Phyllis stared at her, the teacup halted halfway to her dainty lips which now hung slack. I smiled warily, trying not to rip the too-tight skirt as I stepped onto the platform in front of the three-way mirrors. I watched Phyllis’s reflection as she shook herself out of her shock and returned the placid expression to her face. The teacup finished its journey. She took a small sip and then gently patted her mouth with a linen napkin. Even though today was the first day my mother and future mother-in-law had met, I knew I hadn’t explained well enough to Phyllis just what she was in for. Knowing Phyllis though, she wouldn’t become unruffled again.
“Turn around and give us the full 380, honey,” Brenda instructed me. My mom had been right about one thing; I certainly did have the chest to fill out the little number. But, I couldn’t imagine walking down the aisle in it. If I were going to spend thousands on a dress, I was hoping for a lot more flounce for my buck than this thing. “Do a little dance, honey. See if it stays on.”
Please make this day end, I silently prayed to the wedding gods and did a half-hearted step to the side and back so I could appease my mother. “Oh, not like that.” Brenda waved me down. “You gotta put a little thrust into those hips. Pretend it’s the real deal.”
In the real deal wedding dance that Blake and I were planning, there was no hip-thrusting involved. We were preparing for our first dance by taking private lessons at a studio a senior partner in my firm had recommended. We were going to waltz our way to the win. I just couldn’t figure out how my mother fit into the equation.
My mom had edged herself off the fluffy settee and was now huffing as she demonstrated a few moves designed to see if the dress would magically stay up or shimmy itself right off my body.
I interrupted her groove. “I don’t really think it’s my style anyway, Mom.”
She stopped in mid-boogie. “Why not? You look like a million bucks.”
I turned back to my reflection. The knee-length, entirely sequined, strapless dress confronted me.
“It just doesn’t say wedding to me.”
“Oh pooh,” she replied. “I raised you to be unconventional.”
“I’m not sure it’s right for the venue,” Phyllis interjected. “St. Catherine’s is, in fact, still rather conventional. We wouldn’t want to shock Father Thomas off the stand now, would we?” Her last sentence was technically a question, but it was delivered with a tone of finality.
At Phyllis’s commanding voice, my mother realized she’d been shot down and returned to the settee. “You do look beautiful, Destiny,” she said wistfully. She threw back her dejected shoulders a little bit. “Thanks for trying on my choice, honey. You were nice to give it a shot.”
I turned and grinned at this crazy lady that I loved. My mom replied with a sideways glance at Phyllis who was beckoning the assistant with a little wave of her index finger. She shrugged and smiled back at me.
“Maybe something a little more Kate Middleton,” Phyllis instructed the assistant who guided me off the platform and back to the dressing room.
As I changed into a dress I had selected myself, I could just imagine the small talk Brenda and Phyllis would be having. I cringed.
I looked at myself in the mirror and nervously smoothed the mermaid style gown and braced myself before leaving the dressing room. Phyllis’s body language gave me reason to worry when I returned. She was facing away from my mom now. Her lips were forcefully pinched and her arms folded tightly across her chest. I lipped a silent “What happened?” to my mom. Brenda just shrugged innocently and smirked as she popped her gum and twirled her hair.
“So, what do you think?” I asked, hoping to pull Phyllis back in the moment.
“I think you look radiant dear. Do ask your mother though. I’m sure she has an opinion. She is under the impression that I want you to look like a Catholic nun.” Phyllis casually stated, trying to remain composed.
“Let’s not put words in my mouth Phil. All I asked was if the dress you wanted Des to try on came with a chastity belt.”
“Oh, mom.” I sighed and rolled my eyes. “You know I’ve already got my own.” I joked. I couldn’t tell if Phyllis was smiling, but her arms relaxed a bit. “Apologize please, and play nice or I’ll make you sit next to dad at the rehearsal dinner.”
“You wouldn’t!” she laughed. “Oh, I was only going for a laugh Phil. I’m sorry.” She said, gently smacking Phyllis’ knee.
Phyllis brushed the spot Brenda’s hand had just tapped. “I think a more traditional dress would suit your….frame.”
“That dress is beautiful! Des, turn around a few times. Yes, like that. WooHoo girl! The caboose looks as tight as the grill. That’s my girl. Only thing I would change is the neckline. Needs to be lowered a bit. No need to hide them, Des.” Brenda laughed as she slapped the arm of the couch.
With that, Phyllis stood up and handed me a dress. “Would you mind just trying this one on for fun dear?”
