Ann Cannon: Why didn’t anyone tell me my skirt was on backward?

First Published      Last Updated Feb 17 2016 04:15 pm

The other day as I was chatting with two of my friend's adult daughters, their mother (my friend) stepped outside and joined us in the front yard. She was dressed in her Sunday best, and I thought she looked totally put together. Cute hair. Cute sweater. Cute shoes. How much cuter could a person be?

ANSWER: Not much.

Here's what happened, though. Without interrupting the flow of our conversation, the daughters surrounded their mother and engaged in a little routine social grooming — looking for stray hairs, checking to see that everything was buttoned and/or zipped, making sure she was generally presentable.

Meanwhile, I stood there observing this activity with my mouth wide open. I was all agog. (If "agog" is the word I want.)

Finally I said, "Of all the many experiences I've had as a mother, I can totally promise you that this hasn't been one of them."

OK. I realize it's a bad idea to generalize, particularly where gender is concerned. There are all kinds of girls and all kinds of boys in this world, which is awesome. But as the mother of sons exclusively, I never had the experience of children noticing how I looked when I left the house.

Or if they do notice, they're not interested.

Since watching my friend's daughters fuss over her, I've been thinking about the ways my life might have been different if there'd been some girls in our house. Here's what I've concluded.

1. I probably wouldn't have taught school that one day with my skirt on backward. I didn't even notice until class was almost over, but by then the damage had been done. It's hard to take teachers who don't know how to dress themselves seriously.

2. I probably wouldn't have gone to the symphony that one night with shoes that (technically speaking) didn't match each other. In my defense, I was in a hurry when I got ready. And while the shoes weren't a true pair, they were at least in the same shoe genre. So please give me partial credit for that.

3. I probably wouldn't have let my hair remain accidentally purple for as long as I did after that one time I went to a new hairdresser and asked her to dye my hair red.

So here's the deal. I thought it looked purple when the stylist removed the wrap, washed my hair and blew it dry. But I figured the stylist knew what she was doing, so I told myself everything would be OK — that purple was the new red. And then I went home where no one said a word, which I took as a good sign.

A few days later I drove us all to Olan Mills (remember Olan Mills?) to have our pictures taken. The photographer and I had the following conversation.

PHOTOGRAPHER: Hey. I love your hair.

ME (excited and flattered — also grateful): You do? You really, really like it?

PHOTOGRAPHER: Yes. It's a great color.

ME (modestly): Well, it's not my natural color.

PHOTOGRAPHER: Please. No one's natural color is "eggplant."

Yes. The photographer said my hair was the color of vegetables — specifically, eggplants. Which wasn't exactly the look I was going for at the time. And that was the moment when I knew that even if I wandered here and there, hither and yon with a fruit basket on my head, my boys wouldn't say anything.

Unless, of course, they were hungry and wanted to eat a piece of fruit.