My oldest daughter, the Conventional Daughter, planned a Conventional Wedding. It was not an outrageously extravagant wedding by some wedding standards, but it did included a wedding gown from a bridal salon, bridesmaids in matching sateen dresses, a caterer, candles everywhere, a photographer, a venue by the ocean. Even though it was foreign to me and took me out of my own comfort zone, it was something she had dreamed about since she was a little girl. I acknowledged that it was important to her. And yes, I realize that many people who get married actually do these things. But I am not a conventional type of mother and I did not have that type of experience myself; the whole process seemed overwhelming and provoked some anxiety for me.
My own “wedding” long ago had consisted of the highway department showing up just in time to plow us out of The Major Blizzard of the Decade, in order to make it to the Justice of the Peace in town, who performed the nuptials in his office in casual attire, wearing a plaid flannel shirt with needle-nose pliers sticking out of the pocket. The bride matched the groom pretty much – corduroy pants and work boots in the snow. There was no family present. We had two witnesses there and that was all – one of which had his suitcase with all his clothes in it stolen while at the train station, where he was greatly delayed due to said storm. I guess you could say we eloped. There were no photographs taken. Although I look back on the moment with great fondness, I do wish I had worn a dress that day – just something a little more special, despite the weather; and I wish there was a picture of the actual event that I could have passed on to my children, besides one blurry picture our neighbor took of the newlyweds the following day, standing by a pile of firewood and a saw buck next to a snow drift. I was glad my daughter was going to have her special day just the way she wanted it.
Fast forward – there we are in the bridal salon with Daughter #1 (the Excited Bride), Daughter #2 (the Excited Maid of Honor), one of my sisters (the Excited Aunt), and me (the Reluctant Mother of the Bride). After much zipping in and out of these “costumes” and some lively debate, they finally picked out their gowns for the Great Event. As we were finally leaving the store, someone suddenly piped up, “What about a dress for YOU?” Well, I had almost made it out of there undetected, but suddenly became the deer in the headlights.
Oh, no. Noooo…no thank you. These gowns are really not my thing. I really am not interested in wearing a conventional Mother of the Bride dress. It’s just not my style. They are too expensive. They are so Not Me. But amidst cajoling and pleading from the family, the imploring look on Daughter #1’s face, and one rather pushy sales woman, they managed to squeeze me into a Conventional Mother of the Bride gown. Everyone then gushed over How Beautiful it made me look, assuring that after it was altered to fit me perfectly, I would look much like the woman in the bride catalog (attractive, svelt, contemporary, young). And so, in a moment of guilt and coercion, I agreed to it. The sample dress I had tried on was a cocoa brown, but I chose a teal color swatch from their book, thinking that would go better with my own coloring. The gown was ordered.
A few weeks later we were back at the store to try on our dresses. Daughter #1 in her understated, simple ivory dress with clean lines, which she would wear with red satin heels (so very her) looked cool and classy. Daughter #2 was divine in dark red. I put on my teal gown…..which was way shinier than I had anticipated…..and looked like….. a dolphin.
A big, shiny, teal dolphin. It was stiff and uncomfortable, and terribly disheartening. I felt like a dolphin out of water. All I needed was a set of flippers to complete the ensemble. I should have followed my instincts. I tried fluffing my hair out to create a look. I tried putting it up, where it sat in a frizzy twist like seaweed piled on top of the dolphin. I took it home and bought a large silk scarf with rust and teal patterns on it to try and jazz it up – which made me look frumpy and aged. I became distraught. I began to obsess. I did not want to wear this dress.
Two days before the event I decided I was not going to wear that dress to my daughter’s wedding. I ran out and bought something a bit less intense. They would not accept a return on the gown. I was stuck with it. Unfortunately, I made the same mistake again when it was time to do something with my untameable hair. I allowed myself to be convinced into letting a conventional hair dresser put my hair in a conventional up-do, despite my reservations. I ended up looking matronly and extremely uncomfortable at my daughter’s wedding. When I see photos of myself from that day, I almost want to weep. Thankfully, the day really was not about me, which is the only way to put it in perspective. But I still get a sinking feeling when I see myself in her photo album. It was a good lesson about being true to oneself.
The teal gown, unworn and in its clear plastic bag with the tags still on it, has been hanging in my closet for a few years now. It had cost what I consider a ridiculous amount of money, even back then. I once tried selling it at a consignment shop during prom season, with no takers. I put it on Craigslist and got nothing but creepy solicitations. Every time I open my closet, there it is, a stark reminder of my mistake, and of waste.
Last weekend I did something that had been penciled in on the bottom of my bucket list, something I had not experienced before. I attended the 30th annual Mermaid Parade on Coney Island. I had never been to Coney Island, although I remember my mother speaking of the Coney Island of her childhood often, with great fondness and nostalgia. I think now it is not much like the Coney Island she knew then, but I am glad I went, and I thought of her throughout the day.
The catalyst for going to the Mermaid Parade began with an invitation from a couple of very artistic and energetic friends – gypsy Mermaid Parade veterans – all significantly younger than me and incredibly creative people. Instead of watching the parade, they go to be in it. It was a perfect opportunity to let my freak flag really fly. Which I did.
I needed a costume. I opened my closet….and there was the teal gown. Its time had come.
Over the teal bodice I draped cheesecloth “seaweed” covered with crabs and star fish. Bright red fingerless opera gloves dotted with multiple rows of finger cots for suckers (that looked like miniature condoms) adorned my arms (quite the hit!). A headpiece of waving red sea snakes sat upon my Bozo hair. Teal painted fingers and toes. Sparkly blue lips, magenta eyelashes and a star burst painted on my forehead. I looked like a drag queen. It was just too perfect.
Riding the subway to Coney Island in our costumes, we danced to music blasting from someone’s boombox while drinking rum and coke. More fun than a limousine party on the way to a reception. I danced and waved my way down the boardwalk in my teal dress – like a seaside wedding aisle – amongst a sea of costumed jelly fish, octopus and mermaids. Professional photographers and a multitude of tourists alike approached time and time again to ask if I would pose with them or with their children. I don’t think I have ever had my picture taken more in my entire life. What a trip! I could not stop laughing at the irony of it all, how much fun I was having in that dress.
At the end, exhausted, dehydrated, exhilarated, this old lady’s energy ran down and it was time to call it a day. The teal gown finally had its moment. And so had I.