part one – the back story



Brooke loves red.

Red is her favorite color. Period. She has never wavered. She has never strayed. Look in every box of crayons in our house and you will find that any and every shade of red is at least a third or so shorter than the rest of the crayons in the box. We buy new sets of markers weekly. Not because they all are starting to lose their ink – the blue, the yellow or the green – but because the reds run quickly out of steam. Rows of stickers are missing from every package, the telltale red outlines leaving clues to what once occupied the empty spots.

On the rare occasion that we attempt to walk through a mall, Brooke hones in on anything red. She’s asked to go into Chico’s and The Limited because they featured red shirts in their displays. She goes in, as if led by some magnetic force. She finds the shirt in the store and slowly, reverently rubs the material between her fingers. “We would bring this,” she says.

About a year and a half ago, her love of red began to wend its way into her night time wardrobe. A basketful of brightly colored PJs sat dying on the vine. Pinks and yellows and even Dora the Explorer jammies were passed over night after night in favor of the two pairs of plain, solid red ones. We laundered them constantly in an effort to keep up.

Friends and family embraced Brooke’s love of red pajamas. My sister sent red velour loungers. My dad ordered monogrammed red fleece. The year before last, Brooke’s Christmas looked like an ode to the color red. Slowly but surely, the PJ basket was all but taken over by red. Eventually, she would wear nothing else to bed.

Around the time that school started this year, she began to take the red a step further. After school, she would go straight up to her room. In a flash (or following an urgent request for help) her school clothes were in a pile on the floor. She wouldn’t do anything else before changing into red from head to toe. Undies, socks, shirt, pants – all had to be red. The process of changing became a ritual, faithfully repeated each and every day. There were no exceptions. Eventually, the red uniform extended into the weekends. As long as we were in the house, she was wearing red.

I was still able to put out differently colored outfits for school, but I began to fear that her tolerance for that might be short lived. It certainly seemed that we were on a slippery red slope.

I struggled to find the right way to handle it. I wanted to honor her love of red. It obviously made her happy. Aside from the color itself, the ritual of changing seemed to offer her some comfort after facing the outside world all day. I certainly didn’t want to take that away. Consistency is important for her. The more she knows what to expect, the more comfortable her world is. And the more decisions she can make on her own, the more control she feels that she has. I wanted to foster her sense of self determination. Did I really need to quell it? Was it so wrong? Was it hurting her in any way?

In and of itself, it wasn’t, but I worried about where it was headed. She was becoming more rigid. She had begun to narrow her tolerance down to one or two favorite outfits, which really consisted of just one red shirt and two different pairs of red pants. The shirt was showing some serious wear. Its sleeves were becoming tattered and threadbare. I knew it wouldn’t be long before we’d have to figure out how to work our way out of it.

At a team meeting at school a couple of months back, I raised the issue and asked for suggestions. I felt a little ridiculous. It was hardly the end of the world that my kid was insisting on wearing red at home. But no one seemed to think I was overreacting. Or perhaps they just saved it until I was out of the room. Maybe a little of both.

We brainstormed a bit and the team threw out various ideas. One was to institute a family ‘color of the day’. Perhaps, it was suggested, we could establish daily colors and the whole family would dress in the color of the day. Um, yeah. Except um, well. I hope I wasn’t rude when I said, “If you ever see my entire family walking down the street dressed head to toe in purple, I implore you to shoot me on sight.” But, there was actually a great seed of an idea in it. It got me thinking.

After the meeting, Brooke and I got in the car. I asked where she’d like to go. As soon as she was buckled in she said, “We would go home and I would change into my RED clothes.”

My plan was only half-formed, but I ran with it anyway.

“Brooke, we’re going to try something different today. Instead of red, let’s pick another color. What color do you think you’d like to wear?”

“I would wear red,” she insisted.

“Brooke, how about if you wear red on Friday instead? Today, let’s pick a different color. No red today. What color do you think you’d like to pick instead of red?”

“I would wear pink today.”

