Everyone knows that when you say hello for the first time, you are supposed to make a good impression, which usually includes dressing up. Dressing up, if you’re a girl, generally involves a dress. I don’t like dresses much. I much prefer pants. Don’t get me wrong. I like how dresses look. I have always loved the Barbies with long gowns, red carpet pictures, and even June Cleaver’s perfect little outfits with skirts that swayed ever so slightly as she vacuumed. Barbie and June can pull it off. I can’t.
I mean, sure, there’s a time and a place for swishiness and skirts that flare completely out. And for professional reasons, I have been known to go stretches of months with nary a pant-wearing moment. But there are days when I don’t like that all-out-in-the-open, a-strong-breeze-could-ruin-everything feeling. There were days I wanted to do cartwheels, and good-girls-in-dresses aren’t made for cartwheels. Many times now, I am simply too impatient for a dress. I mean it’s okay if your dress is long enough that it covers your knees but short enough that you don’t kill yourself walking up steps. But I can’t be bothered to lift properly when I walk, smooth properly when I sit, bend at the knees rather than the waist, or be sure never to squat. I simply don’t have the patience for it. Give me jeans any day.
My mother tried hard to convince me to at least pretend I was a prissy girl on the first day of first grade. She wanted me to sit still for curling the hair, for barrettes, for nail polish. But mostly, she wanted me to pick one of the Polly Flinders dresses that her parents had mailed my sister and I from Florida. I could have chosen any of them, the red-plaid, the tiny white floral print on a ground of navy blue, or even the pink and white with lacey trim. I would have none of it.
You see, two weeks before we had gone school shopping at Hills discount department store—the one where all “the toys are.” We had bought a plastic pencil box, a red backpack, and a Strawberry Shortcake lunch box that my mother ruined by writing my name on it in huge block letters with permanent marker. But my favorite purchase was the most beautiful pair of jeans I had ever seen: red denim with embroidery on the back pocket. I knew that they had to be designer jeans because all designer jeans had embroidery on the back pocket. I was certain that those gorgeous curlicues spelled “Jordache,” despite Mom’s claims that it really said “Super Denim.” I mean, really, what do moms know at that stage of the game? I was so proud as I laid them out with a hand-me-down red and pink Western style blouse with pearl-covered snaps and still white, never worn tennis shoes.
Dad agreed to watch my sister as Mom walked me to school that first day. Alas, the white shoes never made it past the junior high track that stood between us and the elementary school door. The gravel made such a lovely rusk-rush sound as I dragged my feet through it and its resistance added to my own. Going to school was well and good and all, but did we really have to run there? But the jeans were still lovely when, hand-in-hand with our mothers (and one father), the first graders were marshaled through the doors and into our various classrooms. After a brief speech from the teachers, the parents were dismissed, and we children were left alone with our teachers.
After briefly eying one another, our teacher announced, “Well, don’t you all look so nice! You boys look so clean and handsome. And all the girls look so pretty in their dresses, except Beth in her pants.”
Now I know that she meant, “And all the girls look so pretty in their dresses, except Beth, who looks pretty in her pants,” but that was not what I heard that day. I vowed never to wear pants to school again. I risked the wrath of the gym teacher by adamantly refusing to don appropriate attire on gym day, and I almost never turned upside down on the playground that entire fall. I may have even lasted out the year if it hadn’t snowed and Mom had not declared that she was not going to let me walk to school in boots and a skirt.
I don’t know that I made much of a first impression on my teacher, but she certainly made one on me.