Sunday, May 14, 2017

mother's day and the lace dress

When I was about 9 or 10, I remember going shopping with my mother. We were visiting relatives in NJ and taking advantage of their "real" shopping mall. At one of the big department stores, I fell in love with a dress--layers of white lace, frothy and full. To me it was the dress of a dream, more luxurious and fine than anything in real life. I asked my mother if we could get it. She looked at the price tag and her face shadowed. My  heart sank and I I knew she was going to say no. It was too expensive, too frivolous, too unnecessary. But, before a word left her lips she looked and me and hesitated. And then, to my great surprise, she nodded and said yes.

I wore that dress to a school concert, where I sang in the choir. They had chose nine students to stand in the front of the stage to sing and I was one of them. I sang right in the center and as I sang, I saw an older woman nudge her partner and nod towards me. My heart sank. I probably looked weird.  What was I, this Asian girl a million years away from a fairy-tale princess, doing wearing a dress like this?

But when the song finished and we walked down the aisle of the auditorium, the woman caught my eye and said, "You look lovely! Your dress is beautiful!"

Then, a warm heat filled me--embarrassment but also happiness. For that one moment, in that dress, I could let myself believe I was really pretty--a rare feat for any preteen, but an especially difficult one for me, who had always felt my Asian features precluded me from the adjective. (Also from that moment on, lace dresses were forever seen with affection, no matter how unstylish or ridiculed they were. Both my wedding dresses were lace.)

I've been thinking about that memory a lot recently.  I asked my mom what made her change mind; and she doesn't even remember buying the dress. And, to be honest, I don't even remember thanking her for it. But, somehow, maybe because it's Mother's Day and I have a girl of my own, the memory of that lace dress means more to me than ever. To me, it symbolizes a moment where I could see how my mom loved me. Not because she bought me something, but because I saw clearly how she went against her first impulse. She set aside her instinctive, immigrant frugality because she wanted to make me happy. And she did.

Thanks, Mom! Happy Mother's Day!