Exemplar: Goals

The thing that I always imagined was beyond my reach might sound silly to most people. They don’t know my family, however. What I wanted was to convince my mom to let me wear a dress to my first homecoming dance.

No, I wasn’t grounded, and my mom has enough money for clothes. But she doesn’t believe that girls should wear fancy dresses, or any dresses, for that matter. To understand this, you need some background information about my family.

I live with my mom and my grandma. Both are very unusual, especially my mom. She’s an artist and is mostly off in another world. My grandma (“Call me BJ, dear; Betty Jane is cutesy, and Grandma makes me sound old”) is a person from the sixties and seventies. She lived on a commune (that’s where my mom spent part of her childhood) and was always marching and protesting.

Both of them are feminists, but in different ways. BJ decided that marching and protesting were pretty useless and went to law school. Now she’s a defence lawyer, and she says that she is turning the system inside out from within. So she goes to court in business clothes, but comes home and wears tie-dyed muumuus and listens to old Joan Baez and Bob Dylan music. It’s like another century.

My mom, on the other hand, is a fairly successful sculptor and makes money doing illustrations for books. She uses only black and white in her pictures, and she wears only clothing with no dye in it. She believes in “natural” things. So to her, clothing with any colour besides sheep or cotton colour is unnatural, and I’ve never seen her in anything but those colours. Even more, she doesn’t believe that women should dress differently from men, and she never wears skirts or dresses.

My mom is unusually easygoing about most things (“Sweetie, I have an agent who deals with ‘commerce;’ I create,” or “I don’t do cookies. Why do you think there are bakeries?”) Maybe she’s a bit spacey. I’ve never had a curfew, and I never had to clean my room. However, I was not allowed to bring dolls into the house, and I wasn’t allowed to wear dresses. Both were strict violations of my mother’s “equality” rules. “No frilly little clothes ?for my daughter!” she would say.

So what was I to do about homecoming? That someone actually asked me to the dance surprised both of us. But what surprised my mom more was that I wanted to go. “But why would you? It’s so, um, tacky, so . . . .” She didn’t really object, but when I mentioned the word dress, she just looked at me as if I were asking for a fancy European sports car. “Dress? Whatever for? Why should you want one now? You know I don’t deal with dresses. Why do you want to look like everyone else? Why not wear the beige silk pants? I don’t really see why you want such fluff.” And she floated off.

I couldn’t wear those pants. I dreaded standing out at the dance. I didn’t know what to do. I thought of borrowing a dress, but I’m much taller than my friends. Even though I had seen the perfect red velvet dress in the store, I didn’t have enough money saved up to buy it myself. And I knew I could never convince my mother to change her ways. She never got angry; she simply ignored what she didn’t want to deal with. Only she didn’t have an agent to deal with me. My only recourse was BJ, with her talent for turning the system around.

We talked a lot about what to do. BJ understood my predicament; I’d never really wanted a fancy dress, never disobeyed my mom or questioned her beliefs. But I really wanted to look normal—I suppose I’m the oddball in this house. Then, as BJ and I were talking about my mom, I recalled a photograph I had seen of Mom as a teenager. It was sometime around 1968, and she had on one of her usual turtleneck-and-jeans outfits, but her hair was not straight and parted in the middle. I remember it was kind of puffy- looking, with little bangs and flapped out at the sides. “Hmm, I thought. This looks like the work of a hairdresser.” BJ then recalled a particular summer when her daughter had a short-lived hair rebellion, just before she graduated from high school. She wanted to make a statement, BJ recalled, tired of living “au naturel,” she said. “She wanted to look a bit more like the fancier crowd. I could never see it, personally, but so what? It’s only hair.”

So we found the photo, which I presented to my mother. “See, your mother let you get a fancy haircut so you could look the way you wanted. So you should let me get a velvet dress so I can look the way I want.” She floated away, with a talk-to-my-agent sigh and a “We’ll see.” A few days later, BJ and I went shopping, and we bought the perfect red velvet dress. BJ took a picture of me in it, and my mom diplomatically said that I looked lovely. She floated away again to deal with her “art,” but I knew I felt great, or I should say, normal. I had a fine time at the dance, and nothing pleased me more than seeing that one of the seniors had on a similar velvet dress. I felt so “in,” all because of a red velvet dress. (Perhaps that picture of me will come in handy if I never wear dresses again and have my own daughter.) Although my mom makes sarcastic remarks about the photo, I know that she can now appreciate my point of view.