Something entirely new, something I have never been before.

Illustration by Liana Kerr
Illustration by Liana Kerr

I am standing in front of the mirror in my bedroom. This dress, a head-to-toe confectionary of gold sequins, makes me look fat, no two ways about it. The draping that is supposed to disguise my child-bearing tummy acts more like a contour map, emphasizing the ins and outs of my generous curves. When I turn to view myself from the side, I jingle.

I wear black. Just black. All the time. Black shirts, black capris, black shoes and dresses and skirts and hats and sweaters and bathing suits and nighties and tights. A habit I started in art school, where I learned that if your whole wardrobe is black, you will always match without having to work too hard, and, bonus points, you will look thinner.

But my bride wants me in gold.

I glare at my reflection in the mirror. To be perfectly fair, the dress is not the problem. I am the problem. I’m 50 pounds heavier than when I got married, before this lumpy body produced four children.

Once upon a time, I lived in the city and walked everywhere. But then I had children, moved to the suburbs, and got a drivers’ license. My walking days were over. The places I needed to reach were not in walking distance, at least, not for a woman with a baby in a stroller and several little ones trailing behind. Now I had to drive to the drugstore, the pediatrician, the supermarket, to the kids’ schools in Paramus. Drive to playdates, meetings with teachers, backyard camps across town, soccer practice, birthday parties in other neighborhoods, endless carpools. And in the process of driving to all those places, I grew curvier. A lot curvier.

I slip off the mother-of-the-bride dress, trying to keep the sequins from tangling in my hair. I hang it back up and frown at another sequined dress. Will this one make me look pretty? I have my doubts.

At first, this wedding stuff was like a game, like playing with dolls. Going dress shopping, spending hours on Pinterest, designing the invitation. But as the big day draws nearer, I find it’s getting a little too real.

Last Sunday, while other people enjoyed the last holiday weekend of the summer, we drove into deepest Jersey to drop in on a stranger’s bat mitzvah. Twelve-year-old girls fluttered past us in their formal dresses as a waiter seated us around a display of fancy finger food. Our caterer had arranged a “tasting.” Teriyaki sea bass and a fig, paired in the bowl of a porcelain spoon. Maple-glazed chicken tucked inside a waffle cone. Seared tuna and mango salsa, served in a martini glass. We dined by the glowing violet light of the ballroom as the girls danced to the beat of a distant DJ. It was surreal. Because, in my heart, my daughter is still 12 years old, and I am still driving her to bat mitzvahs.

How can my little girl get married? She just learned to walk! She just learned to ride a bike! She just started kindergarten! She just went to sleepaway camp for the first time! She just had her bat mitzvah! She just got her license! She just graduated high school! She just moved into her dorm! And yet, here we are at this strange moment in time that feels like a dream, visiting the dressmaker for her first wedding gown fitting. She stands tall and elegant and self-possessed and beautiful, surveying herself in the mirror as the tailor pins up her hem and begins to bustle the train.

She tilts her head, critically studying the gown. My daughter is funny, funky, articulate, and smart, a dedicated friend, a gifted artist. She was the kid who always made flashcards and schedules, inventing songs and acronyms to help her remember facts. In addition to being a highly-motivated and hard-working student, she was also an enthusiastic member of Teaneck’s volunteer ambulance corps, bravely venturing out into blackouts and hurricanes and traffic accidents to bring aid to those in need.

My daughter is an amazing young woman.

Tonight, we are meeting at the wedding hall to finalize details, like what time we will arrive on the morning of the wedding, which room will be used for the bedecken, what kind of chair she will sit in, who will walk down the aisle and when, and at exactly what time the bride and groom will be standing under the chuppah.

Oh, yeah. This is all getting a little too real.

I reach for the second gold dress and slip it off the hanger. The sequins whisper as I pull the dress over my head, and the fabric whooshes down around me, falling to my feet with a soft chiming sound. I fidget with the folds and drapes for an extra moment, trying to summon up the courage to look at myself in the mirror.

To my infinite surprise, the dress skims over my most egregious bumps and curves, draping them softly, flattering them, forgiving them. I realize that gold looks pretty nice against my skin. It’s pretty nice with the color of my hair, too. I feel the beginnings of a smile.

I am not thin. I am not wearing black. I am something entirely new, something I have never been before.

I am the mother of the bride.

About the Author
Helen Maryles Shankman is an artist and author. Her book, "They Were Like Family to Me," originally published as "In the Land of Armadillos," was a finalist for The Story Prize in 2016 and won an Honorable Mention for the 2017 ALA Sophie Brody Medal for Achievement in Jewish Literature. Her stories have been published in many fine literary journals, including The Kenyon Review,, Gargoyle, and Cream City Review. She is a columnist at The New Jersey Jewish Standard.
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