By Kerry Anne Harris
It would not zip up.
It had, not two weeks ago, zipped just fine—with extra room, in fact. But now, forty-five minutes before we were supposed to be sitting in the wedding chapel pew, the beautiful silk cocktail dress would not zip. The wedding was at 5:30 on Saturday evening. It was black-tie (technically “optional,” but not practically so). The bride’s family was from New York City, and the wedding was in an upscale part of Connecticut. I had packed only one formal dress to wear. This dress. This dress that was supposed to fit, but didn’t.
“Let me see,” my husband said as I started pacing in the tiny Air B&B Bedroom that looked like an explosion of somebody’s great aunt’s entire nick-knack collection. We’re talking cat figurines, cat clocks, a cat doorstop, and some angels (of course there were angels—with older women of the great-aunt variety, where there are always cats and angels). There were also weird glass bowls, and teacups, and not enough room on either side of the bed to fit both suitcases. There were proper inns, of course, but those cost three times as much, and we have other things to pay for, like diapers.
I stepped over a pile of clothes on the floor and walked over to my husband who, while I sucked-in LIKE A CHAMPION, zipped it. Hazzah!
But—I COULD NOT BREATHE—I’m talking like corsets of the 1800’s, not breathing. If by some miracle I made it through the ceremony without fainting, there was no way I’d be able to have more than a bite of wedding cake without passing out. I bent over trying to stretch the non-strechy silk, but as I continually forced my ribs to inhale (since, you know, the continuation of life generally requires inhales) I knew it was not going to work—neither the stretching, nor the wearing. The dress had to come off.
Our son was not with us. He was staying with my in-laws. Coming to this wedding was our first full weekend without him since he’d been born. The wedding ceremony and festivities were in Lakeville, Connecticut, which was about thirty minutes from where I went to boarding school in Kent, Connecticut.
I had not returned to my high school since graduation over ten years ago, and in celebration of the visit and our weekend away, I bought a new sundress for walking around campus on Saturday morning. The sundress was navy with a sleeveless jersey top and a floral cotton skirt. It wasn’t casual, but it wasn’t formal either. Of the four potential dresses I ordered from Amazon, I returned three, but this one felt right, so I wore it. When we walked around, we didn’t see a soul. My favorite teachers were all on vacation, and apparently the new faculty didn’t arrive until the following week. On an old running trail, we did run into the dean of students, who was walking her dog—the same type, but by a different name. Ten years had passed, and though the school was just as I remembered, I was not who I thought I would be.
The night before, we’d attended a party with people we went to college with, people much like the ones I’d gone to high school with; people who were attending Harvard Business School and Wharton; people who were Luce Scholars and Rhodes Scholars; people who’d just finished trips to Croatia and to Switzerland and to Venezuela; people who were running their own companies and who were working at the most prestigious law firms and the most prestigious accounting firms and the most prestigious consulting firms in the country. These were the nation’s best and brightest. And none of them had a baby—not one. And none of them stayed home. Round and round they went, telling what they did, and where they traveled, and then they came to me.
“And what do you do, Kerry Anne?”
“Oh, we have a baby, and I just stay home.” Can you hear it? The “just.” As if that choice is not a good choice? As if that choice is not an important choice? In high school, I thought I would grow up to be an international scholar, or a director of a non-profit that helped women in Sub-Saharan Africa, or the CEO of some kind of grandiose something—I didn’t know what exactly, but the world was open, and I would do it. I thought, in short, I would be like the people I was standing beside.
But then in college, I didn’t like my international studies classes. And I shunned math. And I didn’t really like business. What I liked were words and ideas and the culmination of ideas and words into stories that could grab the heart—hold on to it in a way that left it slightly changed, or profoundly changed, or unconsciously changing.
And so I took more literature classes. I read more, wrote more, changed more. I chose a different path without realizing, perhaps, exactly what I was choosing.
And amidst the reading and writing and changing there was love. And love, as it does, changes everything.
Then I chose marriage.
Then I chose graduate school. Not in business. But in fine arts—and not art for art’s sake, but for the world’s sake. Because, how will the world know what it is becoming without someone reflecting upon it, and then reflecting it back?
Then I chose children, and God, graciously, granted us a baby.
A baby who was not with us that weekend, as I desperately wanted to be someone other than “Mom,” desperately wanted to be someone who fit into her black-tie attire–now just minutes before a very fancy wedding. But what I wanted, what I thought should fit in that angel-cat-nick-knack bedroom, did not.
I did have another dress, though. The sundress. I had worn it all day. It was wrinkled, and there was no time to iron it because I forgot I had to sew my husband’s bowtie back onto the tie strap, and I was so flustered that I sewed it on backwards, and then had to use fashion tape and some prayer to keep it in place. But it stayed in place, and I put back on the wrinkled, deodorant-stained sundress. Then I curled my hair, and did my make up and wore the biggest, sparkliest earrings I had. We arrived in time to sit in the back row. All around us women dazzled in designer cocktail dresses and floor length gowns, and I could do nothing but sigh (quite well, at least).
When the ceremony was over, and we made our way to the reception, the small talk around cocktail tables began again, and inevitably the question came up: “And Kerry Anne, what do you do?”
What do I do?
What do I do—I wake up, every day. I breathe, in and out. I get breakfast for my son, and sometimes my husband, and always our dog. I take us for a walk. I read, and I sing, and I dance. I teach my son that God loves him and I love him, and there is nothing he could ever do to make either of us love him more. And I clean—oh how I clean. I never even realized how much there is to clean or how hard it is to clean, but I clean —the baseboards and the cracks in the couches and the toilets and the showers. I water the grass and the bushes and our feet on sunny days. I rake and I push the swing, and I check out books at the library, and I pay the late fines when I forget to return them or choose not to return them because I’ve renewed them too many times and there is something about WHEN GREEN BECOMES TOMATOES that makes my soul feel like it is not alone. I hug our dog. I teach our son to hug our dog, and to hug me, and to hug his friends, and to share, and to say he is sorry, and to say I forgive you. I say I am sorry. I say, will you forgive me? I pray. I pray for patience and wisdom and strength to get through one more lonely, wonderful, terrible, beautiful, perfect day.
So when they ask what do I do, I say, “We have a son who’s about twenty months old, and I stay home with him.” And I don’t say just, because it’s not just. It’s everything. It’s a choice.
It’s not easy—being the one in the sundress at the black tie wedding. That night I felt like everyone was staring at me. But after a while I forgot about them, because the only person that mattered told me as we were dancing the way we did before we had our son, before the rings, before we were anything besides a boy and a girl falling in love—he said: “You’re beautiful.”
Sometimes the dress we plan to wear—perhaps the dress we hope to wear—does not fit. In the moment, it is not right. We can either stuff ourselves into a role that suffocates, or we can choose to breathe—and it is a choice, and it means everything.
Kerry Anne Harris received her Master of Fine Arts from the University of North Carolina in 2015, where she received the annual Doris Betts Award in Creative Writing in 2014 and again in 2015. She is currently a stay at home mom and blogs about motherhood at aladyandababy.wordpress.com. Her essays have been published on parenting websites such as Great Moments in Parenting, and she has also been featured on the Mom Bloggers Club.
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