Saturday, June 19, 2010

Like Daughter, Like Mother

On a steamy June afternoon just a couple weeks ago, I stopped in the middle of my day to slip into a summery frock, a triple string of pearls and a big straw hat. I combed my hair and put on lipstick. A quick glance in the mirror, and I judged myself to be one hundred percent adequate. The reason that I was abandoning my workaday uniform of stretched-out tshirt and oft-mended yoga pants? Mary Katherine had spent the week at a creativity camp, and parents had been invited to an Artists’ and Writers’ Tea for a concluding celebration. The minute Mary Katherine and her fellow camper, Meg, heard “Tea,” they saw an opportunity for dress-up, and they had both expended considerable effort in their choice of attire for the day. I had decided to follow Mary Katherine’s lead and, as my mother might say, Make an Effort.

Here is an example of how out-of-character this getup was for me: I’ve been dealing with the slow decline of my beater car, Dottie, for quite some time now. Bob at the garage and I have become quite close, and I swear that this man should consider a career as a hospice counselor if he ever tires of the mechanical racket. We share long, deep discussions about quality of life and when to let go. Lately, I’ve been seeing him at least once a month. On my way to the tea, I stopped by to see if Dottie would be able to join me on a weekend leave. Bob, clearly not recognizing me, asked if he could help; I identified myself, and he was, as the bard says, sore amazed. He kept leaning in and peering around, to see if that was me under the eyeliner. “You look great!” he exclaimed, but I knew that what he really meant was, “You look a lot better than you usually do!”

When I arrived at the tea, all the other mommies, dressed in approximately the same sort of gear I’d been enjoying just a half hour ago, turned and gaped. Was it the hat? The pearls? A few made comments about how they could certainly tell that Mary Katherine and I were mother and daughter, since we both had such a sense of style (the “over the top” and “excessive” were silent). I smiled, drank my pink lemonade from a plastic cup, and didn’t give a damn what they thought. I knew that Mary Katherine would be pleased that I’d made an effort, and that’s all that counted.

In matters of style, I’ve drawn great joy from Mary Katherine’s involved fashion machinations. “See?” she will tell me, face aglow and finger wiggling, “The earrings and the trendy belt are the same color as my nail polish!” A recent triumph was an outfit that was black-and-white polka dots from headband to ballerina flats; the best part, she said, was that some were white polka dots on a black background, and some were black polka dots on a white background.

When someone cares this much about something, and it’s someone I love, I make an effort. I follow Mary in so much more than matters of apparel, though. I listen to her great enthusiasms for performers and theater and plays. I observe her wisdom in dealing with the rough waters of middle school. I listen to the way she talks to people, and I try to follow her lead. No one ever speaks with more consistent, tangible love in their voice than Mary Katherine.

So while the mommies in the comfy clothes seemed sure that I was creating a little mini-me at home, schooling her in the things I cared most about, they were mistaken. I'm the one following Mary Katherine, because the road she travels invariably leads to joy and kindness and long bouts of laughing. And if I look a little spiffier every now and again because of that, so much the better, I suppose.

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