I can still see the dress.
It was purple with black stripes. It had a big gold zipper running all the way down the back, and the shoulder pads added a bit of structure to the straight up and down shape.
It was 80s. Very 80s.
I remember giggling when she walked out of her room wearing it. I remember suggesting that maybe it was time to invest in some new work dresses. I remember that she smiled and laughed it off.
My mother never let it show that it got to her, but I’m sure it stung.
What I didn’t understand then, as a privileged, bratty tween, is that my mother wasn’t wearing a dress from the early 80s because she had a hard time letting go of the style. My mother was wearing this shoulder padded dress because her money was spent on us. She was busy buying clothes for my brother and I, so a new work wardrobe wasn’t always in the budget.
I haven’t thought about that shoulder padded dress in about 25 years.
I was taking my kids to their swimming lesson and answering a work email as I was walking. I didn’t see the puddle ahead of me, and as soon as my foot hit the water, I instantly regretted not paying attention to where I was going. The water seeped into my flimsy flats and made the cheap material feel as though they were going to fall apart.
I sighed as I realized that I might have to buy myself a new pair of shoes; I just wasn’t entirely sure that my $9.99 flats would withstand muddy puddle water.
I bought four new pairs of shoes over the past couple of months, and none of them were for me. My son is growing at a breakneck pace. It seems like every few months he needs a new pair of shoes. My daughter came home from school and complained that her toes were squished up in her indoor school shoes. Shoe shopping has been a regular outing for us.
I sat staring at my sopping-wet shoe and started thinking of all the new shoes I have bought over the past few months and just how much they had cost me. I thought of the summer wardrobe that needs to be created, almost from scratch because of all the growth spurts, for each of my kids in the coming months.
And I realized that these shoes of mine, as flimsy as they are, will hold on for a few more months.
I thought of the shoulder padded dress.
I have much more disposable income at my fingertips than my mum did when she had young children, yet I still question myself whenever I want to buy something just for me. I’m fortunate that when my kids need new shoes, or their jeans are too short, or their snow pants have holes in them before the season is out, I can typically afford replacements. Yet I’ve been wearing the same jeans for years, and while I buy my kids’ nice name brand shoes, mine cost a whopping $9.99 and will probably disintegrate before the end of the season.
My parents struggled financially, yet we, as kids, never once felt that. We always had new, brand name clothes. Our shoes were always top quality, my mum believed in the importance of brand new shoes for the feet, and back-to-school shopping was one of my favourite trips of the year.
As I sat staring at my cheap, soaking shoes, it fully sank in that my mum continued to wear the dated work clothes so that I didn’t have to go without. She didn’t buy herself a new wardrobe, because our wardrobe was more important to her.
I wish I could go back to that day and tell my mum that I know she made a lot of sacrifices for us. I wish I could go back and tell her how much I appreciate all she did to make sure we lived a good life.
I wish I could go back to that day and tell my mum how beautiful she looked in that purple dress with black stripes and broad shoulder pads.
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