Thirteen dresses later I had heard comments ranging from “too conventional” to “too pretentious” but at least Phyllis was enjoying the critique as much as my mom now. The two were in a battle of words to see which could describe the dress in the most imaginative description. Poor Phyllis. I think she learned a few new words. I really ought to have prepared her better.
Finally we left the store in defeat. My mother pulled me aside as we were leaving and said, “Don’t worry, we’ll come back sometime without that old bag.” I bristled under the grasp of her talon like fingernails and the overwhelming smell of her perfume. I prayed Phyllis hadn’t heard her.
After we dropped my mother off at her apartment, I drove Phyllis to her home. I was meeting Blake for dinner there later. “I’m sorry that…took so long,” I said. I didn’t know where to start apologizing for my mother.
“It’s fine,” Phyllis said, smoothing her skirt, seeming to try to wipe the afternoon away. “Perhaps we can go back another time, just the two of us,” she said.
“Maybe,” I said. What I really thought was that I should find my own wedding dress. Alone.
We entered the cool exterior of my future in-laws house and I heard the distant chime of a clock, announcing the hour. Phyllis clicked away on her heels to the kitchen to check on dinner preparations that their housekeeper was preparing. She sent me to sit in the sunroom to wait for Blake. I thought back on the afternoon and cringed each time I remembered my mother. How was I possibly related to her? She was brash and loud and shameless. And embarrassing.
The phone rang and I heard footsteps. Phyllis, high heels clicking, hurried to answer it. She was in the room across the courtyard from the sunroom but since windows were open, I could hear the conversation.
“Oh Larry,” she exclaimed, addressing Blake’s father, “It was just terrible. You would not believe that woman.” She continued to outline some of the more obnoxious parts of my mother’s personality. I felt my cheeks burn and I knew I shouldn’t be eavesdropping. I decided I should just close the window. I didn’t want to hear anymore about my mother. I was more aware than anyone how embarrassing she could be. Welcome to my entire life, I thought bitterly.
Right as I was closing the window, I heard something from Phyllis though. She said, “I don’t think this is going to work.”
What wasn’t going to work? Shopping with my mother? Having a wedding with my mother involved? Or Blake marrying me altogether?
And so that was when I got mad. Yes, my mother was humiliating. She was overbearing and just…inappropriate a lot of the time. But she was my mother! She was all that I had. Who was Phyllis to say she didn’t think this would work, whatever this was.
By the time Blake walked into the room I was furious. My heart was pounding and I didn’t know if I was ready to call the whole thing off, defend my mother to Phyllis with righteous indignation, or drive back over to my mother’s apartment and yell at her. Instead, I just burst into tears.
Blake looked a little shocked as he walked into the room and saw me crying. We met in the middle of the room and he enveloped me in his arms and I felt instantly better. I was not the crying type. Blake, who I had known for two years, had only seen me cry twice before. Once when he asked me to marry him and that was because it was such a surprise and the time I lost my first big court case.
"What happened, dear?" asked Blake.
I tried to get out what had happened through the tears and snuffles. This is what Blake managed to hear - mothers, wedding, dresses, awful.
"Let's go, dear. We need to get you out of here and fast before my mother makes her appearance," said Blake.
Luckily the sunroom is right off the front hallway. Blake led me to the car and made sure I was safely seatbelted in with a box of tissues. I couldn't stop the crying now that I had started. Blake ran back inside to make our excuses to his mother. I thought back over the day and realized I might have jumped to the wrong conclusions about what Phyllis was saying. I had had a hard day and I had known my mother would be a bit much for Phyllis, who lived in a fancy house, on the golf course and whose second home was the country club. My mother was the exact opposite. She worked full-time as a masseuse and had a small apartment over a bar which served as her second home. I'm not sure what I was expecting. I guess I should have foreseen that getting the two of them together would only result in tears but I had to have my mom there with me. She was my rock, albeit a crazy, wild rock. She had always been there for me and encouraged me and loved me and I knew she needed to be there to help pick out the dress. Phyllis had invited herself along but I had thought it would be good to get her perspective on my future dress. Boy was that a mess but at least I was done getting their help and I was done crying about it. Where was Blake?
Just then Blake came running out to the car. "Sorry it took so long but my mom wanted to fill me in on what had happened," said Blake. "It sounds like it was a nightmare."
My blood started boiling again. "What did your mother say happened?" I asked, in measured tones.
