I’ve never been so conscious of what my kids looked like as I am when I walk around the world with them during school hours. Most of the time I think people assume the kid is sick, or we are tourists in a town of no tourist activiites so we are forced toward the banal, like, Barnes & Noble or Subway.

Sometimes, though, I wonder if we look homeless. I’m not great at choosing my clothes. It’s an Asperger thing, I think. Because lots of people with Asperger’s dress inappropriately, and in one of the millions of test I’ve taken, one of the questions was: Do you wear mismatched socks? And I remember thinking: really? this matters so much that people put it on a test? I thought it’s common knowledge that it’s impossible to match socks after doing the laundry. So i assumed everyone wears mismatched socks.I know my kids like their hair long, but I think about keeping it short because I seem to be unable to remember to make it look like someone combed it each morning. Actually, we don’t have a comb. As I write this I think that I have to buy combs and put them everywhere in the house in order to be a good mom. I will do that today.

I was struck, though, by the ads that are running with a Down’s Syndrome kid in them. Do we have new ideas for what kids should look like? I would not even have noticed the kid has Down’s Syndrome unless someone told me. But now I keep thinking about how we are expanding our idea for what “healthy kid” means, and so we are expanding our idea for what we expect kids to look like.

There’s an article on the Psychology Today site about how we need to stop stigmatizing kids for being fat. She points out that there are plenty of people who are fat even though they eat healthy food and that obesity is often a combination of genes and stress, and society’s response to being fat increases that stress factor geometrically. She encourages us to look at fat kids as normal kids.

But what I really want to know is whether broader acceptance of what kids look like means that I can let my kids flit around town among all the adults, looking like no one combs their hair?

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13 replies
  1. Gwen
    Gwen says:


    See, I’ve found the “correct” solution to the sock problem. Gather all of them up and put them in the “emergency rag or stuffing” bin.

    Then, go to Target and buy the kids 3 bags of identical socks. Buy yourself 3 bags of identical socks–in a different color from the kids. (My husband and I wear the same size, so ours are black. My kids get white.)

    I keep two bins by the laundry machine: adult socks and kid socks.

    No matching necessary.

    You and your kids are “normal.”

    Yesterday I saw an almost dread in my daughter’s hair. I combed it out and re-issued the threat. “I will cut your hair shorter than mine if you can’t keep it combed.” She’s okay with it short. She just wants it long enough to donate to Locks of Love before she cuts it off again.

  2. wen
    wen says:

    Just move to Santa Cruz or another hippie haven. A lot of adults (with and without kids) are wandering around during what are usually school hours elsewhere. The kids and adults wear whatever they want, and hair combing is not terribly high on the list of “musts” and I doubt matching socks registers at all. Took me a while to get used to this when I moved there from Ohio, but now that I live elsewhere, I miss it a LOT! I used to say if you were wearing shoes, you were dressed up.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Oh, when I was playing pro volleyball I used to play tournaments in Santa Cruz, and I loved it there!

      Your email makes me realize that if a family does not fit in tightly with a community, not sending kids to school exaggerates that.

      School is a conformity tool, and I have said before that I’m a big fan of conformity as a way to feel belonging. Probably because it’s such a struggle for me to feel belonging.

      Maybe not sending kids to school makes me notice more ways that I could conform that are not that hard – like cutting hair short to keep it neat.


  3. Jana Miller
    Jana Miller says:

    I buy all the same kinds of socks so I don’t have to match but I must admit I don’t want to wear mismatched socks.

    And whether we like it or not, people judge us and treat us differently based on how we are dressed. Being clean and neat is important for myself and my kids.Being dressed up is not important to me.

    I wish it wasn’t this way but it is. Make regular trips to the barber and your boys hair care will be easy.

    You could even try a buzz cut for them. I used to cut my kids hair when they were little. So easy.

