As I furiously shuffle through the abundance of dresses, I try to ignore my momâ€™s pleading, but irritated look. I focus on the feeling of lace, silk, and chiffon on my hand to keep from crying, drowning out my momâ€™s voice with my thoughts of pity for myself and rage at her inability to understand me. Why couldn’t she comprehend what it was like to dress shop with someone whoâ€™d buy me an outfit more suited for a convent than my homecoming dance?Â Didn’t she know what it was like to have parents who never understood, who never learned to consider that they were raising a daughter in America?
As she reminds me that we promised that weâ€™d try to understand each other during this painful process, I think of all the things Iâ€™d rather be doing than coming out of the dressing room in one â€œdistastefulâ€ dress after another and hearing, â€œtry it with a shawlâ€ or â€œif it were longer, then thatâ€™d be perfect.â€ The list goes on as long as the dress my mother would just love to stick me in.
After the initial snap, I am completely unresponsive to my mom. As she holds up a dress in suggestion, I roll my eyes as if to say, â€œCould you find a more disgusting piece of garbage?â€ My mom is no longer my mom. Sheâ€™s my nemesis, trying to take the joy out of homecoming.Â Exasperatedly, she exclaims that if Iâ€™m not going to cooperate, then I donâ€™t need to go to homecoming. We stomp off to the car and sit in silence for the half hour trip from Fox Valley Mall to our home.
When we arrive, I start to rush out of the car. As I turn to grab my purse, I see a disappointed look on my momâ€™s face.Â Taken aback, I head up to my bedroom. Why wasnâ€™t she mad, like I was?
I walk past her bedroom door and hear my momâ€™s shaky, cheerless voice describe to my dad our excruciating experience. As I eavesdrop, my fury begins to subside. The insensitive person I have in mind fades into who my mom really is: someone who wanted to have a good time dress shopping for her daughterâ€™s first big dance, who promised herself that sheâ€™d help her daughter understand that living in America didnâ€™t mean that their ideals changed. She was just as frustrated as I was. She wanted me to see that she was trying to please me, but also instill the morals of our culture â€” modesty and self-respect.
In western Beirut, modesty was the way for my mother to walk down the street holding her head high. Through her dress, she demanded to be taken seriously and gave no one a reason to write her off as disposable. While my mother knew no woman should have to earn equality, safety, or respect, she also knew that what should or should not be wouldnâ€™t get her some safely at night. She learned to deal with what was.
My mom wasnâ€™t fighting against me. She was fighting for me to realize the same freedom from objectification and belittlement that she enjoyed. She knew the cultural ideals that freed her could free me, too.
Who was this process more painful for?
I slowly enter the room, and as her eyes meet mine, I can tell she knows Iâ€™ve been listening. She sees I understand. I hand her the keys and she knows where weâ€™re heading. Two hours later, I come out of Fox Valley Mall with a beautiful, raspberry colored dress– and a shawl. I wore it proudly.