My mother is wonderful and I love her very much but when I got engaged last month, I kept it to myself. The reason I did such an unspeakable thing is, my mother goes over the top with special events for family. One year, early in my parent's marriage, the extended family asked her to organize the family Christmas party. They usually ate, had someone dress up as Santa and hand out toys, sing a few Christmas carols and then they would eat some more. Not the year my mother was in charge. She rented out a hall, hired some actors to act out the Christmas story, asked the church choir to sing, had the event catered and hired a 9 piece orchestra to play at the event. The event cost everyone a fortune. Still, she might have been excused all those extravagances except she committed the unpardonable sin in our family and hired someone to play Santa Claus instead of asking Uncle Harold to do it. He'd played Santa every year for the past 37 years. It was more than he and the family could handle. It's been over 15 years since she organized the party and Uncle Harold, who is now in a wheelchair, still hasn't forgiven my mother and he still plays Santa every year. No one would dare ask anyone else after what happened with my mother.
The year I turned five I wanted a My Little Pony birthday party. My mom rented ten ponies, one for each of the girls and then sewed each of the ponies a costume that corresponded to one of the My Little Ponies. It took my mom two months to sew all those costumes and who knows how much money but she didn't stop there. She turned our backyard into My Little Pony land and ordered a cake that looked like a pony. The funny part of the story is the night before the party I told my mom I had changed my mind and wanted to do a Strawberry Shortcake party instead. My dad says my mom almost had apoplexy right there and then. It was up to my dad to talk me back into the My Little Pony theme. Every year my birthday had been a big event until I turned 14 and refused to have any more birthdays. That lasted for two years until I turned 16 and my mother decided to throw me a surprise birthday party. She invited the entire sophomore class and rented out the gym at school. There were 250 people who attended that party, 245 of them could have stayed home and I would have been happy. It was a surprise I didn't want repeated again so I made a bargain with my mom. No more crazy birthday parties or other parties and I would let her be involved in my wedding. Otherwise, I was writing her out of the wedding business. It seemed like a fabulous deal at 16 and my mother has been true to her word. The crazy events haven't stopped, I just haven't had to be the center of them anymore, until now.
Now that I'm getting married and I've been engaged for over a month, I have to tell my mother. I wanted to call her and tell her over the phone but my fiancé Andrew figured we'd better tell them in person. We are going over there tonight to break the news. To be honest, my father already knows but he is a good actor (he really is, it's what he does for a living) so he will be able to pull it off like he didn't know a thing. I just hope I survive this night!
All through dinner Andrew kept giving me the eye, like we should tell them now but I am waiting for dessert. Everyone is happy when they are eating dessert. I don't expect my mother to be upset at all, she loves Andrew and will be thrilled we are finally tying the knot but I may need the dessert to withstand the tidal wave that is my mother and special events.
All too soon dessert was served, chocolate cake with chocolate frosting. Our cook makes the best chocolate cake ever. In fact, she says Claim Jumper got their recipe for their chocolate cake from her but that's a whole other story.
It's time to dig in but not into the cake.
"Mom, Andrew and I have decided to get married this fall," I announced.
"That's wonderful Kate! I have so many ideas. You could get married in a hot air balloon!"
"That's not going to happen," I said.
"Or you could get married on the beach in Catalina Island and then ride off into the sunset in a hot air balloon," said my mother.
"That's not going to happen either. We were thinking of getting married in a church in Santa Clara."
"Perfect. After the reception you could climb in the hot air balloon and ride off to some cute bed and breakfast with a vineyard for your honeymoon."
Andrew actually perked his eyebrows up at that one until he saw the storm cloud on my face.
"Actually Mom, there's going to be no hot air balloons involved in the wedding. We want something simple with our family and friends. "
"Well, what would you like me to do? I am to be involved in this wedding, aren't I? You are my only daughter and I've kept my word. I've got to do something," said Mom.
"I bought a book Mom that outlines all the things we have to do. The first thing I'd like you to help me with is picking out the wedding dress." I figured this had to be a safe thing to start with since I had to be a part of the purchase for it to work.
"Yes! I'm so excited but I have to insist that we go to New York to go dress shopping. They have the best stores there."
I wasn't about to turn down a free trip to New York to go shopping. What could go wrong?
"That sounds great Mom! I'd love to go. When can we go?"
"Let's go in two weeks. I think I can get everything arranged in that amount of time," said Mom.
