A few years ago, my family had occasion to dress up and get real fancy. Some of us handled it better than others…
My brother was a natural…
In general, my mom struck a great balance between lovely and GET-THINGS-DONE. She could go from gym to glam in seconds. But if I had to pick, I’d guess she’d feel more herself in gym shorts and tennis shoes. Athletic wear was much more conducive to staying active, chasing kids around, and moving quick. As the sole sister among five brothers, growing up didn’t allow for much time or interest in the house for playing dress up. To my mom, womanhood looked like ponytails with scrunchies, sports bras and old, worn-out sweatshirts — I loved her style.
Even when it came time to be married, my mom didn’t make much effort to go wedding dress shopping — the pinnacle of preparing for a wedding, some might argue. “I was focused on my upcoming marriage!” she’d later argue. A wise, diplomatic woman, she was. My mom tried a few dresses on here and there but didn’t love anything. My grandma was anxious to get the show on the road. She was in the process of moving to New Mexico from Illinois and leaving my dress-less Mom in the Land of Lincoln was not a part of her plan. Ready to cross “dress shopping” off her list, my grandma pulled out a JC Penny catalog and blindly ordered a dress for my mom. She had it mailed directly to my mom. My mom tried it on and it was settled — that was her dress! My mom was a beautiful bride-to-be and my grandma could move across the country with one less bullet-point on her checklist.
So when it came time for the family to dress up a few years ago, we weren’t surprised when my mom sent me, my brother, one of his friends, and my dad to find her a dress. We knew what we were looking for: She and I were the same size, she had a few inches on me and wanted something classy. The guys and I had the best time at Macy’s playing dress up. I’d come out in all kinds of dresses and the guys would rate the dress. “Make the dress work for you,” my brother coached. “You don’t work for the dress.” (He’ll make a great husband one day.) I tried on dress after dress until we I came out of the dressing room in a black gown with a lace bodice. It was classic and timeless and, if I remember correctly, received a standing ovation. We made the purchase and hurried home.
We proudly paraded into the house and all rushed straight into my mom’s home office. All at once, we told my mom of our adventures in the Women’s Dress section at Macy’s. We told her after much consideration and thorough inspection — we even tried on all the hats on the hat stand just to be sure she didn’t need one — we had settled on a dress.
And she loved it! We were so proud. When my mom came out in her dress the night of the event, everyone beamed.
Fast forward to last weekend. I attended the Medical School Winter Ball with my cousin at his school. He told me to “get fancy” and I knew exactly what I’d like to wear. I called my dad and asked if I could borrow my mom’s dress. My dad put it in the mail and after the dress arrived, I hung it as the focal point of my room for a few days. I admired but also tip-toed around it a bit. Like a curious puppy slowly circles a new baby with a few feet of distance, I admired from afar. The last person to wear the dress was my mom and I didn’t want to undo that. But after a few days of warming up to the dress (and needing to get ready for the Ball), I slipped the dress on and couldn’t help but beam just as my mom had years before.
Except this time, I beamed because I saw my mom in me and felt connected with her. For the first time in months, I felt like I was sharing something with her again. Oh, I miss her. I imagined what she’d say seeing me in her dress — Beautiful, sweetiepea. Let’s see the back! Usually, if we were getting ready for an event together, we’d try on different shoes and jackets and jewelry, shuffling into each other’s room to get the other’s opinion. We’d go back and forth, and finally deem the other GORGEOUS and head out the door.
And now, as much as my heart has a hole that sometimes feels just as big as it did August 18, I’m also learning that there are so many people ready to do these things with me while my mom can’t. It’s a heartbreaking substitution but boy, am I so thankful for friends who sit with me while I curl my hair and lend me their favorite bracelets to complete “the look.” It’s not the actual things I have but more the ritual of it all that remind me of my mom and all the love between us. Being with others as I so fondly remember my mom is such a gift, wearing her dress was just the icing on the cake.
Whistling: The relationship I have with my mom now has dramatically changed BUT that doesn’t mean the love has diminished or that I still can’t create new memories involving her.