I looked over my left shoulder in the mirror and saw tears in my mom’s eyes. We were on our second bridal store of the day. For the sake of the three or so men who may read this blog, let me set the scene. Bridal stores come in many different types. The first one we’d visited was a boutique where all the focus was on me. I was the only customer in the store, and the clerk brought me dress after dress to try on. The experience was strange. I’d slip on a dress then stand on a pedestal in front of three angled mirrors. My mom and aunt Vikki sat in chairs facing the pedestal and made helpful observations. I felt like a trophy, but in a strangely fun way. The second store was basically a warehouse broken up into sections, each armed to accommodate one bride and her entourage of like 15. Honestly, I appreciated my party of two. (I’m writing like this as though I’m some sort of expert on wedding dress shopping, but this was my first experience and I only went to two stores.) Each section of store number two had a fitting room, and rows of chairs set up like an audience. Leaned against one chair was a black sign with pink and purple glittery letters reading “I said yes to the dress”. It was made to be held in a photo for brides who’ve chosen their dress, or for eye roll fodder, depending on a girl’s personality.
Over the course of the afternoon I’d tried on somewhere around 15 dresses. Some sparkled like dance costumes I used to wear. Some showed off my back. Some highlighted my distinct lack of cleavage. Some were heavy enough for me to ask the store clerk if she works them into her weight lifting routine. At least a few of them were lacy from top to bottom. One made it difficult for me to walk. None of them had made my mom cry until the nice woman who’d been toting gowns and carrying trains for me all afternoon clipped a veil into my hair. The tears were almost instant as the veil went on. My mom is conservative with her tears. I’ll cry at a sappy commercial or a sweet story about a make a wish kid who just wanted the whole world to have free ice cream for a day, but my mom… well, I don’t see her cry often.
I know so many people in this world who can say they’ve been loved and mothered by my mom. She’s the matriarch of her genetic family, and many families beyond. She’s given birth to three kids, and she’s been a practically lifelong stepmother to two more. When my brothers and I were kids she ran a daycare. Each day she welcomed several other babies and children into our home and kept each of them like her own while their parents were at work. She still keeps in touch with many of them. When I started school she took a job as a substitute teacher at that school, and continued to work there until long after I’d left. She’s the only daughter of seven kids, the organizer of many of our holiday gatherings, and the cook for most of our family meals. When her mother got alzheimer’s and her father couldn’t quite handle it alone, she moved them in with us and cared for her until her death. When I, her youngest childhood, moved out of the home she found a whole new group to mother – the campus ministry group at our church in Clemson. Since then I’ve found myself constantly meeting and getting to know “kids” who’ve been through that group, kids who count my mother as another of their caregivers, a second mom.
I don’t want to glorify the wedding dress shopping experience as more than it is. At the end of the day it’s shopping for an outfit, albeit an unusually fancy and expensive one, to be worn for one day. Millions of women have this same experience in their lives, but on Saturday afternoon as I stood on that pedestal in a beautiful lace gown and veil and watched my mom’s eyes fill up with tears, I was reminded just how lucky I am to get to truly call her mine… because only a few of us can.