Loosen up a little when it comes to rules.
“Not intended for sleeping.”
That’s what the tag said.
I did a double take, holding a pint-sized pair of stretchy, sparkly teal sweatpants, staring at the words printed next to the size inside them.
I thought perhaps I was misreading. Or that maybe I was just tired, and that I myself should have been “intended for sleeping” at that particular moment — because my stepdaughter and I were shopping, which always takes up a decent amount of energy.
But nope, I hadn’t misread it. The tag actually said that.
“Hey, look at this,” I pointed it out to the 7-year-old. “What on earth could make sweatpants not fit for sleeping?”
She got a kick out of it, and we were confused together.
We bought the pants.
A few days later, they were washed and ready to be put away in her dresser. It was bedtime when she found them in the clean clothes pile.
“Hey!” she exclaimed, holding up the pants. “These are the ones I’m not supposed to sleep in, right?”
I nodded. We’d already informed her dad and brother of this odd fact when we’d brought them home that day.
“Well, I’m gonna sleep in them,” she decided, mischievously. “Can I?”
I grinned. And I had to make a decision.
To my mind, it was foolish to declare a pair of perfectly average sweatpants unfit for sleeping in. And I had half a mind to let her go ahead with it. If that qualified as living on the edge, this was an edge that seemed harmless enough to live on.
The other half of my mind hesitated. The tag deliberately said not to do it. I shouldn’t encourage her to go against something we’re explicitly told not to do, especially when we don’t know why we’re told not to do it.
But … it was just a pair of pants …
“Sure,” I finally decided. “You can wear them.”
Grinning, she hurried to put them on.
Then a voice called up from downstairs. “Maybe that isn’t such a good idea.”
It was my 11-year-old stepson. There he was at the landing, looking thoughtful.
“If the tag actually says not to do something,” he continued, “you probably shouldn’t do it.”
He wasn’t being bossy, just stating his opinion.
I looked from him to his sister, where she was already wearing the pants in question.
Being responsible, or being risky.
Following to the rules, or outright breaking them.
The right thing, or the … other thing?
I hate decisions.
I told my stepdaughter to change her pants.
“But why?” she asked.
“Because there has to be a reason the tag says what it says,” I explained. “And when someone literally tells us to not do something, we should listen.”
She changed again, and that was the end of my decision-making for the evening.
But I still think about that decision. Since then, I queried the Internet about that label; apparently, it means the fabric isn’t flame-retardant, so the company is required to include that warning. Realistically, unless there was a fire, nothing bad would have actually come from wearing the pants to bed.
Now I know.
But at the time, I didn’t. And at face value, we would have been making an uninformed decision to go against instructions.
I’m still glad I took my stepson’s side, if only to reinforce that obeying rules is a good habit to get into.
That’s a struggle I find myself faced with a lot, as a stepmom: When to make the kids follow the rules, and when to let them push boundaries a little. How strict do I have to be? I was a rule-follower as a kid, so trying to adapt to being a little more lax as an Adult With Kids is an interesting experiment.
She says she’s spent most of her parenthood following expert advice “to the letter,” reading books and following all the rules — and making sure her daughter follows all the rules, too (“She’s never had a fruit roll-up because I’m afraid of what it’ll do to her teeth”).
But Braff comes to the conclusion that maybe, in trying to protect her daughter, she’s kept her from learning things from experience.
“Perhaps the books I should have been reading all this time were my own journals,” she says, “which give a more realistic picture and, more importantly, illustrate that bending the rules every so often won’t end in a disaster.”
I still think it was the right call to listen to the label, given our understanding at the time.
But it’s a good reminder that sometimes, it’s OK to loosen up a little, too. Even when it comes to stretchy pants.
Originally published in The Herald News on Jan. 13, 2019.