Family Jewels

A couple of months ago, my daughter Abby went away on vacation and asked me to do a guest post for her blog, Transition is My Middle Name.  Abby often blogs about food and fashion. She has a masterful way of sniffing out a new trend before it is mass marketed, posts beautiful images, and includes short, cheerful texts.

I was very enthusiastic about helping her out, but a little apprehensive. I have no expertise about food or fashion.  Mostly I write about family. Here is what I could offer:

My daughters have their own unique styles, and are often called upon by friends and family for their expertise on clothes, shoes and makeup.  Shopping with them is like playing an adult game of paper dolls.  I see an interesting outfit on the hanger and tell them to try it on so I can see what it looks like. They are usually more than happy to comply, putting together unusual combinations of textile and color, and modeling the outfits while I sit in a comfortable dressing room chair.

Unlike my daughters, I am no fashionista. I can muddle my way through deciding which sweater goes with what skirt, but I get lost with accessories.

I know that Coco Chanel said,“When accessorizing, always take off the last thing you put on,” but in my case that would mean that most days I would walk out the door in my underwear. However, I do have a few favorite accessories. One of these is a necklace that my son Gabriel made out of sea shells.  He drilled the shells by himself and tied them to a length of bright orange gimp. 

He gave it to me for Mother’s Day when he was seven and begged me to wear it to work the next morning. I did. All day.  And although it raised a few eyebrows, and prompted much behind-my-back snickering, it was worth it to see his little face light up when I told him that everyone noticed and remarked upon his beautiful gift.

What I suspected then and know now is that the worth of most people’s jewelry is measured in carats, but they cannot come close to the sparkle in my children’s eyes.

Eat your heart out Coco.

The Blue Dress

Every once in awhile I have a “bad outfit day.”  It usually begins when I carefully make plans to wear a specific ensemble on a particular day.  I’ll iron the night before, making sure I push everything in my closet to one side so as not to wrinkle the freshly pressed items.  I’ll choose the right shoes, the right hose, the right accessories.  I’ll go to bed in anticipation of how easy the morning will be;  no decisions, no preparations, no last minute searches for the proper garments.

But there are gremlins in my closet.  Despite my planning, the next morning nothing fits right.  I’ll try on the well-planned clothes and the skirt will pull, the blouse won’t stay tucked and, the shoes will pinch.  These are the mornings when I try on combination after combination, leaving puddles of clothing strewn about the floor just as they were when I stepped out of them.  The skirt comes off, and slacks take their place. The pants are fine, but now I need a different sweater. The sweater doesn’t go with the necklace. The shoes clash with the pants.  It goes on and on until the clock on my nightstand screams that I’ll be late for work, should I try yet another combo.

This morning, I was having a particularly tough time with this ritual.  My skirt was too tight at the waist, my sweater gaped in the front.  The gray in my hair was more prominent, and my makeup didn’t hide the shadows under my eyes.  Everything felt backward and uncomfortable.  I felt huge.  And ugly.  And near tears.  And then, I thought of the blue dress.

The blue dress was a hand-me-down maternity dress that a friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend had hand sewn during the seventies.  In its prime it had been stylish, but by the time it fell to me, it was long outdated and rather unattractive.  I wore it during my pregnancy with Abby and again when I was carrying Gabe, but swore when I first became pregnant with Elizabeth that I would not wear it again.  However, our funds were limited and so was my maternity wardrobe, so the day came when there was nothing in my closet that would fit over my swelling belly but the blue dress.

Resigned, I sighed and pulled the blue dress over my head.  Just as I expected, it looked ridiculous- its puffy sleeves rising to my ears, its oversized collar a reminder that it had been designed over a decade earlier.  It was faded and worn, and there was a slight stain right above my belly button.  I felt huge.  And ugly.  And near tears.

Just then, Gabriel burst through my bedroom door.  He had still had not learned the value of knocking before entering, and charged in, totally unaware of my sniffling nose and dripping eyes.  To him, mothers were calm, harmonious beings who soothed and cajoled, and made breakfast before Sesame Street started.    “Mommy, can you get me…”

He stopped short, and staring at his mother in blue, gasped, “Mommy!  You look Bee-YOU-tee-ful!” gabe angelic0001

I looked into his face.  His guileless eyes were the size of dinner plates.  At two years old, he did not yet know how mask his feelings- he wore truth on his sleeve, proudly displaying it like a badge of honor.  I wiped my tears, smiled and wore the dress- that day and several more times.   A couple of months later, when I had a new baby and a waistline, the blue dress went to the thrift store, never to be seen again.

Today, remembering the blue dress put a different perspective on my morning.  I picked up my rumpled clothes from the floor and hung them on hangers.  Then I dressed in the original skirt and sweater I had planned for the day.  I stepped into my shoes, sucked in my belly, grabbed my handbag and headed for work.  After all, who would argue with a two-year old?

* Note- Yes, the blue dress on the pattern is the same dress, but it was much more attractive on the pattern cover than it was in person.

High Heels

Last weekend I bought a pair of high heels to wear to an upcoming party. Not kitten heels, but real heels. Killer heels. Spiky heels that make me tower over the kitchen counter when I wash dishes.

Because it’s many years since I wore heels, I decided I should get used to them, so Sunday evening I wore them while I did my ironing. It brought to mind advertisements from the fifties that showed women wearing shirt dresses and heels while they cleaned their houses. I don’t remember actually seeing real women dress like this when they cleaned, but on TV and in newspaper print ads and magazines they did. I used to wonder why my mother didn’t dress this way. She dressed in slacks and sneakers most of the time. It probably had something to do with the fact that she had eight children and worked a full time job teaching school. I don’t imagine it crossed her mind to put on a simple shirt dress, freshen her lipstick, and slip into black pumps before she scrubbed the bathtub.

There were a few occasions, however, when my mother stepped out of her Keds and into a pair of black stilettos. I used to love to watch her get ready to go out with my father. She removed a tiny glass bottle from a black velvet drawstring bag and daubed Chanel No.9 behind her ears. She dampened a little brush, stroked it across a cake of Mabelline mascara and applied it to her lashes. And she applied red lipstick and kissed me on the lips so I could wear some too. She was tall, and elegant, and beautiful. I wanted to be just like her.

As I think back, my mother was around the same age then as my daughters are now. They too, carefully apply makeup, slip into something black and lacy, and step into heels. They are tall and elegant and beautiful. And they can run in heels.

Not so true for me. I am a jeans and sweater woman. I am practical and dependable and down to earth. I wear long pants to cover my legs and long sleeves to cover my arms. Now on the downward side of my fifties, my feet have carried too many pounds over too many miles. The assault of three inch heels leaves them screaming for mercy and an Epsom salts bath.

By the time I finished my ironing, I questioned the wisdom of my decision in the shoe store.

I’ll probably tower over everyone at the party.

I’ll probably get blisters.

I’ll probably teeter a bit, even before I have a glass of Savignon Blanc.

But nothing makes a woman feel so utterly feminine as a pair of high heels. And right now, I need to feel as my mother did. I need to feel tall and elegant and beautiful. So high heels it is.

Who knows? Maybe my daughters can teach me to run in them.

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