When kids define sharing their own way

January 11, 2000|By Susan Reimer

"What's mine is yours."

My husband uses this lovely expression of unselfishness to testify to his devotion to our 13-year-old daughter.

To him, it means that his love for her knows no bounds. To her, it means unlimited access to his credit cards and any cash in his pocket.

It is not the first misunderstanding between them. Recently, she returned from a two-hour mall circuit to his overprotective questioning. "Did any boys bother you?" he asked sternly.

"No," she replied cheerfully.

Realizing he had misspoken, he rephrased the question, "Did any boys talk to you?" And her predictable response resulted in the quarrelsome exchange his first question did not.

Anyway, Jessie has misunderstood her father's slavish profession of love to mean: "What's ours is yours," and she is busy helping herself to any clothing or accessories of mine that strikes her fancy.

Which is to say not much, because, if pressed, my daughter would say that her mother dresses like an old-maid Sunday-school teacher. But she has found enough in my closet to her liking to create havoc in my carefully drawn sartorial routines and daily ablutions.

For instance:

Sweat shirts. I think mine make me look like the active and casual woman I was before my children made me old. She grabs them to wear to school on "scrub days" when the goal is to look like something the cat dragged in.

My issues with food take the rest of my wardrobe out of her range, but one size fits all in toiletries, and if there is ever going to be any nail polish remover for me when I want it, I am going to have to hide it in a wine bottle. The girl changes polishes more often than I changed her diapers.

Among the other items that mysteriously disappear just before I reach for them are: cotton balls, fancy face washes, Q-Tips, my make-up base and the little sponges I use to apply it. Nail files, any shampoo that does not cost 99 cents a bottle, razors, shaving cream, bath towels, hair spray and any substance that smells nice on my skin.

All of these things vanish, and in their place she scatters articles of barely worn clothing. It is like living with a squirrel.

She helps herself to my blow-dryer and my curling iron, too. But those do not disappear. Rather they are left on the side of the sink in a hopeless tangle of wires.

And yet when I ask to borrow her Steve Madden shoes, she wrinkles her nose demurely and says, sweetly, that she is afraid I will stretch them.

I would help myself to her sparkling blush in revenge if I wasn't afraid I would set off security alarms wherever I go.

As usual, when I whine about this to friends, I find that I am not the only mother whose knee-high stockings are vanishing without a trace.

My friend Susan says that her daughter Joanna finds her clothing and personal effects beneath contempt. "But she helps herself to all three phones and keeps them in her room," says Susan. The result is, of course, that no one can call Susan, even when Joanna isn't on the phone.

My friend Nancy offered to order her middle-school daughter a jacket from L.L. Bean and was turned away with the response: "I wouldn't be caught dead in anything from L.L. Bean."

Apparently young Lizzie had a brush with reincarnation because her mother found her outside doing yard work in Nancy's brand new jacket from L.L. Bean.

"She wore my fleece pullover so often that it was always at school when I wanted to wear it," says Nancy. "So I bought her one of her own -- one much prettier than mine to ensure that she would wear it. But she still wears mine because she can't find hers.

"Do I look like I routinely comb my hair with my fingers?" Nancy continues. "There's a reason for that. I can't keep a brush or a comb in my hand.

"Lately, whenever I bring home something that lights up her eyes, I know I'll be searching her room for it later."

Like Nancy, I have yielded to my daughter's acquisitive nature under the tiresome admonishment that everyone keeps laying on us frustrated mothers: "You will miss it when she is gone."

Now I simply sigh with resignation and say, "What's mine is yours."

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