We reinforced it the whole ride home. “Today you’ll pick out some pink clothes. On Friday, you can wear red. Tomorrow when you get home, you can pick another color. On Friday, you can wear red.”

She was on board. As soon as we got home, she ran upstairs, struggled out of her clothes and set out to replace each and every article with something pink. Each day that week, the process was repeated. As soon as Luau picked her up from school he asked her what color she was going to choose when she got home. They talked about it the whole ride home and he reminded her that on Friday, she would be able to wear red.

She never balked. Months later, she still seems to enjoy the ‘new’ ritual. Once in a rare while, she even goes multicolor rather than monochrome. Well, very rarely, but it’s worked. She loves to talk about the colors she’s chosen and to go digging through her basket of comfy clothes every day to find something she likes.

And she knows that every Friday, she can come home and put on red.

13 thoughts on “part one – the back story

  1. when do i step in? that, my dear is the 64,000 dollar question, isn’t it?

    i try not to step in unless i think that her behavior will be harmful to her in some way. but trying to define harmful is the tough part.

    anything that threatens her safety is easy. but what about the others? perhaps a behavior that makes her happy but is so far off the norm that it will get her teased or isolated from her peers? well then, how happy versus how badly teased? or, as in this case, something that seems to be escalating and leading toward more and more rigidity.

    it’s a really, really tough call.

    her preschool teacher (who i love and trust) had strongly suggested that we tackle this issue when it first came up a year and a half ago. we wrote a social story, but it didn’t have much impact and we decided not to push it. it wasn’t until it became really pervasive that we decided to address it fully.

    but things like thomas (or dora)? well, it is what it is. i once tried to count the number of dora likenesses in her room. i started with the six (yes SIX) dora dolls on her bed and then moved on to the figurines. i lost count and i lost the desire to know. now, if she started wearing her dora costume to school, well, that might be a different story.

    bottom line, it’s a tough, tough call.

  2. This is BRILLIANT! I almost envision her red outfits as her “protective cloak” (a la super heroes). Maybe the next step is to start choosig TWO colors to wear. Or to extend it inot her coloring/painting?

    Regardless, I think she’s adorable in any color!

  3. Yes, there’s something about red. For years that was Nigel’s favorite color as well. He has recently moved on to blue, but red is a close second. Glad to hear that Brooke is receptive to wearing different colors – great job all around!

  4. I loved being her favorite at the slumber party last week, all because I was wearing my red PJs. I don’t know how you resist wearing crimson clothes full-time, just to earn one of her sparkling smiles.

    Brilliant way to expand her world, by the way, one color at a time.

  5. Devin loves red too. Our dining room is red and sometimes he hides in there. If offered a choice of something he will pick red time and again.

    What a fabulous idea you had to get her out of her rut without a meltdown.

    Again, in awe of Jess Wilson.


  6. You should tell her that, if she’s REALLY good about Red Friday, once a year…maybe on her birthday…you’ll hold her by her ankles and dip her in a large barrel of red paint. Kendall, red from head toe! Heaven!

    Okay, maybe not. My guess is that you don’t want tiny red footprints all over your house.

    This is such a great story, Jess. Finding those areas of inflexibility…meeting someone half way, working on compromise. Some of these compromises can be so difficult, take a lot of time, struggle…yet it makes such a huge difference. It can set a precedent, make future compromise easier.

  7. I feel that way about pink. It’s sad for a middle-aged woman. I “would bring this” indeed.

    Listen. It’s all about believing that your kid is capable of more—and finding creative solutions to help them.

    You done good.

  8. How do you know when to step in?

    Sometimes I am guilty of embracing the path of least resistance. I often wait for Foster to outgrow things where perhaps I should push a little harder.

    At home, it appears that the Thomas obsession has finally – finally! – waned, yet at school, he draws trains all day. My answer – fine by me, as long as he’s holding his pencil/crayon properly.

  9. what an ingenious plan!!

    she is a beautiful sight in ANY color! multi-colored when we saw her that friday (and saturday morning, i might add!)

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