"I think I can get the time off from work and that will give you time to get the airline tickets and hotel reservations."
"And don't forget the dress appointments," said Mom.
"What do you mean dress appointments?"
"Well you can't just show up at the stores and try things on without an appointment. Don't worry, I'll take care of all the details," said Mom.
That should have been my first hint that this was going to be an extraordinary trip with my mother!
We arrived in New York a little over two weeks later. We went to a Broadway play the night we got into town since our dress appointments didn't start until the next day. We went and saw "Newsies," a show I loved as a child and my mother knew that. She was starting off this weekend with a bang. I couldn't wait to go dress shopping. In the two weeks since I'd told my mom about the wedding, she hadn't bothered me once about the details, except to put in a good word for the hot air balloons. She'd been busy planning the wedding dress shopping event. I realized I'd just have to keep her busy with details that help the wedding get done rather than the entire wedding.
The next morning we got up, had breakfast and hailed a cab. We arrived at Kleinfeld's Bridal Boutique at exactly 10 am. My mother is always punctual. At the door, we were greeted by movie cameras. My father is not famous enough that we are followed by paparazzi so I didn't know what was going on but it became apparent that my mother knew what was happening. They wanted us to be on a reality TV show called "Say Yes to the Dress." My mother was ecstatic and I knew I couldn't do anything but say yes. We filled out the paperwork where I found out that not only would they be following us buying the dress but they also would need pictures of the actual wedding for the show. They fitted us for mikes and then were introduced to our consultant, Georgia. I know it's hard to believe but she was not from the south and she had a nice Brooklyn accent.
Georgia positioned herself to ensure a flattering angle of her profile from the camera, then proceeded to interview me with what I was looking for in a wedding dress.
"Tell me how you met An-drew," she started out, leaning forward in a manner which evoked her rapt attention to myself. Her accent elongated the first part of his name, making him sound like an Italian yuppie from the Bronx.
"Well," I hesitated. I didn't really want the entire country to know every detail of our lives, particularly about our first encounter. My mother was all too happy to jump in.
"It was so cute! They met in Hollywood when Katie-Belle ran over his foot in her car!" I could see the camera quickly change direction, zooming in on my mother's face, then rotating to capture my reaction.
I grimaced. "Obviously it was an accident. I was involved in a minor fender-bender...."
"She ran into the back of Kirk Douglas' Escalade...." my mother explained helpfully. I could feel my face starting to burn. Some girls can pull off a graceful blush, but I am not one of them. My face starts to look all blotchy.
"Yes, and I was trying to back my car out of traffic, when Andrew came rushing up to see if everyone was alright. I didn't see him until it was too late. I ran over his foot, breaking a few of his toes. It wasn't too serious. He was in a cast for three weeks."
Georgia's red-painted mouth was in the shape of an "O." Evidently she had to quickly decide which reaction would be best for the TV audience. She went with a sweet sentiment.
"Obviously you were destined to be togetha," she coo-ed, patting my hand. "Now tell me about the venue. Will you be gettin married in Hollywood?"
"Oh heavens no!" my mother chimed in. "We are having the ceremony at the Tuscany Vinyard in San Pedro, California, which has a period-based Italian villa and can accommodate up to eight hot air balloons!"
"Mother!" I protested, but Georgia was too quick for me.
"That sounds amazing!" she cried. "So what kind of a gown are we lookin for?"
"Well, something that has an Italian princess feel to it, with lots of billowy skirts as reference to the balloons. You know, something with a lot of bling!"
"You leave it to me, I have just the right dress for ya!" and Georgia raced off, her eyes glittering with a determined ferocity which was a little frightening.
My nightmare was just about to begin.
While one camera stayed trained on my and my mother’s faces, another followed Georgia into the inner sanctum of the shop. Georgia soon waltzed out and held the dress out in front of her triumphantly.
“Ta-da!” Georgia declared, sashaying the voluminous and bedazzled dress from side to side.
I’m sure my face mirrored the bewilderment and horror I felt on the inside. Despite my father’s genes, I was no actor.
My mother clapped her hands and bounced slightly on the curved couch that encircled the bride’s platform and three-way mirror. “It’s perfect, Katie! I can’t wait to see it on you.” She turned to me and actually squealed with excitement. “Go put it on.”
Georgia continued to swing the dress slightly side to side, much like a bullfighter entices a bull.
