Anticipation vs. Reality

My mother and I bond over a few things: Shopping, milk chocolate, Patrick Dempsey, and the occasional bowl of oatmeal. When I was young, she spent her weekends sewing me dresses. I could find her at the kitchen table, a foot steady on the pedal I was too afraid to touch, with pieces of a dress neatly pinned to the tissue pattern stacked in the order she would need them. A stocky tomato was placed to the left of the machine, and as she would guide the dress under the darting needles, her fingers would deftly pull them out and puncture the wiry flesh of the cushion. I would push them in as far as they would go, so the primary colored pinheads dotted the surface like pimples.

On Sundays, my father would be in the living room yelling at the television screen. I remember his rough “YEAHHHHHHHHH!” as the Packers scored, and my mother spitting, “Aww shit…” when she made a mistake and had to tear up a row of stitches.

Since the things she created were usually for me, I often felt as if I should help her in some way. Sometimes I was able to pick out the pattern. I’d sit on a thick stool  and lean over the slanted steel cabinets that cased the patterns at Walmart while I flipped through the heavy books. I was a dork: I lived in a fantasy world of dolls and historical fiction. I envied my cousin, who had an American Girl doll until I got one of my own. I had the books and would daydream about Samantha’s Victorian upbringing, where even her swimming suit was a superfluously frilly dress. I wanted to wear a wool cape and warm my hands in a white fur muff. I wished the desks at my school were like the swirly wrought iron one in Samantha’s collection. I wanted to wear stockings and buckle shoes . The more frills and buttons the better. And so at those pattern books at Walmart, I would pick the dresses with the pleats and collars. I picked out a long coat with a nautical neckline, so I could dress like the girls I imagined in my books.

I thought that if I wore those clothes, then I would be transported to those times. It wasn’t that I had a life that needed escaping. I don’t remember my parents fighting. I remember my father working during the days and my mother cashiering at the grocery store at night. When my brother and I would fall asleep on the couch, my father would pry us awake, telling us we needed to go get mom.

While I flipped through the books, imagining all the dresses I would have made for me, she would walk the aisles to find fabrics to dresses she had already decided to make for me. Like most mothers, I assume, she had her own idea of how to dress me, and that’s probably for the best. Though I always liked the dresses she made for me, they were never exactly how I had imagined them.

I think I see the dresses much how I view reality today. I have hopes for how things will turn out, but while I daydream about things, I’m aware of the stink that reminds me things will probably not turn exactly how I’m imagining. Reality rarely lives up to daydreams. The dresses were the first lesson of that.

So what’s better? The anticipation of a daydream or the contented reality that plays out? I’m glad to have grown out of my daydreaming tendencies, but however enjoyable my reality may be, sometimes I wish I could just stay in my head, constantly looking forward to the potential of a situation. This sounds a lot like disappointment, which is the exact opposite of what I want to convey. Today, for instance, I woke up to a rainy morning and had the urge to sit on my couch reading Lorrie Moore stories all day. From my bed, it seemed perfect: brew a pot of coffee and spend the day dehydrated and lost in second-person prose. What I ended up doing was having a single cup of coffee and finishing High Fidelity, punctuated by dozing every fifteen minutes or so.

Was it a good morning? YES. Do I still want to read Lorrie Moore? YES. Will I get to that? YES. But the marathon reading session in my bed probably won’t be as picturesque as I’m imagining because my spun-sugar candle isn’t as fragrant as I had hoped, and my coffee will get cold, or I’ll have to go to the bathroom, or I’ll need to heat up dinner, or I’ll get distracted by Netflix.

Maybe I have an answer to this: Anticipation is often better than reality, but it doesn’t help any to complain about it, so maybe the best thing to do is to daydream about simpler times when the thing you most hoped for was to wear a gaudy dress like the one in your doll catalogs.

You should also make it a point to thank your mom for not making those gaudy dresses because those pictures would be humiliating.


53 thoughts on “Anticipation vs. Reality

  1. I, too, was completely entranced by american girl dolls.. specifically Addy. Apparently I developed a strong preference for “ethnic” dolls, because I also fought hard for an asian bitty baby.. remember those?

  2. So similar to my childhood. Parents work situation, flipping through pattern books at the fabric stores. I wanted to live Samantha’s life, I was obsessed. Never actually got an American Doll, I was more like Molly anyways. Beautiful, Ashley.

    • I was a dork, but I didn’t want to be obvious about it. Molly had glasses, so clearly she was a dork. Never mind the fact that her books were the most interesting (other than Addy’s…and maybe Kristen’s) and I reread hers more than any of the other dolls’ books.

  3. My mom dressed me like Holly Hobbie. Which is kinda crazy, considering she didn’t sew — yes, she actually BOUGHT Holly Hobbie dresses for me.

    And my hair looked exactly like Laura Ingalls from the TV show.

    Pretty fun picture, dontcha think? 😉

    Great post — thanks for bringing back some of those memories…

    • Haha I love it!

