A Mother's Perspective

A mother learns to tailor her expectations to her daughter's style

Inside a local bridal shop posted this warning in capital letters: No dress was to be tried on without the aid of a trained wedding gown assistant. And no family members were allowed in the dressing rooms. A trained assistant beamed a smile from the other side of the shop after my daughter and I walked in. The woman began to head toward us while I, despite intentions to be a supportive mother of the bride, reached back for the door handle, muttering that I’d forgotten my glasses in the car. I did need the glasses, but I also secretly hoped the clerk would get a gander of Amanda without my flustered presence. The loops of tattoo ink on her arms that clanged against the wedding splendor surrounding us, and the pregnant belly rounding bulletlike from her body, which any dress we bought would have to accommodate with room to spare. I didn’t want to be around when the clerk took in my daughter’s eclectic appearance.

In a month, Amanda was to marry the father of her 3-year-old son and the child growing inside of her. The wedding would take place outside, under a tree. My three other daughters and I would spend the morning before the ceremony at a U-Pick farm gathering zinnias and asters and cornflowers for bouquets. Amanda had rented a church kitchen where she and helpers—me included—would cook an organic dinner from scratch (fennel risotto balls, sweet-potato tamales, carrot-basil slaw), wrap each dish and tuck the food into giant coolers for transporting. On a distant piece of land, I would watch my ex-husband walk our pregnant daughter down a grassy path while her next youngest sister played the bridal march on the saw.

How could I not admire this determination to have a wedding that was hers alone? I marveled at the keen imagination, the surges of energy emanating from Amanda as she put her day together—yet I also kept waiting for an opportunity to step in with my own ideas. Ideas, I suppose, that seemed overly conventional to her. I did believe Amanda would cherish a few traditions—the ones she’d practiced her whole childhood in our living room: my grandmother’s linen tablecloth her heavy dress, she the bride, and her sister, Stephanie, the always-groom. Indeed, Amanda had finally admitted to me that she longed for a classic wedding dress, white and flowing, with a filmy veil pinned in her hair, and I knew that was it: I could satisfy my desire for tradition, and hers, by buying her a gown.

Through her middle-school years—plopped suddenly in a new town after her parents’ divorce—Amanda was a loner, a quiet girl who felt she’d never fit in with children who’d been pals since kindergarten. By high school, she’d become more ostracized; that is, until she and Stephanie hooked into the punk/grunge subculture with black garb, silver studs and zippered pants, and the Ramones and Dead Kennedys screaming from their bedroom. Soon she was trying drugs, disappearing for days at a time, living on the streets. Those years were terrible for me, but, as Amanda and Stephanie entered their 20s, we’d put tremendous effort into getting over the past. Still, Amanda was determined to go her own way, while I was determined to nudge her—often to her consternation—toward what felt more “normal.” I wanted Amanda to cleave to good plans for the future: a want so vibrant and so frantic that I couldn’t help but push it on her, especially after she announced her plans to marry. I urged her to accept at least some of society’s customs so she didn’t always have to be the outsider, the one who made her own mold no matter the cost. As the wedding came together, I saw more of her I-like-it-out-here-on-the-edge attitude (though admittedly a milder and sweeter version) and that worried me.

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