I was beginning to feel that by signing that contract I’d jumped on a roller coaster from which there would be no easy escape. I’d just have to stay calm and ride this thing to the end. I was starting to feel slightly queasy.
I waved my hands, palms forward, in front of me. It was the universal sign for NO WAY! “Georgia,” I tried to explain calmly, “that’s so not me. It’s just not my style. Can we consult a little more?”
“Katie,” my mom interjected with a pout, “just try it on. It will be fun!”
I turned to my mother, one finger pointed at her. “Listen here Mom,” I began, ready to remind her that while she got to help out with the wedding, she was NOT in charge. The cameraman shifted to get a better view of my face as I turned to give my mother a lecture. I leaned in closer, hoping to whisper. He took two steps forward. Over my mother’s shoulder I could see Gail, the director, practically salivating as she anticipated some serious drama between me and my mom. My eyes shifted between my mom, the camera guy, Gail, and that monstrous confection of a dress. “Listen here Mom,” I began again. I noticed my finger still pointed accusingly at my mom’s chest and took a deep breath. There was no way I was going to let them film me getting into it with my mom on national TV. I moved my finger slightly up and pointed at her front teeth instead. “You have a little spinach from your quiche right there.” My mother’s hand flew to her mouth. Gail’s shoulders dropped, deflated. I was determined not to give her anything juicy to work with.
“You ready darlin?” Georgia called.
“Well, I have to start somewhere,” I declared, standing up and marching determinedly forward, grabbing the dress from Georgia on my way to the dressing room.
Once we were in the dressing room, I tried to have a private conservation with Georgia while we were free from my mother. Of course private is a relative term when a production assistant, camera man, and audio guy are all in the dressing room with you. “I’d really like something much sleeker, more modern, sophisticated. No bling!” I explained to Georgia as I stepped into my mother’s choice of dress and she started fitting it to me. “I have a few pictures of what I’m thinking about in my purse.”
“Suck it in a little, honey,” Georgia demanded as she tightened the corset strings.
“This is so ridiculous!” I complained to Georgia, but I did as I was told and sucked it in a bit.
With Georgia done, I turned to get the pictures I’d printed off the internet and ripped from bridal magazines out of my purse and caught sight of myself in the mirror. My heart literally skipped a beat. I straightened up and gasped. I looked amazing. The beaded bodice and billowing, filmy skirts accentuated my body perfectly. I turned from side to side in front of the mirror. I had never looked so stunning in my life. Could it be this easy? Could the very first dress be The One? Would concurring with my mother on the dress mean I was doomed on every other decision because she would think she knew best? Could I give my mother the satisfaction of being right?
“I knew it would be perfect for ya!” crowed Georgia next to me. “It’s a Sophia Moncelli. She’s French. This style is so goooorgeous—it’s called the montgolfiere.”
Move over, Andrew, I thought. I think I’m in love with this dress.
I couldn’t help but touch the mirror and run my fingers across the organza. I think I may have even had an out of body experience, but my mother’s voice from outside jerked me back into the realization of the moment. I gave the camera a wide eyed glare and shook my finger. “Be right out mom. Just about done.” In that moment, I pictured my guests staring into the sky as Andrew and I recited our vows and floated away silently in our personalized hot air balloon. Oh! I can’t let her win this! I thought. “Georgia, get me out of this dress and put me in the ugliest dress you have.”
“I don’t understand sweetie. You look amazing.” Georgia looked at the camera and shrugged.
“This is not Bridezillas, so I won’t go there. I just want to have a little fun with my mom.” My dressing room buddies seemed to like the idea and waved Georgia off. I’m sure they assumed it would be good for ratings, but that was the least of my concerns.
When Georgia returned, I was surprised to see the number of hideous dresses she had in her arms, each uglier than the next. I slipped on the first, and laughed out loud. It was a pale cream color that resembled ring around the collar. Although the skirt was billowy, per my mother’s request, it was a good three inches above my knees. I couldn’t wait to see the reaction of my mom. Georgia kept fanning herself and paced around the dressing room. Her perky smile and excitement had turned into fear of loosing her job or worse…upsetting the mother of the bride. I leaned in close and whispered in her ear. She clapped and smiled and said “Ooo, you’re trouble girl.”
The appalled look on my mother’s face was exactly what I was going for. For the first time in her life, she was speechless….and I’d venture to say a bit nauseous. Her arms grasped her mid section and she hunched over a bit until she remembered the cameras. “Oh, Katie.” She forced a smile “You look…ahh..you look beautiful, let's see what the next dress has to offer though dear. No need to buy the first one you try on.”
