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  In its prime it had been stylish, but by the time it fell to me, it was long outdated and rather unattractive.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.

Drum beats

Tonight my son is coming home from England, where he’s been earning his graduate degree. I stand alone at Logan airport, anxiously watching the doors to Customs open and close, waiting to see his familiar frame emerge from that secret area that only international travelers visit. Finally, the doors open, and out steps my Gabriel- looking a bit taller and slimmer than when he left in September, but as handsome and cheerful as ever. He enthusiastically hugs me and teases me about the tears that fill my eyes. I watch him confidently stride toward the parking area and like most mothers, wonder where the time has gone. Just yesterday I was watching him line up with the other kindergarteners to enter a new phase of his life.

When he was little, Gabe tried very hard to fit in with the bigger, louder boys at his school. He hated the fact that he was tall and slender, because for growing boys, one’s body mass matters more than anything. Gabe wore sneakers that were sizes larger than his feet. He disguised his skinny arms under bulky sweatshirts, and tried to hide the fact that the thumping of his heart could be seen when he went without a shirt. However, there were not just physical differences between Gabe and his peers. It seemed that he marched a bit to his own drum. He loved sports, Legos, and little green army men, but he also made up his own music and liked to sketch- always from a unique perspective. I watched him draw a basketball player once and was astounded to see that he began at the feet and worked up to the head, unlike the opposite tact that most of us take. As he got older, he began writing sermons. I would find drafts scrawled on crumpled scraps of paper, thrown under his bed, tossed on the floor to his closet, or on notebooks that were supposed to be reserved for homework.

His individuality did not always set well with his teachers or me. I remember standing in line at his school’s parent night the year he was in seventh grade. His science class was decorated with home-made models of the solar system. They hung from the ceiling, proudly displaying the names of the students who made them. Some were sprinkled with glitter. Some were made from Styrofoam. Many were painted with Day-Glo. I searched for my son’s model, and finally found it in the far corner of the room. It was gray and white, cut from lined composition paper and shaded with pencil. The planets, attached with masking tape, hung limply from a hanger, curling at the edges. It was accurate, but not beautiful. My cheeks burned with dismay and I silently scolded myself for being at my job in the afternoons instead of at home, helping him with projects such as these.

I waited my turn to speak to the teacher, eavesdropping on other parents as they talked about the project. “I was up till midnight finishing this for my daughter,” one parent said.

“We were too! My wife had to go to the craft store at 10 o’clock. We thought we’d never finish!” said another.

“Me too. I should be the one getting the A’s,” giggled a third.

I looked again at my son’s solar system. Saturn’s ring was drooping on one side, the masking tape barely holding it in place. “He did it all by himself,” I realized. “No help. No cheating. No apologies.” It was one of my proudest moments.

Now I watch my son as he easily lifts his bags into the trunk of my car. The little boy who wished to be like his peers has become a man that others wish to be like. He has grown wiser, trading the desire to fit in for the desire to lead. He knows he has to listen for his own heartbeat and follow the rhythm as it carries him to his destiny.

“C’mon.  Let’s go!” he urges.

I guess I’d better hurry, or I’ll be left behind.

Oh Boy!

Friends of mine recently announced they were expecting a baby boy.  Immediately, my mind flew to the moment my own son was born.  As the doctor pulled him out of my belly, everyone in the room crowed at once, “It’s a BIG boy!”


Before I had a son, I thought little boys and little girls were pretty much alike.  Aside from the obvious differences, it seemed to me that boys had the same needs to be fed, clothed and nurtured as girls.  It seemed simple.


Then I had Gabriel.


From the time he was an infant, he looked at life differently from his sisters. He had a different intuition, a different sensitivity and a different way of approaching life.  He tried things that his sisters would not.  He responded to me in a way that was different from my girl babies.


For one thing, there was the play/work confusion.  Boys mix play with work much differently from girls.  When my daughters were told to clean their room, they played “mother” and neatly put away their toys, books, and clothing.  When Gabe was told to clean his room, he played “basketball star.”  He carefully hung a plastic bag from his basketball hoop.  He rolled his clothes into a ball, ran across his room, stuffed the ball into the bag and hid it under the bed. 


When I sent my girls upstairs to brush their teeth, they climbed the stairs, turned on the water, spread Colgate on their toothbrushes and scrubbed until their teeth shone.  Not so, Gabe.  He turned on the water, put toothpaste on his toothbrush and brushed the mirror.  He filled the sink with water, plunged his face into the basin, spit water onto the mirror and drove a toy car through it.  Twenty minutes later, he emerged, leaving the bathroom soaked and his teeth untouched. 


He managed to break six bones in his foot by falling out of a tree.  The cast was not even dry before I caught him playing street hockey with the neighbors.  That same summer he fell off his bike, cracked his helmet and got such a concussion he could not find our house.  A couple of months later, he fell from playground equipment and fractured his coccyx.  He infected the entire kindergarten with chicken pox.  He wore through the soles of his sneakers from playing street hockey, basketball, and football on the pavement outside our front door. He hid half eaten sandwiches in his sock drawer.  He got into fist fights with his friend Matthew, and then an hour later asked if Matthew could stay for dinner.


On his bed, Gabe always kept five stuffed animals he called The BoysThe Boys were his posse. Their job was to ride shotgun through the perils that beset him in his dreams, play guard under the Nerf basketball hoop on his closet door and to lend an open ear when he was in trouble and sent to his room.  They made life for a little boy sandwiched between two sisters bearable. The summer he went to overnight camp, I sat on his bed and stared at The Boys, aching at the emptiness of his too-clean room.


Now grown, Gabe is still different from his sisters. When I need affirmation, I talk to my girls.  They will tell me what I want to hear. They are part of the sisterhood that encourages, identifies, soothes.


But when I need truth, no matter how brutal, my son will tell me what I need to hear.  He is not unkind, but he is straightforward, direct, and honest. How many times has he been the voice of reason amid the chaos of estrogen-laced emotionalism?  How many times has he given up his own plans to help me out when I have taken on a project too big to handle alone?  How many times have I confided in him, knowing he would help me separate the facts from the feelings?  I marvel at the size of his shoulders, the strength of his hands, the way in which he assumes charge during a crisis. This boy child has become a man.


Yes, boys are different from girls.  And I am so glad they are. 


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