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The Cupcake Dress

by Randi Olin

Randi is a freelance writer living in Weston, CT and the mother of two children. Before motherhood she was an attorney.

Lary was in my driveway dropping off my 11 year old son, Daniel, along with his son, after the boys’ basketball practice. He was frank about his dilemma. “I’m going to take my daughter to see a dress,” he said. “She loves it and wants to wear it to her Bat Mitzvah.”

“But it has spaghetti straps and the color,” he continued, “it’s just not what we pictured our daughter wearing.” 

“Trust me, I’ve been there,” was all I could muster as a response. 

“What should I do?” he asked.

And, like Lucy hanging “the doctor is in” sign on her makeshift booth, I decided to give Lary some advice. At the time, I didn’t realize that it had been anything remotely profound or poignant. It had just been the truth, what I had experienced with my daughter, only 8 months prior, when we were looking for a dress for her Bat Mitzvah.  

“Mom, let’s go to Wishlist for some tee shirts,” Emily had said. A fashion Mecca for tweens, the store had the effect of a candy shop, organized by the colors of the rainbow and always filled with the latest styles and accessories. I had learned when shopping here with my daughter to only focus on one or two things, otherwise, we would both lose direction. So, when I heard, “OMG – I love it!  This is what I want to wear to my Bat Mitzvah,” coming from the far end of the store, I assumed it was someone else’s daughter. I had planned on taking Emily to specialty dress shops to look for her dress.

But there she was, pointing to the mannequin with the bright greenish blue shiny dress and what looked like a bedazzled gem covered sash above the three-tiered tulle bottom. “That’s it. That’s my dress. Don’t you love it?”  I wasn’t sure whether it was the tacky color or the fact that the mannequin/dress combination looked remarkably like a human cupcake. “That dress is so ugly,” I thought I said to myself but apparently I said it out loud, because as soon as I saw the look of disappointment on Emily’s face, I wanted to take my words back, even though I really meant them. 

For two months, there was no mention of the dreaded cupcake dress and I, for one, had tried to erase it from my mind. But then we returned to Wishlist to fill in on shorts for camp. Emily disappeared and I couldn’t find her anywhere in the store. She came back; her arms crossed. “The dress.  It’s gone,” she said, trying to hold back her tears. “That’s why I wanted to come shopping today. Not for shorts. To see if the dress was still here.”

Looking at her blank expression, I realized that the dress had obviously meant more to her than I had first grasped. “Sorry, it was one of a kind,” the spunky salesgirl told us. “Wasn’t it just adorable?”  With slumped shoulders, Emily walked aimlessly around the store, looking for the dress she had longed for but now belonged to some other lucky girl.  Had I been so wrapped up in the momentum of the event planning that I was projecting my needs and wants over that of my daughter’s? Maybe I should have at least let her try the dress on. 

We were about to walk out of the store when I spotted the back of something that looked kind of familiar. I paused mid-step. “Is that it?” I asked, pointing to the silvery greenish blue dress.   I was confused. The mannequin looked more like a stylish ballerina not a human cupcake. Emily barely looked up and then she smiled when it registered. “That’s it mommy. You found it.” She hugged me and then asked, “can I try it on?” 

She twirled around in circles when she came out of the dressing room, the tulle skirt reminding me of when she was a little girl with an affinity for tutus and dress up clothes. The dress fit as if it were made for her and suddenly, the jeweled belt didn’t look gaudy. Rather, it looked princess–like. And the tulle tiers looked sweet and dainty. Could this really be the same dress that I hated? I stared for a minute in disbelief. Perhaps I had started to see the dress through Emily’s eyes, how she viewed herself in it.  

“Lary,” I said as we stood in the driveway, “letting Emily wear the dress that she picked out made me realize that it’s up to her to define her identity. Seeing my daughter own her moment was worth everything.” 

We never connected before his daughter’s day so I didn’t find out how it all turned out, what he ultimately decided about her choice of attire. And then, last weekend, a friend called me after she had attended the Bat Mitzvah.

“What advice could you have possibly given that Lary thanked you, by name, in his speech to 200 people at his own daughter’s Bat Mitzvah - when you weren’t even an invited guest?”

I smiled. Perhaps seeing his daughter, in the dress she picked out, meant everything to him too. 

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