EPISODE 14: ENTER ZSA-ZSA
My two children are four years apart in age, but light years apart when it comes to style. At age seven, Nicholas and I have settled into a kind of sartorial rapport. Just as Mr Dhani Harrison can probably lay down an eerie facsimile of his old man's riffs, Nicholas already knows the chord changes to "My Sweet Wardrobe". Lately, however, our little blue-blazered duo has been rocked by my daughter Alexandra, who at two-and-a half is a fashion force to be reckoned with. Where my son has always been a compliant dresser, my daughter is defiant.
Before she began to assert her free will, I half imagined that she would be a willing acolyte to our stylistic teachings. I had envisioned scenes straight out of some 1940s movie in which I would be playing the Cary Grant role in some froufrou department store, and she would emerge from a fitting room in a pint-sized Edith Head creation.
"How many colours does it come in?" I would ask the wasp-waisted salesgirl in my best approximation of Grant.
"Six colours, Sir."
"Why we'll take them all. Nothing is too good for daddy's little princess." The reality has been slightly different.
Alexandra and I got off to a fantastic start. My daughter has beautiful blue eyes like her brother and a finger that she is very good at twisting me around. She is sweet, funny and a big personality. When she was learning to talk and could not pronounce her own name, she called herself "Zsa-Zsa". The nickname stuck.
She is also tough. Tough as nails. When my son is having a play date, his baby sister likes to kick open the door, walk in, grab some blocks and then throw two seven-year-old boys a look that says, "Which one of you suckas wants a piece of this?"
I appealed to the heir's aesthetic side and implied that his little sister was not so much her own person but an accessory of his wardrobe, and we can't have her bringing his brand down
It was a rude awakening when I first started getting Alexandra dressed for her thrice-weekly classes at our local preschool. My wife Honor and I live on the Upper East Side of New York, where girls arrive for class looking as if they tumbled off a page of Madeline.
"Good morning, Alexandra" I would say as I lifted her out of her crib, kissed her forehead, changed her, and then set her on the ground. We would proceed across her room, the pink Albert Hadley wallpaper enhancing my hangover. After dramatically flinging open the door to her closet, I would reveal an Imelda Marcos-worthy cache of smock dresses.
Years earlier I had done a similar routine with Nicholas, giving him the illusion of choice as I subtly schooled him in the grammar of men's dressing. But his baby sister was having none of my Professor Higgins shtick.
"Daddy, no!" she would say as I took down a hyacinth blue floral-print dress and started to remove it from its hanger.
"Daddy, no like!" she would yell when I offered up a pair of toasted almond-coloured jodhpurs with a navy blue turtleneck sweater.
"C'mon, Zsa-Zsa," I would beg. "This is a great look. Very Ali MacGraw in Love Story. Toss in your Chelsea boots, and."
"No like. No like! I want pink. I want purple. I want Hello Kitty!"
I've never understood where those who lack the Y chromosome get this biological imperative for pink and purple. After rubbing my fingers through what's left of my hair, I tried working within the limited fashion dictates of pink-purple manga. I pulled out a pair of pink leggings and a miniature white hippie blouse. She stared at me as if I were demented, hip-checked me out of her way and proceeded to put together her own ensemble - purple polka-dotted leggings, an orange striped shirt and hot pink cowboy boots. She was no longer my Zsa-Zsa. She was now Lady Zsa-Zsa.
I'm thinking Nicholas may have a gift with women akin to Warren Beatty in Shampoo
"The trousers are great, Zsa-Zsa. But purple polka dots and orange stripes are too much. Sweetie, trust me, you just don't look good." Alexandra was not interested in my advice. She just threw me a look that I've only seen from my wife in those rare moments before our marriage was about to undergo a major course correction - furrowed brow, narrowing eyes and a scowl. Rather than begin an already tense day with a tantrum, I just relented and combed my daughter's hair and stood puzzled at her array of bows. Hmm, how best to tie together this purple, orange and pink creation? I stuck a white bow in her hair. She picked up her rhinestone-studded purse and headed off towards the front door.
(These days, it is not enough that she controls her wardrobe, but she has started making demands on mine. She has taken to following me into my wardrobe and pointing a didactic little finger. Clearly, she would be happier if she were the child of Elton John circa his Captain Fantastic period. "Wear pink, daddy!" she will say as she pulls a shirt she deems appropriate off the shelf. She'll then burrow into my shoe racks. "Where are your Hello Kitty shoes?")
During the pressure cooker of getting the kids dressed for Easter, Honor and Nicholas walked into Alexandra's room as she and I were wrestling over a pair of tights. At some point I broke into sweat and found myself arguing rather feebly with her.
"Don't negotiate with terrorists," my wife advised and turned to get dressed. Nicholas merely looked at his sister and said, "You look nice in those tights, Alexandra." Without missing a beat, my daughter pulled them on and slipped the crinoline of her party dress over her head. A light bulb went off over my head.
As we walked back from church, Nicholas and I were a few paces ahead. "What do you think of the way your sister dresses?" I asked him. Then I appealed to the heir's aesthetic side and implied that his little sister was not so much her own person but an accessory of his wardrobe, and we can't have her bringing his brand down. I wasn't sure how much of the talk had sunk in until a few days ago.
On Saturday nights, we like to have family dinner. Linen napkins. Candles. Dad chefs it up and we bust out a good bottle of mommy juice (think Nuits-Saint-Georges). As I turned away from the stove to set the food on the table, Nicholas appeared in a lime green polo shirt, blue blazer, dark blue jeans and aviator sunglasses. Alexandra came out of her room in a flowered pattern dress with a Peter Pan collar, sandals and a pink cardigan tossed over her shoulders. I nearly dropped a plate.
I looked at Nicholas. "How did this happen?"
"I just told her we were having dinner, and I would like her to wear a dress. I told her she looked pretty in the dress, and she just put it on." Inadvertently, my son had mastered some dark art that I never have - how to get a woman to take your fashion advice seriously. Now I'm thinking he may have a gift with women akin to Warren Beatty in Shampoo, or he should go right to the West Bank and see what kind of magic he can work there.
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