When a kid misbehaves, people judge the kid. But they also judge their parents. And being a single-mom, you start off with a double-handicap. I used to get so much crap from all sides. I was too strict. I wasn't strict enough. If I'd punish them more, then they'd not act out. They were acting out because I punished them for anything at all. Why are you hanging out with kids so much? Why did you just drop them off and abandon them at this other place? Between the kids' need to push the boundaries and grow and the world's expectations for how a mother is supposed to act, everything I did was a careful negotiation through a minefield.
Dealing with a situation when a kid is acting out in public and you don't feel safe rounding on them for it is difficult. Adding my personal approach of trying to frame everything as a natural consequence without actually just giving them enough rope to hang themselves and it gets doubly complicated.
But one day I accidentally found an equivalency I could express that gave them just enough of an idea of how I was feeling about a given situation and put them on notice they were headed outside the lines, while being framed just weirdly enough it could be used anywhere.
And it all started with these white jeans.
Back in the day, the Gang liked to go to our local roller rink every Friday night. And one time I wasn't thinking and wore this certain pair of white denim jeans and a white t-shirt. I'd forgotten it was "Black-out Night"; they turned on a set of black lights on the floor so everything was this eerie purple and clothes glowed. To top it off, I decided to skate too.
Under black light, that outfit glowed like a good deed in a naughty world. The dye in them is really phosphorescent. Then to top it off, Oh... My... Gawd, Becky. "Baby Got Back" rolled up, and I was grooving along, not even realizing that I was basically Casper the Unfriendly Ghost, public-image-wise.
I was a known quantity anyways; the regulars around there knew I was weird as chicken mittens. No one actually said a word. But after I got off the floor I realized that, socially speaking, that might have been a tactical failure on the scale of Napoleon calling a rain-day at Waterloo. So I stayed off of the rink for the rest of the night.
A few weeks later, some of the yahoos were acting like dorks in a store and some random "concerned" citizen had just given me a bunch of crap for my "permissive" parenting style. I was really upset. On the way home in the car I pointed out to the kids that the way they were acting made me feel embarrassed in public, just like they might have felt when I was skating in those jeans. They remembered. And they then told me that I'd made the rounds of the school rumor mill again. Not bad, just at the titter-and-eyeroll level. That made me feel even worse.
But now we had common ground. We talked about it then and at various other times, and the code-word "White Jeans" came to mean, "Hey, you're acting like a putz in a way that's going to cause problems. Quit it." It went both ways. They could use it on me when I'd rolled the geek-o-meter up in the high 8's in public. I could use it when they were headed to Brat Alley.
The point of it wasn't to actually do it. I never did wear those (or a white t-shirt) to Skate King again. The point of it was to be able to communicate how we were feeling about what was going on and ask the other to quit it without going into specifics we weren't comfortable with in public.
We used that tool all through the rest of their growing years.
The infamous jeans are laid across the bed while I finish this up. The girls will be here in a while to help me to sort through more of my mom's things that have been sent down to me in an attempt to get this house in some semblance of order. I'm considering meeting them at the door wearing them, to see if they remember. ;)