  4. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    The Psychology Today article was good with the message that shaming fat and/or obese people is not productive for anyone. The focus should be on health, respect, compassion … and education. At one point in the article, biology is mentioned but genes are not.
    There’s another recent article in the NYT titled ‘The Fat Trap’ ( http://goo.gl/g4dA1 ) which goes into more detail about the role of genes, hormones, and enzymes with regards to fat. The article I really liked, though, was a counterpoint petition letter written in response to ‘The Fat Trap’ by Gary Taubes ( http://goo.gl/Ks6Ds ). He’s a science writer and recently wrote ‘Why we get fat: and what to do about it’. Even though I haven’t read this book or his previous books, I do find myself agreeing with the principles outlined in summary reviews.

  5. Natasha
    Natasha says:

    I love your kids hair. There are lots of really hip, artistic, academic, adult men who spend time (and money on product) getting that messy look.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Really? That’s what my friend Melissa says, too. But it’s so so hard to have the only kids in the area with long, messy hair. Adults stop them all time and say “You really need a haircut, don’t you!”


      • Mikey
        Mikey says:

        As one of those men with long, naturally wavy and hence messy hair, I can say that I *still* get comments saying I should cut my hair. Sometimes from strangers. I’m 38 though and my hair is most of the way down my back so I don’t receive as many comments as when I was younger, or when it was shorter.

        You have it worse with your children, as it seems that many people feel they have the “right” to comment on the appearance or behavior of another person’s kids.

        Personally I think it incredibly rude unless it’s a positive comment.

  6. Jen
    Jen says:

    Eh, I don’t think you’re so strange. I do wear matched socks (when I wear socks), but I don’t ever comb my hair or my sons’ hair. I have curly hair that just works better un-combed, and so I never got into the combing habit.

  7. karelys
    karelys says:

    one little thing that cracks me up is that often mention “I’ll do X to be a good mom” and these are little things, like buying combs and leaving them around the house to remember to comb their hair.

    maybe just buy them a super good shampoo/conditioner and when their hair airdries the natural shape will come out and look awesome.

    good haircuts are also key.

    i don’t comb my hair, just run my fingers through it. it’s because i like the waivy/airdry look that is a bit bedheady and not too done. but the comb/brush straightens the wave. so i use good stuff and let it airdry. but it’s impossible to look good with such little effort without good haircuts. so i cut my hair in the bathroom often.

    i love your kids’ hair. it looks awesome!

    also, i thought you’d write on how healthy kids look like in a more emotional/mental way.

    everyone freaks out when you write about the marriage problems you have thinking the kids will be all kinds of messed up or in danger.

    i think the healthiest kids i’ve come across look different because even their gait is different. they are not overly shielded by their parents, their self esteem can handle lots, they are very good at critical thinking (whether magazines, tv, even other people’s actions).

    I thought my husband was self deluded every time i’d ask about what his parents were like when he was young. he’d always have nothing but great things to say.

    i knew the mom works super long days, the dad was alcoholic, etc.

    far from what i’d think of “perfect.”

    But the more i got to know my husband (then boyfriend) the more i noticed he knew how to evaluate things. Ya, his dad and mom weren’t perfect but he knew them at heart, they were trying, always loving.

    he’s a man of such strong self esteem, not deluded and not damaged by the humaness of his parents.

    on another note, it’d be fun to do a project of photographing asp. people just being themselves. with their clothes, their hair, etc.

  8. Renae
    Renae says:

    I think that it’s socially acceptable for boys to have messy hair. People might judge you harshly if their hair is matted, or it looks like they’re not otherwise cared for. When I see children with messy hair and unmatched clothes I assume they’re home schooled, and your boys ARE home schooled, so that’s all you have to say. It gives you freedom. As long as they’re relatively clean, they can have messy hair AND wear their pajamas in public, and if you say “home school” people will be onboard. At least in Seattle it works that way.

  9. MoniqueWS
    MoniqueWS says:

    My teen boy has LONG curly hair in a pony tail. Pull the pony tail and it goes almost to his waist. My middle child (girl) wears her hair in a pixie cut more often then not. My youngest boy child is also wearing a long pony tail. I insist on clean and out of the face. They all swim daily so clean is easy. Our cattle ranching family think I am nuts for letting them wear their hair the way they want to wear it. It is their hair and body. They keep it clean and out of their face at my *request*. It is all good!

    Matched socks are overrated. My kids all purposefully mis-match their socks. :-)

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