By Francie Arenson Dickman
I was, apparently, in peri-menopause—that dreaded, never-ending land between in one’s prime and out to pasture. “It’s not them,” he said, “it’s you.”
“I don’t like the way this one looks, either,” my daughter hollers from her dressing room. She is locked inside of it but her attitude spills over.
From a couch, I holler back, “What don’t you like?”
She hollers again. “I’m just not comfortable in it.” She yanks another dress from atop the door.
At first I consider the couch as a nice place to plant myself while my daughter tries on dresses. Thirty minutes and as many dresses later, I see it as strategic, a mental health tool similar to the soothing music played at airports or the drugs my gynecologist suggested I start taking after I complained to him of bouts of anxiety and depression. I’d hypothesized that the cause was my two newly minted teenage girls, and asked if he, the same man who delivered the daughters, could now please put them back. He said that would be a waste of time since they were not to blame. I was, apparently, in peri-menopause—that dreaded, never-ending land between in one’s prime and out to pasture. “It’s not them,” he said, “it’s you.”
Or better yet, I think now from the couch. “It’s us.”
At least the couch is turned away from the faces of the more congenial mother-daughter duos shopping at the younger, less hormonal end of the store. The ones still laughing and talking, unaware of the side effect of having daughters later in life: the simultaneous onset of both Puberty and Peri-menopause, the by-product of leaning in; the home wrecker of the modern age.
Take our home, for example. My husband is the only happy one in it, and that’s because he’s usually gone. He travels weekly for work, leaving the three of us recklessly floating between life’s stages, the emotionally blind leading the emotionally blind, all waiting to see where our bodies and ourselves will go from here. Yes, now and then, estrogen levels align and we, like Alzheimer’s patients, enjoy a flash of our affable former selves. But by and large, my girls have disappeared into adolescence, and ironically, so have I. Once the reliable cornerstone of operations, I’m now just another loony in the bin, and as awkward in my role as a Mother of Teens as my daughter is in the dresses.
“This one looks hideous on me,” she says, and beneath the dressing room door another dress plops onto the pile.
Luckily, the store is one we frequent. We are on a first name basis with the manager, a woman I shall call P. When it comes to clothing, her word is gospel. Her voice also has an advantage simply by virtue of not being mine.
So I assume my daughter will listen when P explains that she is trying on the latest style. “I just got back from a buying trip in LA,” P yells over the door. “All of the dresses are fit and flair.” She says that F and F is tight on the top and swingy on the bottom. A hybrid, I think, like the part anti-depressant, part anti-anxiety Lexapro the gynecologist offered me.
I nod to show my understanding of the acronym, but I am unclear on how all this hard sell is needed for a kid who has $9.47 to her name. When I was a kid, we lived by one fashion rule and one fashion rule only, This or That. I’d come home from school and my mother would say, ‘There are two dresses on your bed, a light blue and an imperceptibly lighter blue, take a look and pick one.’
I now grumble to P, “You know, I didn’t see the inside of a dressing room until I went shopping for my prom dress, and that was only because my mother was recovering from surgery and couldn’t stand up. I bought the first dress I saw—this purple thing, tight on the top, wide at the bottom. A fit and flair if there ever was one.” I pop a complimentary Hershey’s Kiss into my mouth and add, “Perhaps the first of the fit and flairs.”
P assures me I’m helping my daughter “find her identity.” She sets out to collect more inventory leaving me to hunker down and hope that having a better sense of style somehow translates into having a better sense of self, so that when my daughter grows up she won’t hem and haw over whether she’s making a mistake giving her thirteen year old this much latitude in the local clothing store.
A few weeks ago, back when my girls were still girls and my ovaries were still operating, I would have told her to pick this Fit and Flair or that and out we’d go. She’d cry but I’d be confident. The old me didn’t care about being liked. My kids could say they hated me, but they’d be clinging to my leg as they spoke, and we all know that actions speak louder than words. Only now, they don’t cling and worse, they don’t speak. The separation anxiety is suddenly on my own peri-menopausal foot.
Technology doesn’t help my confidence, either. Judging from my friends’ Facebook posts, I’m only one bad call away from having a heroin addict. Or a cutter. The Today Show recently talked about a new teen trend called Dirty Sprite, a deadly concoction of soda, candy and prescription drugs. Reason enough to decline the Lexapro.
On top of this, I have hot flashes.
“I found one,” my daughter announces from behind the door. Maybe P was right, with this daughter I need to be a little more loosey goosy, less fit and more flair.
I pop to the end of the couch as the door opens and out she comes. Her adorable self, still more pre than teen, plastic-wrapped into a polyester number, a myriad of primary colors swirled together and stuck to every lick of her body, breasts to booty, until it stops just below her crotch. With it, she’s paired 4-inch platform heels that she found in the dressing room.
My mouth drops. “All fit, no flair,” I say.
“But it looks good.”
On impulse I escort us into the dressing room where I fire up a lecture on sexuality, the type I imagine mothers of teen girls have at the ready, the one my mother never had to give me because she never gave me a choice. “You only get one reputation,” I tell her. “Let’s not blow ours the first time out of the gate.”
She looks at me cross-eyed through the mirror. “So does that mean I can’t get the dress?”
I tell her it’s not why she can’t, it’s why she shouldn’t want to.
“But either way, I can’t get it.” Her bird legs start to wobble in the heels.
“Right,” I concede.
She starts to cry in confusion. I, however, have a moment of clarity. Fear and frustration turn to compassion. Nothing, I well know, is worse than being tween anything, and here she is, almost a woman, but still a child. In limbo, a hybrid. Part little girl, part lady of the night.
I give her a hug.
She asks me if she has to wear a dress at all.
“What else do you have in mind?”
She points to a jumpsuit, a silky thing with sunflowers on it. Loose on top, baggy on the bottom.
“Perfect,” I say.
Then she asks if she can wear it with the 4-inch heels. I waver, but then, in the name of helping my daughter find her identity and helping me save my sanity, I cave.
Francie Arenson Dickman’s essays have appeared in The Examined Life, A University of Iowa Literary Magazine, The Chicago Tribune, and Literary Mama. She lives outside of Chicago with her husband and twin daughters and is currently completing her first novel.