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BE CAREFUL ABOUT WISHING FOR A FASHION-CONSCIOUS CHILD - YOU MIGHT GET ONE

"I'll sure be glad when you learn to pick out matching clothes," I told my son a few years ago. A first-grader, he had come into the room wearing red shorts, a maroon shirt and two different colored socks. "If you go to school like that, people will think you're a Christmas tree!"

"I like Christmas trees," he lisped and headed off to school.That's how it was back then. Some days he left the house looking like a double decker ice cream cone - Neon Sherbet on the top, Pumpkin Pie below. Other days he was a walking comic strip.

But colors weren't his only problem. Once he went to church wearing thongs, and I didn't happen to look down at his feet until the meeting was almost over. The next day someone left a sack of hand-me-down shoes on our front porch.

"Aren't you just a wee bit embarrassed?" I asked.

"Don't know that big word!" he claimed.

No wonder I had a hard time adjusting the day that kid finally started getting a little clothes conscious.

"Mom, could you possibly buy me some new shorts to go with my blue T-shirt?"

"Of course, son. And I'll get you matching socks to boot!"

"No boots, please. Boots look funny with shorts."

I was so thrilled with that boy's unprecedented streak of fashion awareness, I could have kissed him, except that he had just turned 13, and no self-respecting 13-year-old lets his mom kiss him in front of anyone, including the family dog, who happened to be in the room.

Instead, I just reached over and patted his head, an affectionate gesture that turned out to be an unforgivable blunder, because it left my son's precision haircut with one or two hairs out of place.

After that, I was careful not to even smile in his direction, lest his carefully cultivated expression of cool disdain unwillingly twist into an uncool grin.

I was also more careful about my own clothes, not that I'd ever thought I had a problem coordinating my wardrobe . . .

"Oh, Mom, how could you wear a dress to my ball game?"

"I'm sorry, son, but I didn't have time to change after the PTA meeting."

"Gee, Mom, I'll bet those shoes you've got on are almost as old as you are."

"Not quite, son! Shoes hadn't been invented when I was first born."

"Mom, you're not going to wear that apron in front of my friends, are you?"

"What's wrong with this apron?"

"Well, it looks like an . . . apron."

"Oh, Ma, you're not going to get another frizzy perm . . . "

Suddenly my son - the one who used to enjoy looking like a Christmas tree - was making fashion statements all the time.