Blake looked at me as he started the car. "Well," he said cautiously "she said that your mom was pretty embarrassing at the store and that was why you were probably crying."
"What exactly did she say?" I asked.
Blake didn't say anything. He'd heard my lawyer tone and was cautious.
"Blake, what did she say?" I asked again.
"I'm not exactly sure," said Blake, using his evasion tactics.
"Blake, take me home," I replied curtly.
"Okay, but am I invited in as well?" Blake asked.
"That depends on if you can remember what your mother said," I responded.
"How about you just tell me what happened," said Blake.
"That's what should have happened to begin with," I replied and proceeded to tell him everything that had happened. It took me over 30 minutes to divulge the entire dress shopping craziness and by then we were back at my house.
"I'm not exactly sure what my mother was saying when she said this wasn't going to work but it doesn't really matter to me and it shouldn't matter to you. We're not marrying our parents, we're marrying each other. If they don't like each other, they don't have to come to Thanksgiving dinner or spend Christmas day at our house. We can make our own home and our future and the rest of them don't matter. I love you and I want to marry you and now the bigger question is what are we going to do about your dress shopping? I don't want you to have to go through this again," said Blake.
"I'm glad you asked because I've been thinking about that. I'd like you to go with me. I'll try on some dresses, you give me your opinion and then I can go back later and pick the dress I want. This way you won't have to know what dress I'll be wearing and I won't have to take our mothers dress shopping again," I said.
"Brilliant!" said Blake.
I loved that he was willing to do this for me even though I knew he would hate every moment of it. I also knew that we hadn't heard the last of his mother's objections or my mother's embarrassing moments. Hopefully, we could get through the rest of the wedding planning without any more tears.
The following weekend I took Blake back to the bridal shop. I started off by showing him my particular favorites, trying to gauge his reaction to them. It was all going great until I heard Phyllis’s austere voice directly behind me.
“Really, Blake. You should have told me you two were dress shopping today. I must insist that I help in the selection.”
I spun around, facing the disapproving look on my future mother-in-law’s face.
“Mother…How did you know we were shopping today?” Blake asked, concern and a hint of fear evident in his eyes.
“I was simply trying to get a hold of you, and when you didn’t answer your cell phone, your father traced it through his work computer,” she answered nonchalantly.
“Company phone…” Blake muttered under his breath.
“Shall we continue with the dress selection, my dears?”
“Yes, of course,” I stammered. I was indeed raised by my mother to be different than everyone else, to know how to stand up for myself, but for some reason this woman always seemed to intimidate me. I looked down at the mermaid style dress that I was wearing. It had a deep V-neck, but didn’t dip down to my navel, like my mother would have liked. It didn’t have many embellishments, but relied more on the draping of the silky fabric and the sensuous way it clung to my body. I felt amazing in this dress, but knew that Phyllis would never approve of it. How would I ever convince her that this was the right gown for me?
“Did you think you could start this party without me?” Another familiar voice sounded from behind me, and I groaned as I spun around to see Brenda marching into the shop. She got one look at me and stopped dead in her tracks, “Mmmm hmmm Girl, you are rockin’ in that dress!” Then seeming to not be able to control herself, she did another booty jiggle dance. Her cheetah print spandex pants showed every possible jiggle, and she teetered a little in her bright red stiletto heels. “That’s my girl!”
“Mom!” I cried. “How did you know we were here?”
“I followed you, of course, Honey! You didn’t think you could fool your own Mamma, did ya? I knew you would be here again before long.”
“I am loving what this dress is doing for your body, but don’t you think you could, you know, free up the girls a little?” she pushed on, pointing to her own well-endowed chest. “I think they need a little air.”
“I think that I need a little air,” interjected Phyllis, eyeing Brenda with an obvious look of distaste.
“Mother, please, can we just act civilly?” asked Blake.
“No, no,” Brenda huffed, “You go right ahead. I think that I know what is best for my daughter.”
“And I think that I know what is best for my son,” Phyllis countered.
The two women were glaring at each other, Brenda had her hands on her round hips in full mother-bear mode, while Phyllis looked like a venomous snake looking for the next vulnerable place to strike. Finally she shook her head in exasperation.
“This is never going to work. Come along, Blake, let’s go home.”
“You’re right, Mother. This is not going to work and you should go home, but I won’t be going with you.”
Phyllis stamped her foot and its classic black pump in anger, but her fury was swallowed up by the plush carpeting. This was the most out of control I had ever seen Phyllis. I didn’t know whether to be horrified or amused.
