? “Just go!” she quietly waved me away. I watched her lag behind as the girls all ran into the house, squealing and oohing and aahing over dresses and hats and hair. Daughter stood outside on the porch until she was invited in by the host Mom to start the tea.
My heart sank. I drove away with shame and sadness. I drove away angry at myself. I drove straight to the nearest Gap Kids, walked in and said “give me your cheapest fancy dress and your cheapest sandals!” After some deliberation with my son, we chose a casual yet fancy white summer dress and some gel sandals with shiny silver straps. We raced back to the party. I left the bag in the van and quietly snuck up to the open door. Daughter’s friend happened to be walking by so I asked her to go get her. When she came to the door I said “I bought you a new dress and sandals, they’re in the car if you’d like to change.” Her eyes lit up and she took off like a shot! She leaped in the van and had her skirt off before I’d even opened the bag. As she struggled with undressing, I ripped off tags and pulled off her socks and strapped those sandals on like she was Cinderella! She came out of that van walking taller and ran back up to the house with more enthusiasm than I had seen from her all day. That was the best $27 I have ever spent!
Parenting is hard. Birthday parties are hard. And as much as I want my kids to be non-conformist like me, I have to respect their need to fit in, to not be different. Boy, I’m going to love those teenage years when they are looking to stand out from the crowd! 😀