Isn't it fun to dress a girl?" everyone asks me.
Since my two-year-old daughter, Sara, was born, friends and relatives - especially those who are mothers of boys - have imagined my life as a never-ending fashion show.
"I loved buying clothes for Josh," I respond, recalling how my own son, when he was a toddler, would wear all the pint-sized khaki pants, Izod shirts, and denim overalls that I showered on him.
"But what about Sara?" they insist. "Don't you have a great time with all those cute little outfits?"
The truth is, I get no closer to those "cute little outfits" than they do.
My daughter was born with strong opinions about everything - but in the case of her wardrobe, she is truly obsessed. This trait first showed itself around the time of her first birthday, when I tried to get her to sleep in the same kind of cuddly, footed blanket sleepers that Josh had lovingly called his "cozies."
"No!" she would shriek, shaking her head, decisively. "No, no, no, no!"
This response was accompanied by kicks strong enough to leave a bruise on whatever part of me she managed to hit.
Once she was old enough to become mobile, Sara began following these tirades by hopping off her changing table and racing out of her room, her naked little body careening as far away from the offending garments as possible.
As her vocabulary expanded, my "angel" became better able to tell me just what she didn't want to wear.
"No shirt, no pants, no dress, no sweater," she would tell me, counting off each item on her fingers.
"But Sara, there's nothing left," I'd say.
"Bathing suit," she'd proclaim, pulling one out of her drawer and holding it up triumphantly. "Sara's bathing suit." Never mind that a snowsuit would have been a more appropriate choice for the season.
A chance gift relating to her favorite television character succeeded in getting Sara off bathing suits and on to specialty promotional items.
"Want to wear Barney," she would cry, holding up her hands for the Barney T-Shirt a friend had given her.
For a while, as long as she had Barney next to her skin, she didn't care what went on top. We bought as many T-shirts featuring the big purple guy as we could find, called them undershirts, and let her wear them under her clothes every day - until a second, equally well-meaning gift ruined our strategy.
"Sara, you love Barney so much that I had to get you this," my mother-in-law told her, as she handed Sara a box.
Inside was a Barney sweater that had been hand-knit just for Sara. Of course she loved it, and from that day forward she would wear nothing else. Since procuring extras was out of the question, something clearly had to be done.
"She just wants to have some control," a friend told me after listening to my saga. "Give her a choice of two things to wear, and let her pick the one she wants."
It sounded reasonable.
"Sara, which do you want to wear today?" I asked her, holding up two different sweaters. "Do you want the cats or the dogs?"
"Barney!" she replied.
"No, Barney is in the wash," I told her. "Which of these do you want to wear?"
"Barney," she insisted.
Oh yes. Sara was definitely in control.
"Just force her into whatever you want her to wear," another friend advised. "After all, who's stronger?"
I could force her into her clothes, all right, though not without lots of tears, screams, and energetic wrestling. What my friend failed to take into account, however, was that she who gets dressed can also get undressed.
"Sara take clothes off!" she would announce, proudly parading her nude body in front of me.
I could always count on finding the rejected outfit in her wastebasket.
One night, my husband succeeded in getting her to sleep - not in the Barney T-shirt that was her regular nightwear, but in a pair of pajamas with purple stripes.
"How did you do it?" I asked, incredulously.
"I told her they were Barney pajamas," he said, smugly. "They're purple, aren't they?"
Newly energized, I began scouring the stores.
"Look, Sara, a Barney coat," I told her, holding up a purple ski jacket.
"Sara's coat," she said, grabbing it out of my hands.
Soon her closet was filled with purple shirts, dresses, tights, and shoes. Thankfully, with her fair skin and dark brown hair, Sara looked well-dressed as Barney's human counterpart.
I know I am not the first mother to have to learn to cope with a toddler's personal sense of style. For example, my friend Nan's son, Scott, refused to wear anything but long-sleeved shirts and pants when he was Sara's age.
"Broken," he would say, pointing to the short-sleeved shirts and shorts that his mother tried to dress him in when the weather got warm.
Although Scott eventually outgrew his fear of broken clothing, his three-year-old sister, Louise, spent one entire winter going to school barelegged, refusing to wear either tights or socks under the dresses she insisted on. But even that wasn't enough for her.
"Louise hates shoes and underwear as much as socks," Nan says. "But I have to draw the line somewhere, don't I?"
Should Sara ever begin rejecting her purple wardrobe, I may end up having to draw my own line. But until that day comes, I prefer to look on the bright side: When she spills her grape juice, the stains don't show.