Erika Petrelli
Erika Petrelli

I dragged my daughter with me the other day to purchase myself new pair of jeans. At the store I went directly to the jeans shelf, while my daughter meandered and oohhhed and ahhhed over everything she saw. As I was looking for my size, she held up a black sequined thing and said “Oh, Mommy – look at this shirt! You should buy it! …  Wait, I think maybe it’s a skirt.” Her confusion was warranted; I didn’t know what it was, either. All I knew was that my-jeans-and-t-shirt-self was certainly not going to purchase the sequined fabric patch, no matter what part of my body it was meant to bedazzle. Then, as we were headed for check-out, she spotted a trendy pair of peek-toe wedge shoes, patterned in animal print. “Mommy!” she exclaimed, “These shoes are perfect if you want to be a cheetah!!!”   Indeed. As I finished paying up, she was near the jewelry rack, literally petting a long black and gold necklace, asking: “Mommy, don’t you want this?”

Now, I don’t currently want to be a cheetah, but I do know what I like (typically the most comfortable, soft, black or gray thing on the shelf) and clearly my daughter knows what she likes, too. At four years old, the world looks much better to her in shiny, sequined, multi-colored, multi-patterned, “pretty” things. She prefers to do her own hair, too, which typically involves multiple clips attached in a haphazard fashion at odd points around her un-brushed hair. For her, more is more, and more is good. She doesn’t let the weather determine her selections. She is a force of fashion.

Our styles could not be more different. One would partly expect this given the fact that she is the four-year-old daughter, and I am the forty year old mommy. I shouldn’t think we’d be in matching sweater sets. But, I also think there are just fundamental differences in our tastes and styles that are showing up already, marking her as her own independent spirit.

As this fiery spirit began to emerge, I initially tried to fight it—at least suggesting a palette from which she could choose. I also tried to do her hair in a way that I thought looked appropriate (namely, brushed). My attempts were only met with frustration.  Eventually I relented, and now I let her rule the fashion roost, making exceptions only on days where school pictures or special holiday events are involved. Because, in the end, she’s finding the ways that she can declare her place in this world, and fashion is an easy way to do that right now. Later, I hope this independence gets a chance to work its powerful magic in a lot of other areas of her life, and I want her to understand that staying true to ourselves is one of the best things we can do.

I’ve also realized that when I try to insert my will because I think she should look a certain way, squelching her tastes in favor of my own, I miss out on the discovery of her beautiful logic (like the day she selected an entire outfit based on items that had stripes or the day she wore her snow boots with her short skirt and t-shirt). When I just let her be her, I learn so much more about her, and I show her that my love for her is not conditioned on her conforming to my way.

We are Different. And I can see now how spectacular her sequins and my jeans actually look together – we make a remarkable pair.  It has made me wonder about the other differences around me – not just in style but in opinion, in taste, in perspective. I wonder if I am allowing myself to be open to the differences in others so that I am able to discover just what unique beauty might be on the other side.

Are you open to the differences in those around you?


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Erika Petrelli

By Erika Petrelli

Erika Petrelli is the Senior Vice President of Leadership Development (and self-declared Minister of Mischief) for The Leadership Program, a New York City-based organization. With a Masters degree in Secondary Education, Erika has been in the field of teaching and training for decades, and has been with The Leadership Program since 1999. There she has the opportunity to nurture the individual leadership spirit in both students and adults across the country, through training, coaching, keynotes, and writing. The legacy Erika strives daily to create is to be the runway upon which others take flight. If you enjoy these blogs, you should check out her interactive journal, On Wings & Whimsy: Finding the Extraordinary Within the Ordinary, now available for sale on Amazon. While her work takes her all around the country, Erika calls Indiana home.