Mommy’s Black Dress

>> Tuesday, June 19, 2007

On weekend mornings, the girls comes into our room, snuggle for a while, and Elizabeth whispers into my ear, “I want Froot Loops in a bowl -- no milk in a bowl -- just milk in a cup to drink. And a wanna watch TV. OK?” Then she hugs me and climbs down, knowing I’ll soon follow. If Samantha is there, she says, “I want Loop-Loops and I wanna watch TV, too!” Then she also climbs down. If I linger under the covers, Samantha turns back to implore, “Come on, Mommy. Put on your black dress.”

The "black dress" is really my dark blue robe which hangs on the corner of our bed.

Samantha knows that I start each day by first donning my “black dress”. Before I go to the bathroom, before I brush my teeth, before I get Loop-Loops and milk, I put on my back dress. Occasionally she fetches it for me, and the message is clear: Get up, now!

It’s so much edgier to think of it as my back dress than my old blue robe. When I get up, I don’t put on some tired old thing I’ve had for years. Instead, I put on my black dress. I’m not just Mommy -- I am cool, hip, black-dress-wearing Mommy.

Prior to Samantha, this was not a hip robe. It falls below my knees, cinches at the waste and serves utilitarian purposes only. This is not something I wear prior to sex if I want Michael to participate wholeheartedly. It doesn’t take a visual leap of the imagination to see me wearing it in my golden years, gray-haired, hunched over, and mumbling for oatmeal.

I’ve had my black dress since the Chicago days in the early 90’s. I found it at Marshall Fields (now Macy’s). It is the only purchase I allowed myself from Fields, aside from chocolate truffles at Christmas. It’s difficult to find dark colors in women’s robes, so when I saw it, I bought it. The material is worn and pilled, but I love it.

After so many years, my black dress and I have a history together. On Sunday mornings we solved problems on the computer. We made pancakes and watched the McGlaughlin Group. We took out the garbage. On special days we opened presents and most days we petted cats. In the evenings, we checked locks and doors. Sometimes we got up to write angry journal entries, scribble shopping lists, or sleep on the couch after an argument. We shivered during Chicago snow storms, and we sat outside in the San Diego sunshine.

My favorite moments in my black dress, however, are the quiet ones in the middle of the night.

I hear a tiny and distant voice. My ears -- a mother’s ears, now -- respond instantly, quickening my heart, bringing oxygen to my lungs, and motivating my limbs. Off go the covers and on goes my black dress. Down the hall I shuffle to the room with a voice that is not so tiny and not so distant. In the dark I see a small figure flinching and waving in her crib. I pick up Samantha, cradle her in my arms, and lower us into the padded rocking chair. With her warm skull resting inside my elbow, I push aside one half of my robe. Her head turns and her mouth seeks the source of silence and food. She is quiet and we rock back and forth in peace. Once she is satiated and sleepy, I return Samantha to the crib, close her door as quietly as humanly possible, and go back to bed; replacing my black dress on the footboard until next time.

Those quiet moments are over now, but perhaps Samantha recognizes something familiar about my black dress -- something intimate and mommy-like. It is my morning uniform. It keeps me warm in the evening. It cradles her cheek. It waits for me on the bed. My black dress has been spit upon, hurled upon, and peed upon. I wouldn’t trade it for all the silk robes in the world.

I don't think Samantha would, either.


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