Hello my Dearies!
What is a fairytale wedding without a miniature prince and princess who have skipped their naps and are strung out on gummi bears? I’m not talking about the grandparents of the groom here. Toddlers posing as trolls in party-gear are all the rage this season. Can’t afford your very own magical troll? Why not ask your sister’s two-year-old to wear ten yards of tulle for a whole afternoon (and keep it clean for pictures) and see how that goes?
I love children. I adore playing music with them and entertaining them with games and stories and nursery rhymes. But given the choice between building a split-rail fence by hand in rock-studded New England soil and fitting someone under four for formal wear, I’d rather tackle the fence any day! Having done both, I know which one will have you crawling for the Advil faster. Now, before you start moistening your pens and iPads for retort, let me just state right from the beginning that this essay is about Other People’s Toddlers, not yours, bless their hearts. Yours, it is universally acknowledged, are perfect little cherubs who would NEVER behave as the Purely Hypothetical toddlers in this story!
You may not know this but a professional seamstress, when working with a toddler, follows very strict Industry Standards, which are adhered to at every fitting. The sequence goes something like this:
1. First, the toddler flat out Refuses to try on the garment in question.
2. A wrestling match ensues, pitting several full-grown adults against a twenty to thirty-five pound being who smells vaguely of applesauce and urine. The adults will be injured.
3. At some point in the proceedings, someone naked notices the mirror and begins licking it and making funny faces. This is usually the toddler, but not always.
4. Having squeezed the Toddler into the clothing against his/her will, it is time to freak out about the pins. Putting a pin in clothing while they are wearing it is very traumatic for some children who have been to a doctor and know what shots are all about. There is no convincing them that the needles go in the clothes only and that they won’t hurt. They have been lied to before.
5. There is much screeching, weeping, and beseeching. The ensuing Negotiations by all parties make the Treaty of Paris look like an afterthought.
6. The now well-dressed child commences climbing from the parent’s hand to hand to hand like an enormous hamster, refusing to stay put until you threaten to brandish the pins again.
7. At some point, the seamstress will thank her Higher Power that there is not a readily available fifth of gin on hand under her desk.
8. Once everyone is thoroughly exhausted and you announce it is All Over, (whether you have achieved any measurements or not doesn’t matter anymore)—that is the toddler’s cue to flat out Refuse to take off the garment.
9. Enormous grief ensues at the prospect of leaving behind this article of clothing so it may be fixed. Neither the toddler nor the seamstress wants this to happen.
Do you think I am kidding? Well, I will totally Make Up the following story, to go with the above Fun Facts in order to illustrate my point:
It’s Tuesday. I am working on a giant, tiny dress—probably about a size 4 but it needs to be remade into a size 2(ish). I call it the giant tiny dress because it is for a toddler but it takes up the whole of my work station with its billowing skirts and underskirts and large rosettes made of fabric. I have removed all the piping around the neck, resized the armpit and neck area, taken up the shoulders, and carefully reconstructed all the roses and piping again by hand. It looks perfect. It is white with silver accents and looks like a miniature bridal gown. The little girl wearing it is going to be a flower girl in her aunt’s wedding. This is her mother’s dress that she herself wore as a flower girl in a wedding twenty-five years ago. Despite its vintage, it has been beautifully preserved and is still a pristine white. A part of me has fallen in love with this dress—I often fall in love with clothing I am working on, especially older clothing that seems to have some sort of “soul” about it. I have connected to this dress emotionally in a way that I cannot explain. I cannot wait to see how it looks on the little girl when she comes in. I was not present at the original fitting so I have no idea what she looks like. I picture some sort of angelic being… (Looking just like YOUR favorite toddler, of course!)
The back door bangs open and a vividly tattooed woman in rolled up jeans and flip-flops begins dragging a screaming toddler down the aisle to the dressing room. “Sorry we are late!” she bellows, “NOT having an easy morning, are we my love,” she says, looking down at the grubbiest child I have ever seen. Snot is running out of both nostrils and across her cheeks, making clean streaks through the veneer of dirt on her skin. She is in a full diaper, sans shoes, and wearing a shirt she clearly uses primarily for straining food. She is arching her back and alternately stamping and dangling from her mother’s arm like a baby chimpanzee. The noises she is making are indistinguishable from those of a zoo animal as she bites her mother on the wrist. Her hair, the most unlovely shade of “dirty blonde”, because it is literally SO dirty is standing up in a six inch mat all over her head. I peer a little closer, expecting to see horns beneath the crusty curls. Wearily, a grandmother trails in from the parking lot, limping.
“Come on, honey,” she says, “let’s try your pretty dress on so that we can see if it fits you. ” The child attempts to kick her. They grab the girl and start trying to squeeze her into the dress I most reluctantly hand them. She is behaving like a mean drunk on a Friday night, fighting with her feet because her arms are pinned by the grandmother. They try to get her in from the top but her grubby feet are too fast and granny gets winded by a well-timed hip-check to the solar plexus. They give up and try to pull the dress over her head, temporarily blinding her with clouds of fluffy tulle. She emerges spitting, as if she has just been plunged through foam in a bubble bath. Both women grunt heavily as they pin her to the floor to button her. Finally, they release her and jump back, like wild-life scientists on a nature program who have just tagged a baby crocodile. She staggers to her feet, momentarily stunned. She blinks. She cocks her head, eyes wide, all rage instantly arrested, as she sees something in the mirror. She edges towards herself, mirror hands reaching to touch real hands. A soft coo escapes her spittled lips. She is smitten. She coos again. “Ahhhhhh….” She smiles. The girl in the mirror smiles too. All four hands leave each other’s touch to smooth their respective dresses. She turns a little, admiring every angle of herself. She spins. She laughs. Tantrum transformed. Sometimes it’s just all about the Right Dress, eh? Proof that the right fit brings out the inner Princess in us all!
(Let’s just leave the story right there, with the smiling angel in the mirror and not talk about what happened when we told her she had to take that pretty dress off…)
Not all toddler fittings are so dramatic, mind you. A three-year-old gentleman I have the pleasure of waiting on looks calmly down at me as I pin his trouser hem and announces, “You can come to my birthday party.”
“Oh, why thank you!” I chirp. “How old will you be?”
“I’m going to be four,” he says. “Not today, but Someday. And you can come.”
“That’s very kind of you,” I say, continuing to slip pins into his shirt without him noticing. “I’d be delighted! But what if I don’t know anyone there? Who else are you inviting?”
“Oh,” he replies airily, “My brother will be there. He’s called Daniel. And my Grandpa will be there. He’s called Grandpa. He’s my favorite. And his favorite cake is cake.”
“Mine too,” I say. “I love any cake that is a cake.”
“Yes,” he nods seriously, “There is going to be cake because it is going to be a birthday. We could eat the cake in the tree-house. I have a tree-house. It’s an up house. You need to climb a ladder to get to it. It’s not a down house, like my real house, on the ground. But…” he sighs heavily at this point, “it’s not up high because of alligators. They have to live in the zoo. There are no alligators under the tree house.” He tries to disguise his disappointment. “Only be-tend ones.”
It’s my own privately held opinion that toddlers should be allowed to be feral at weddings—free to run riot with their cousins, eating purloined olives off each fingertip, and hiding from Great Aunt Margaret’s whiskery smooches. Their clothes should be the same color as the hill they will be rolling down all afternoon. But if you insist on dressing them up in party frocks and posing them for photos, well, I am here for you--pins, patience, and Advil in hand. And I DO love them truly (the toddlers, that is), especially yours.
Be Well and do good work!