The "Mom" Dress

Delta Winds cover 1998Delta Winds: A Magazine of Student Essays
A Publication of San Joaquin Delta College


The "Mom" Dress

Cathy Murtha

As a young mother of three children, eager to be set free from the restraints of my mother's apron strings, I naturally longed to impress her with my abilities and independence. Unfortunately, after ten years of trying to wrest control of my life from my mother, I found myself at a point where I had to consider another tack. Begging for freedom, pleading for my right to make my own decisions, and threatening to throw a horrendous tantrum if she didn't let me live my life by my own rules had fallen short of their intended goal. I had one more idea which I felt sure could succeed if I played it just right. I knew that my idea was one conceived in the mind of a genius and would result in the scales falling from my mother's eyes. She would see me as the true adult which I had become and our relationship would turn down an untilled path of respect and mutual understanding. In short, my mother and I were to become fast friends who could share secrets and face life as equals. Well, I said I was young, did I mention I was also naive?

A warm spring day had dawned and I felt a sense of excitement at the days pending activities. I had returned to my childhood home with my children to spend two weeks basking in the glory of my parents' love. I rose from bed and was met by my mother who was hustling down the hall bearing a minty blue garment in her hands. She had an air of excitement in her step; today was the day of the women's luncheon at church and she was eager to present me to her friends as her oldest daughter, returned home for a visit from the great state of California. The dress was a typical "Mom" dress: three-quarter sleeves and matching jacket, the dress tied about the waist with a cloth belt and was, in short, one of the ugliest frocks I had ever had the misfortune to lay my eyes upon. Imagine my dismay when this minty blue frock, bearing indescribably grotesque swirls of red and green, was placed in my arms.

My mother intended for me to wear the dress to the church luncheon. She expected that I would be seen in public in a dress which, when viewed by my three young children, evoked a discomforting gagging noise from my middle child, a gasp of dismay from my oldest and a chortle of bemused laughter from my youngest. My resolution had been to cooperate fully with all of my mother's wishes, thereby winning her undying respect and admiration. As the polyester frock lay in my lap and I faced the ridicule of my children, I realized that I could not, in good conscience, wear that atrocity in a public forum. Gathering my resolve, I marched down the hall to the dining room where my mother was visiting with some neighbors.

The women were shocked that I had not changed into the dress for it was nearing the time to leave. I told my mother I needed to talk to her. She told me we could talk on the way to church; I had better hurry and change so that we might arrive at the church in time to find our seats before the cooking demonstration began. I let the words sink into my tortured mind. Wasn't it bad enough that I was expected to show up at the luncheon in a "Mom" dress? Did I really have to suffer through a cooking demonstration as well? I sighed with resignation as the four women smiled upon one another and basked in the glow that only the all-knowing can enjoy. I retreated down the hall to a chorus of happy words about how lovely the dress would look once it was draped upon my unwilling body.

I entered the bedroom and bore the ridicule of my children as the dress slipped over my head. I rummaged in my luggage for the can of static guard my mother had purchased for me the day before and gave the dress a good spray. It finally relinquished its hold on my legs and relaxed. The label of the dress clawed into my neck with ferocity. I knew that to cut the offending tag from the neck of the gown would be akin to shooting myself in the foot, so I decided to bear the indignity for as long as it took. With one last resentful glare at my children, who were rolling on the bed consumed by gales of laughter, I emerged from my room and walked the long hall to the dining room.

I was met by a general gasp of approval, reassurances of how lovely the dress was; then the women embarked on a discussion of the perfect accessories for such a perfect gown. Pearls! It was decided that my mother's pearl earrings and necklace would be the perfect accouterments to the "Mom" dress. My mother saw my shining eyes and smiled happily as I stemmed the flow of tears which were threatening to pour forth as the beads were clasped about my neck. I stifled an outcry of pain as the clips of the earrings bit deep into the tender flesh of my ear lobes. I felt my mother's hands sweep my long hair into a tight bun and said not a word as my toes were crushed into the torpedo-shaped toes of my mother's pumps. My mother's love, I was sure, was worth the derision of my children and the sympathetic chuckle that was offered as my father brushed by on his way to an afternoon of football with his grandson.

Everyone knew whose daughter I was that afternoon. My mother and I looked like morbidly mutant twins from the fantasy of some sadistic horror writer. Her friends accepted me, completely, and commented on how like my mother I truly was. I cringed inwardly but beamed a great smile at the "compliment." I wore the dress and suffered the pain of the pinching shoes because it made my mother and her friends happy. In the end, I was sure, a new relationship would emerge between my mother and me. I was sorely mistaken.

Instead of finding a new respect for me, my mother gave me the atrocious dress and asks to this day if I wear it. Since she is in Minnesota and I am in California, I happily assure her that it is a mainstay of my wardrobe. The dress is carefully folded and placed on a shelf of my closet. I run across it on occasion and shudder at the memory of the scratchy tag, which is still sewn firmly into the bias of the neck. I have four more replicas, in a variety of vibrant colors and fabrics folded neatly beside the offensive frock. My mother was so glad that I liked the dress, she offered me three more just like it. Although my wardrobe has increased, the respect of my mother has remained a constant. On the bright side, her friends think I am the best thing since winter underwear but my mother still likes to run my life from afar. I did come up with a solution, however. I tell her what she wants to hear and, once I hang up the phone, live my life as I deem fit. It is, perhaps, not the perfect solution, but my mother is happy and that is all that really matters in the end.