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It hit me with a poignancy I didn’t expect, as a milestone I never prepared myself for. At 13 years old, my second daughter had officially outgrown even the largest sizes of children’s clothing, and my years of shopping in the little girls’ section were over.

For nearly 16 years, from the time my older daughter was born, I had been shopping for little girls’ clothes. She had barely drawn her first breath when my older sister and mother rushed down to Gymboree at the mall, thrilled with the possibilities of adorable outfits for this tiny princess.

Over the next couple of years, they showered her with clothes.

I still have some of these outfits tucked away, finding it impossible to part with tiny dresses that I can still see her wearing while toddling around our apartment.

When my second daughter was born, she immediately showed that she had her own preferences and personality. While she inherited many of her sister’s clothes, she also quickly developed her own style. There was a period when she was two when she would only wear tutus, or at least a fluffy skirt that we told her was a tutu. She loved soft dresses and leggings and everything fancy and sparkly.

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Each of my girls had favorite clothing items that were worn until they wore out or could no longer be forced to fit—favorite footie pajamas, outfits that matched their American Girl dolls, a quirky hat, a pair of red cowgirl boots.

For years, whenever I would go to a clothing store, I would always hit the girls’ clearance rack first.

Retailers stock so many clothes for little girls that the sales were usually plentiful, and we could always use another sparkly unicorn tee shirt for a few dollars.

For holidays, I would plan their matching formal outfits in great detail, checking the collections that each store was selling of Christmas or Easter dresses and watching for good deals. Then there were all the other fun holiday clothes—kitty cat pajamas at Halloween and dresses sprinkled with candy canes at Christmas and stars on the 4th of July.

Of course, it’s not like my girls have stopped needing and enjoying clothes now that they are teenagers.

It’s just that it is harder, more fraught, and less cute.

They have women’s bodies now, and finding clothes that fit is a challenge and a process, just like it is for the rest of us. I feel the friction of allowing them the freedom to choose their clothes and express themselves while teaching them how to be appropriate and respect their bodies.

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My sister is getting married this fall, and my daughters and sisters and I are all bridesmaids. We recently went on a raucous and giggly outing to the bridal store to pick out bridesmaids’ dresses. My daughters were thrilled, trying on sophisticated dresses and sparkly 3-inch heels. My sister let each bridesmaid choose the style that best suited her, and each of my girls made my breath catch in my throat in the dresses they picked.

In each twirl in front of the mirror, I saw both little girls playing dress-up and the women they are becoming. One can’t exist without the other. And both are beautiful.

Elizabeth Ascik

Elizabeth Ascik is a single mom of 4 living in Northern Virginia. When she gets time between kids and work, she loves to spend time with friends, plan parties, and read and discuss books. She has always wanted to be a writer.

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