      I would have been very jealous of you. I begged my mom to make me dresses that matched Samantha’s. No such luck.

    • My mom taught me too, but I don’t have the patience to make it look good. The goal is to make it look like it’s not homemade, right? All of my finished projects are painfully homemade looking.

    • I’m glad you enjoyed it. Do you still have some of the clothes your mom made you? I’m pretty sure my mom has a bunch tucked away in storage for me. It’s been ages since I’ve seen any of them!

      • I do have my baptism dress and a blanket but most of my clothes were handed down to my five sisters and then made into quilts by my mom and grandma.Nothing went to waste!

  4. I loved American Girl dolls, too… I longed for a Samantha doll. I really really wanted a muff. I tried to make one, once… it did not turn out nearly as beautifully as I’d planned. My best friend got a Samantha doll when we were about 7… AND a horse. She was so darn lucky…

    • That’s awesome! What did you make your muff out of? I probably would have just tried wrapping a pillow around my hands or something. Haha, never really had an eye for design, I guess.

      • I think it was something pretty similar to that. I found a fuzzy scarf and wrapped it around my hands a bunch of times… too bad it kept coming unwrapped. I always looked for ones in stores, thinking surely I could find one and ask for it for Christmas… but growing up in South Alabama didn’t lend itself to finding such things!

  5. I definitely relate to this! Reality is not the way you dream or anticipate it. I guess it’s not necessarily a bad thing, it think it would get boring if you knew how everything was going to turn out….

    • Definitely true. I like the excitement of new things, but it’s typically before they happen. I think I just have a difficult time living in the moment. :/

  6. “Awww shit.” That’s exactly what I say when I sew. My husband has banned me from sewing while he is in the area because I curse so much while doing it. Quite frankly, I let him think the ban is still working, but really I just don’t want to have to sew.

    • Same here. I make too many mistakes to sew. I now use my machine strictly for hemming purposes and when I feel like torturing myself by screwing up 4 yards of overpriced cloth.

  7. wise words indeed…I read a psychologist’s findings that (not sure how much I believe it) people have are significantly happier planning a vacation than actually being on one.

    • I heard a TED talk on the same sort of idea. When people are interviewed about their favorite day of the week, most say Friday. That doesn’t make a lot of sense when you think about it. You’re in work all day Friday. Shouldn’t Saturday be the favorite day since you’re probably not obligated to do anything?

      Anticipation for the good or bad taints most experiences. I haven’t decided if that’s a good or a bad thing.

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  9. That ‘anticipation/reality’ equation applies to travel as well. Much of the fun of travel is in the planning and anticipation. But that shouldn’t be a metaphor for life–we should enjoy the moment we’re in, not pin our dreams on the future too much. Nice post. Congrats on being FPd.

    • I agree completely, thought it’s easier said than done. I have such a hard time “living in the moment”, but when I do, those are the BEST moments.

      Thanks for reading!

  10. I do remember those beautiful dresses!!!! The holidays were kind of a pagent ,for all us moms to see what each aunt had created for their little princess ,knowing that our own child really was the most precious. We loved to see all the creative outcomes come to life in our extended family.Just as exciting for the moms as well as a relief that the princesses dress was FINISHED .. lots of love Aunt, Brenda Love to read your blog, you are as talented at writeing as you are at your music.

  11. Great post. I played with my Samantha doll well through middle school because imagining and pretending was so much better than the girl drama. I would absolutely have dressed like her every day, but my mom only sewed minor repairs. I certainly anticipated getting a Samantha doll for Christmas–flipping through the catalogs hundreds of times–and actually owning her was just as good.

    The Buddhist answer to the dilemma might be to spend less time daydreaming and more time in the present. But as a veteran day-dreamer/pretender, that will likely take me decades to wrap my head around.

  12. Beautiful! I always dreamed of being my American Girl dolls when I was little. It got to the point where I would only wear those “Dress Like Your Doll” outfits. I still to this day own the Samantha movie on DVD. I’m not ashamed to say that I was it every now and then.

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  14. I am also glad my mother made me clothes that she thought I should wear rather than the ones I wanted to wear.
    But it’s interesting that at that point in time she made the fashion choices, and now that we are much older, my sisters and I have taken over her fashion choices.

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  16. Very lovely post. I find myself in similar circumstances, where I am overwhelmed with anticipation, but when its finished, it isn’t quite what I wanted. But it is always beautiful and I love my mother =]

  17. Its hard not to be pulled into this. I, too, lived in the world of American girls and handmade clothes, wanting to time travel. Very relatable.

  18. Your post really took me back. My mom used to sew all the time. I used to love trips to Jo-Ann Fabrics to pick out patterns and find material that I thought would look good with it. The button section was the best. I could spend an hour just twirling the racks and checking out the differnt buttons on display. Thanks for the trip down memory lane. 🙂

  19. Ah, if only you’d worked up th nerve to touch that sewing machine, you might have stitched those gaudy dresses without her help. Then you’d have nobody but yourself to blame for the embarrassing pictures. *experience talking*

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