As the cameras and their entourage followed me back to the fitting room, I heard my mom call to Georgia. “That was awful! Have her try on the one I chose.” She whispered.
“She won’t ma’am. I’ve tried. Best to let her have a go until she finds something she likes.” Georgia winked at the camera and caught up with me.
I chose to alternate trying on decent dresses with the ugly ones for good sport. Each time, mother politely complimented me and made more specific suggestions. When her patience was just about tapped, I walked out in a form fitting Vera Wang. No billowing skirt, no bling. It was the exact dress I had ripped from a magazine earlier in the week. Mom gasped and clapped. “It’s beautiful! Say yes to the dress! Say it!” I had broken her. Mission accomplished.
“Well?” Georgia asked with anticipation.
“I’d like to keep looking Mom. I’m not ready to commit.” I lied. Mom looked at the cameras baffled. On a show called “Say YES to the Dress” what do you do when the bride-to-be says no?
Back in the dressing room, I carefully handed Georgia the gown my mother had chosen and whispered careful instructions.
I waited outside while my mother stayed inside, in urgent conversation with Georgia. I smiled to myself. I imagined how surprised she would be when I wore her first choice on the day of our wedding. Despite the aggravation caused by her over the top planning of every event, I really did appreciate my mother and her efforts to make things nice for her family. I almost felt guilty about not giving her the satisfaction of picking the perfect dress. Then I remembered my 16th birthday party.
The rest of the trip was a whirlwind of activity. We registered for china and silverware that we would never use. It was easier to just comply. I tried to argue that none of our friends were going to shop in New York City and my mother insisted some might and also that if you register in Macy’s and Tiffany in New York, you registered in Los Angeles too. “Computers,” she said knowingly.
So we registered.
She bought necklaces for the bridesmaids and flower girl and Andrew’s sisters and mom and my grandmother and anyone else she could think of while we were at Tiffany. I cringed when they told her the total and she handed across her credit card. “I’ve been waiting for this my whole life,” she said. I drew the line at meeting with a floral designer.
“We are not getting flowers in New York!” I insisted.
“No,” she said, “But it may give us some ideas…”
I let her meet with the floral designer and I flopped on the bed in our hotel room. I ignored the pile of Modern Bride magazines my mom had left for me to peruse.
“We have to get the cake figured out next,” she said.
I decided, as I closed my eyes and tried to block out the garish design on the china my mom had insisted I pick, let her pick the cake. By the time the party was over it would be consumed anyway.
On the morning of the wedding, I was having my hair and makeup done by the army of stylists my mother had hired. A deliveryman knocked on the door and walked in with a wrapped parcel. “Delivery from Kleinfeld’s,” he said. Behind him marched a camera crew from “Say Yes to the Dress.”
How could I have forgotten the camera crew? Of course, my mother could have given me a heads up before she led them into my dressing room! She hurried off to finalize some details of the wedding I didn't know about yet.
There was another knock on the door and another deliveryman. “Delivery from Kleinfeld’s,” he said.
My head whipped toward the door and the woman applying eyeliner gasped as she drew a black-brown gash across my cheek.
I looked between the two deliverymen with their two parcels from Kleinfeld’s. The camera was trained on my face, eye-liner and all.
I'm sure I looked shocked and a bit of a mess with eyeliner colored across my cheek. I quickly wiped the eyeliner off of my face as best I could. I didn't need to keep that on for the cameras while I opened the boxes that were as big as myself.
"There must be some kind of mistake," I said to the two delivery men.
"It's addressed to Kate Slocum," said the first delivery man.
"Mine too," said the other delivery man.
"That's me. I guess I'd better open them up," I said to no one in particular.
I picked up the first box and checked the label. It was addressed to me. I just had to check for myself. I got it together and smiled innocently into the camera as if I had no idea what was going on, which was exactly the truth so I didn't really have to act. I opened the box carefully with a box opener so as not to damage whatever was inside the box and there it was, my dress and veil. It was the Sophia Moncelli dress I'd tried on 6 months ago and fallen in love with. I'd given them all my measurements and ordered the dress without my mother knowing or seeing the dress. I'd arranged with Georgia, who had arranged it with the production crew, to order the dress and make all the alterations without my mother knowing. I had flown back to New York once for a final fitting. Andrew had covered for me while I had been away so as not to make my mother suspicious. I had pulled off a coup.
