The Matter of Pants

When people learn that I have four boys they usually respond with a shocked look and some sort of astonished reply about how I appear mostly sane. Life with four boys is busy and full of toilet humour, but in so many ways I am grateful. I am not sure I would be cut out to raise a girl. The clothing and hair options paralyze me with fear. When I change my baby niece I am overwhelmed with the decisions involved: Are these tights? Is this considered a dress or a top? Should I be combing her hair? What’s the protocol here?

Boys are simple, at least so far. There aren’t nearly as many choices – pretty much everything matches jeans. Usually our biggest controversy is whether or not you can wear a navy shirt with black pants (no, you cannot). However, even within this simple state, complications and issues arise. Socks can feel “too socky”. Pants can be “bunchy”. A shirt cannot be worn because it just isn’t a favourite. Currently it is our four-year-old who is struggling with these apparel horrors. These deal-breakers have caused us to be late for school, church, even the toboggan hill. So I sat the boy down and said that sometimes you just have to tough it out and wear something that isn’t your favourite because that’s what people do.

They aren't jeans, but I can tolerate them for a trip to the park.
They aren’t jeans, but I can tolerate them for a trip to the park, I guess.

Our morning routine had improved immensely since this chat. He was managing his clothing options quite well and I kept my expectations for matching and rotating shirts low. Then Sunday morning hit. He only had two pairs of clean pants that he could tolerate. When he asked me if he matched I discovered a giant hole in the knee. I explained that those pants were goners and “you need to be a big boy and wear the jeans you don’t like as much without crying. Later you can change and we can see what we can do about your pants.” Off he went to change. As I passed by his door a moment later he was getting dressed and I could hear his little voice saying, “Don’t cry. Don’t cry.”

It broke my heart.

It broke my heart just that little bit. I didn’t go and sob quietly in the washroom, but I was proud and sad at the same time. I was smiling as my eyes welled up. I finally understood that all of his upsets about pants this fall weren’t really a power struggle or an attempt to get my attention. As ridiculous as it sounds, pants really matter to him. He doesn’t care about brand or how they look, but some pants are favourites and some are not. He cannot even explain it, he just knows. And now I do.

That afternoon I took my sweet boy to the store, just the two of us and he sat in the cart and we giggled and talked and I could just listen to him. He sat in the cart. As I wheeled my third-born around the store it occurred to me that even though he can print his name and dress himself and is learning to read, he is still little and likes to ride in the cart. And pants matter to him.

I don’t want to forget this: that even though I might not understand why something is important, the person matters. Taking the time to value what’s important says, “you count, I care about you, you are loved.”

If pants matter that much to you, then they matter to me.