My younger sister, Lizzie, is getting married this summer and for the past month or so we’ve been wedding dress shopping.
Anyone who’s done this will know that it’s a uniquely frustrating experience, trying on dresses that wear you, dealing with bewilderingly unhelpful sales people, and wading into the strange and terrible world of wedding dress manufacturing where apparently it’s normal to spend $2000 on something you’ll wear for eight hours, and it’s also apparently normal to have to order a dress six months in advance at the latest, presumably because it’s being hand sewed by tiny free range mice in a magical cottage in remote Siberia.
I bought my wedding dress for $275 from a store I refer to fondly as the trashy wedding dress store. It’s located in a strip mall between a sex store and a vape shop and it also sells those garishly fluorescent pageant dresses, all beads and bedazzle. I’d been trying to convince my sister to go there for ages, but oddly she was unconvinced (I can’t imagine why. )
Finally, after an unsuccessful outing to a secondhand dress store and with an hour to kill, we went. Long story short, she found her dress. It is absolutely gorgeous, within her budget, and just perfect for her. She cried, I cried, her soon to be mother in law cried and then we Facetime’d my mom, so she could cry too. (Olive didn’t cry, she meowed. She was crawling around the store pretending to be a cat at the time).
As we got ready to leave, I lost track of Olive. I finally found her standing like this near the entrance. She wore a dreamy, lovestruck look in her eyes.
I was amused. Well wasn’t this cute! They even sort of matched! Then I started asking questions and my amusement quickly disappeared.
– Hey, Olive, what are you doing?
– I’m just hanging out with my new mummy.
-This is my new mummy.
-What do you mean your new mummy?!
– This is my new mummy. Isn’t she beautiful?
I stared into the mannequin’s blank, dead eyes and gave her a cold once-over.
– Yeah, I mean she’s OK. If you like that sort of thing, I guess.
Olive was undeterred.
-See her hair? It’s beautiful. I wish you had hair like that.
Was this seriously fucking happening to me right now? I peered into a nearby mirror to survey my tousled bun, and tucked a few stray strands behind my ear while trying to appear nonchalant. I looked fine. I mean not all of us have hours to get ready all day every day, OK? And whatever happened to embracing natural beauty? Whatever happened to appreciating the effortless chic and elegance of jeans and a white tee-shirt, simple jewelry, a messy bun? This is the goddamn patriarchy at work, I tell you!
Olive continued patting the mannequins dress and gazing adoringly at her.
-She sure has a fancy dress doesn’t she?
Oh just fuck right off, stupid mannequin mom, is what I was thinking but not saying, because I am a good mother. A real mother.
At this point Lizzie finished paying, joined us and asked Olive what she was doing.
-I’m hugging my new mummy! She said happily.
Oh , said Lizzie, what’s her name?
– Madeleine, replied Olive without missing a beat.
-Oh COME ON I cried. I’m RIGHT HERE! This is total bullshit!
Lizzie couldn’t stop laughing. And when we had to leave, Olive cried. She cried the entire way home because she missed her new mummy.
Nine months I carried this little creature inside of me. I puked in a garbage can! TWICE! I wore maternity leggings! THREE years I’ve spent raising her since, sometimes singlehandedly, only to be shown up by some tart in sequins and (admittedly awesome, in a retro way) blue eye shadow.
She spent Easter in Edmonton and while the three-hour drive home is typically quite enjoyable, with games of I-spy and sing alongs to the terrible pop music I indoctrinate her with, this last trip was basically just three hours of tantrums. I had switched cars in Edmonton and she cried because she missed our old car. She cried because she couldn’t sit on my lap while I was driving. She cried because there were only three cows in a field and she wanted a LOT of cows. She cried because the sun was setting.
When we passed the midway point we had this conversation.
-Do you need to pee?
-Are you sure?
-This is the last chance to stop and pee before we get home, are you sure you don’t need to stop?
-Yes! I’m sure!
Literally three minutes after we pass the last exit
-I HAVE TO PEE!
It’s maddening sometimes. It’s maddening and illogical and non-stop (how do you deal with a tantrum about the SUN SETTING? How do you temper a child’s disappointment about the number of cows in a passing field?How does that conversation even go?) and sometimes I feel so utterly burnt out by it. I want to walk out of my house in five minutes rather than thirty. I want to be able to go out at night without having to arrange a babysitter. I want to sometimes have silence so I can listen to what’s inside my head instead of constantly talking to someone else whose appetite for attention seems utterly insatiable.
But, then there’s mornings like today. Today we flew to BC to see my mom and Olive’s other set of grandparents.
Our flight left at 8am, so we needed to be at the airport at 7. Olive and I are not morning people on the best of days and I had a late night the day before, so I was bracing myself for a nightmare.
I woke up at 5:30 to finish packing, and then woke Olive at 6 – two and a half hours earlier than normal. Guys, she was an absolute DREAM. She was happy, giggly, affectionate, and cute. She got dressed without blinking an eye. She charmed our cab driver, was helpful at the bag check, and her cheeky smile got us bumped us to the front of the huge security line. During the flight she kicked her feet and held my hand and made conversation. It was sublime. It was karma. It was Jekyll and Hyde.
At playgrounds I often feel a certain tired camaraderie with the other mothers. I hear it in the resigned, worn recital of admonishments, the chirpy, rote “Good job!” encouragements. It feels like autopilot. It feels like being so frustrated you can’t speak and so overcome with love that you can’t breathe. It feels like a state of being always and never alone.
This is the Jekyll and Hyde nature of children, but of motherhood, too. You get the best and the worst of each other. The most intimate grievances; the chubby hand on your cheek and lisping voice telling you you’re beautiful. You get tears over the loss of a presumably better-in-every-way mannequin mummy and midnight snuggles where they tell you they never want to leave you ever.
It’s the truest love I’ve ever known; also the most demanding, the most enduring.
Sometimes it feels like it’s taking all of me. Sometimes I think I’d be nothing without it.
For what it’s worth, the mannequin looks like a drag queen and you are far superior in every way! And I’m guessing your hands don’t fall off when tugged…
You’re right on about the hands, but I’ve seen some absolutely STUNNING drag queens. My makeup game is nowhere near that level.
We are road tripping it from Manitoba to Banff this summer with a 3 and 5 year old.
One word: Gravol.
My thoughts and prayers are with you.
So good!! “…like a state of always and never alone.”
Always and never alone – so true. Thank you.
This phrase first popped up in a book I read, and I have searched high and low and can NOT remember who wrote it or what the title was. I’d love to give attribution for this perfect phrase…it’s definitely not all mine but it is the absolute perfect summation of motherhood,
Haha. My four year old is constantly becoming infatuated with mannequins. I totally know what you mean by the “dreamy, lovestruck look.”
Oh thank god – it’s not just me, then?
YES TO ALL OF THIS! While I read this I heard “mummy!” coming from the toddler who is supposed to be having a nap. I’m still ignoring her while I type this, in the vain hope she’ll suddenly wear herself out and give me at least one -freaking-hour-to-myself-Goddamit! Gah!
What is “a nap”?
Oh boy, I remember the tantrums. My son was the champion of tantrums. Once he had a giant wobbly about being too too tired to walk back through two fields to the farmhouse, so I had a brainwave. I said “well, if you’re too tired to walk, why don’t you RUN instead!” And he did! Toddler logic! It works!
I laughed so hard at the mannequin mummy. I wonder what she’d think of you in the dress and wig, because that would be doable.
This was so beautifully written about the all encompassing love and exhaustion of motherhood. Thank you.