But what was in the second box? Perhaps they mistakenly sent me two dresses. As awkward as that would be, I could just send the one back. They'd only have to find a bride my same size to salvage the sale. I glanced again at my dress to make sure it was the right one. I'd try it on later to make sure it fit right. Now, for the second box. I carefully opened it with the box cutters and opened up the box. Inside was the Vera Wang dress I had tried on that my mother loved, mostly because it wasn't hideous. On top was a note for me.
I opened the card and it read:
I wanted to make sure you were the happiest you could be so I bought you the dress I knew you loved.
And that's when the tears started. What a great Mom! Yes, she's overbearing and over the top and overwhelming and every other over you can be but she was my mom and she loved me. This was her way of showing that to me. I finally got it! Some moms love you by letting you have your way, some push you in directions they know are best for you, some push you to do things on your own but my Mom, my Mom did things that were over the top. It was her way of showing everyone her love for them. It took me a lot of years, my entire life really to understand that about her. I always thought she had wanted the limelight for herself. A "Look what I did", kind of thing. In that moment with that note and dress before me, I felt I understood my mother and the way she expressed her love to me. I got it! And then my mother came bursting through the door. Very dramatic like and perfect for the cameras. I stopped my eyes from rolling. Understanding my mother and loving her over the top flair were two different things. I'd be working on the latter for the rest of my life.
"Darling, you got the dress!" said my mother.
"Actually, I got two dresses," I replied.
My mother stopped midway across the room, "What?"
"I have two dresses from Kleinfelds," I said.
"How is that possible, I only ordered one dress," my mother replied.
"Yes, but I also ordered one dress."
My mother's face went into her fake smile. I could tell she was trying to figure out which one of the ugly dresses I had bought since she'd been forbidden to see the dress until today. She held back her revulsion at my possible dress choice and went with the innocent response, "I thought you didn't buy a dress when we were there."
The teenager in me came out, "Yes, but silly me, I thought I was supposed to buy the dress, so I did."
"Yes, but I knew you loved that dress so I bought it for you. Let's try them both on and then we can decide. Can I see which one you bought?" asked Mom.
"Nope," I said and grabbed my mom's hand and led her over to the settee in the corner. "I'll try on your selection first and then I'll unveil my dress, the one I bought."
"It's a good thing we have some time until the wedding," grumbled my mother as she got comfortable on the settee.
It took me no time at all to put on the first dress. I was back twirling before my mother in no time. She put on my veil and declared me just beautiful as she wiped a tear out her right eye.
"It is lovely Mom but wait until you see my dress," I replied and I literally ran back into the other room to put on the dress she had picked out for me, she just didn't know it.
It took me a bit longer to get into this dress. It had a ton of pearl buttons, a petticoat that needed flouffing and a detachable train that weighed a ton due to all the bling attached to it. The whole dress was heavy but I fell in love with it all over again. We fixed my hair, finished my make-up, put on the family jewels, my wedding shoes and finally attached the veil to my hair.
I readied myself for the explosion I knew was going to come when I walked into that room and then told my best friend Amanda to open the door. The door was opened and I glided, as best I could, into the room.
My mother started jumping up and down and yelling, "I love it! I love it! I love it! It's your dress!"
Hearing all the commotion, my father came running in through the door and stopped still, "Kate, you are breathtaking. Andrew isn't going to know what hit him!"
My mother, who had calmed down a bit, asked, "Is that the dress I wanted you to try on?"
When I nodded, she started with her, "I knew it was the perfect dress. I knew you'd love it!"
My father finally came over and gave her a pat on the back, "Okay dear, let's not gloat too much."
"I wanted to surprise you with the dress so I never showed it to you but I loved it the moment I tried it on. I arranged with Georgia to get all the measurements and everything else figured out while I was trying on all those other dresses so that you wouldn't suspect a thing," I told them.
"No wonder Georgia told me it wouldn't be a problem to order this dress for you. She made two sales in the same appointment. She made out like a bandit. You gotta be impressed with that woman," said Mom.
"So, are you okay with me wearing this dress? I really like the other dress but I want to wear this one," I said.
"Honey, you wear this one! It's just perfect and you'll look absolutely wonderful climbing into the hot air balloon after the reception!
"What?" I gasped and then put on my best fake "I love my mother and her craziness" smile for the cameras.