As a twenty-something in San Francisco, my life was awash in plain dark clothes. Once a week, I squished down three flights of gray carpeted stairs, trying not to breathe in the stench of stale beer and flowery carpet powder, carrying my laundry in a black trash bag slung over my shoulder, like Santa Claus visiting the broke hipsters. At the laundromat down the street, on Half Price Tuesdays, I would scope out the machines least likely to have been used by the homeless, who were famous for washing without any Tide and leaving stray pieces of drug paraphernalia that tumbled out of pockets into the dryers. I packed all my clothes in two loads: darks and lights. I did like bright colors and owned a few blues and greens but I wore them more as accent colors on carefree spring days, bright spots on an otherwise dark landscape. My lone blue tank top and purple leotard got washed in with the jeans and black cardigans and when they wound up in the whites by accident, well my socks looked just fine with a pale bluish tinge.
These days I haul multiple white plastic tubs of laundry down two flights of stairs, twisting side-ways to watch for tiny plastic land mines and to keep from marking the walls, all the while hoping I don't throw out my aging back.
I dump them out on the floor of our basement for sorting, checking for food stains and pockets full of coins, crayons and rocks. The darks are plentiful - my husband's blue jeans seem to multiply weekly, my surfeit of black yoga pants give them a run for their money. The lights pile is made up of smaller but even more plentiful pieces - underwear and socks and plain t-shirts.
Then, there are the brights.
A sea of red pants, purple flowered dresses, and vibrant orange t-shirts, the brights pile grows like my girls, in surprising leaps and bounds. Many of the girls' clothes have been given to them as blessed hand-me-downs or gifts, some of them we chose from the racks at Target. Wherever they came from, they all are bright, like most children's clothing these days. Is that because kids intrinsically like brights or because we think they should? Do we forcibly paint their days with happy childhood Tempura-colored clothing or is vibrant blue and stop-sign red a natural childhood self-expression that will one day be beaten out them by dictatorial fashion magazines and snotty popular girls?
Z chooses pinks and reds and purples these days, though she professes to love all colors equally as long as they're bright. She doesn't see the point in white or pastels - too boring, too easily dirtied - and black? Black is not a color, Mommy. She doesn't view bright colorful clothing as something to be reserved for a single accent or even a bold choice on a confident day. Colorful clothing is like air to her; it is necessary; it just is.
When Z goes into my closet, she immediately fingers my dresses, the ones I reach past every day to grab my fluffy robe or yet another black cardigan. She goes for the bright pink twirly dress I wore to my friend's wedding last year and the silky purple one I have never actually worn. When will you wear this one, Mommy? she asks, clearly wondering why not today?
I may not wear that silky purple dress today but something happens more and more often when I shop for myself: I remember how much I love all shades of blue and green and purple, and I especially like the bright ones. I reach past the black pants for the aqua ones. I buy the patterned aqua shirt, the green polka dotted rain boots.
Because life is too short not to be surrounded by brights.
Lately, the brights pile is made up more and more by my things: a fuchsia tank top and apple green pants and bright paisley print pajamas. I like to think that I am smart enough to be inspired by my children's love of pattern and color, and old enough not to care about the fashion magazines or the popular girls.
I still have my fair share of plain black cotton but I have officially been invaded by the brights, and there is no turning back.