My mother had no qualms about her reaction and began giggling.
Sensing the showdown, the manager of the boutique scurried from the backroom and headed toward our party. “Perhaps I can be of assistance here?” Both Brenda and Phyllis turned on her and in unison hissed, “No!” Phyllis added a terse “thank you” as the manager hastily boomeranged back to the racks of dresses.
I had had enough. In the brief silence that followed the manager I calmed my breathing and cleared my throat. “You know, it’s not really about what’s best for your daughter,” I pointed a finger at my mother, warning her via my body language not to interrupt me. “Or what’s best for your son.” I gestured toward the still fuming Phyllis. “It’s about what’s best for us.” I beckoned impatiently for Blake to come join me in some show of solidarity. He strode toward me and then stood behind me with a hand on each shoulder. I felt slightly like a human shield, but I continued, hoping that the tremor in my voice would be unnoticeable.
I summoned my courage. “I know a little something about negotiating. And it seems to me that Blake and I are the ones with the power here. We have the motivation and the means to pull off this wedding entirely by ourselves. So your participation in it is a privilege, not a right. Blake and I love each other and we love you and you love us, so I hope you can find sufficient motivation to figure out how to tolerate each other.” I looked at both of them meaningfully. “And not just for the wedding,” I added, “but afterward too because we’re in this for the long haul.” I gave my final plea. “Please figure this out because we do want you at the wedding.”
After several seconds of silence spent staring at each other, Brenda finally threw up her hands. “Oh, whatever Desi. If you’re going to go all lawyer-like on me, then I guess I have no choice. If I paid for all that school, then I might as well listen to you. I’ll butt out.” Truth be told, my mother paid for hardly any of my school, but I wasn’t about to argue with her when she had finally conceded to backing down. My mother headed for the door, but added over her shoulder. “Just make sure to call me when you taste test the cake.” It wasn’t a throw-away line; I knew she was completely serious about the cake. She sauntered out the door without any formal farewell.
Phyllis had a difficult time sweetening the sour expression on her face. “Well, I can certainly tell when I’m not wanted.” Finally, I thought; I wished she had picked up the vibe days ago. “If this is something you need to do for yourself, then I suppose I should wish you the best of luck.” Phyllis kissed Blake on the cheek and then slowly walked out of the store, trying to recapture the regal air that she had relinquished during the time spent in my mother’s presence.
Set free from orbiting our crazy mothers, I summoned the shell-shocked manager and continued to try on dresses. After conferring with Blake and then sending him home, I finally settled on the mermaid gown with the V-neck and long sleeves that draped off my shoulders. A voluminous veil would cover everything for the ceremony and keep it church appropriate. I felt classy and sexy. Blake was going to be in heaven. Perfect.
My mother, my much-adored but mostly absentee father and I stood with elbows linked ready to walk down the aisle as they gave me away. My father looked handsome as ever in a classic tuxedo. He had flown in two days before the wedding and followed all my instructions including how to be attired down to the letter. Brenda conceded to convention only in that her mother-of-the-bride outfit was one of my wedding colors. But she had certainly successfully negotiated her own style. In exchange for keeping mum on my dress choice, I had basically given her free reign on her own dress. Family, friends and work colleagues from both my side and Blake’s were about to get a glimpse of who Brenda was and a little bit of insight into who raised me. Come to think of it, they were going to get more than just a glimpse of Brenda as the dress she had chosen was so tight it left nothing to the imagination. She reached over with her free hand and tried to adjust my neckline lower. I batted her hand away. “Remember, you have zero say,” I scolded. “The girls are reined in today. Stop trying to set them free. And don’t even mess with the veil.”
My mother tried to justify herself but we were shushed by my father. “That’s our cue,” he said as the organist hit the first notes of the bridal march.
The guests stood as we headed toward Blake at the front of the chapel. I saw Phyllis and Larry rise on the front row. She genuinely smiled at our family trio. I don’t know what kind of conversation she had with herself post-shopping fiasco, but she had come around. Over the rest of the course of wedding planning, Phyllis offered advice but did not pressure. Upon seeing my mother’s dress selection, she said nothing to Brenda, but did offer to run interference with Father Thomas. I didn’t ask for details, but I came to understand that Father Thomas was appreciative of Blake’s family’s sizable donation to the building fund.
Blake beamed at me from where he awaited my walk down the aisle.
I wondered what percentage of love was simple tolerance. I believed I would have lots of time to figure it out.