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.

Growing up as an American Girl

This semester, I’m in a class titled African American Women Writers. To be honest, I was not all that excited to take the class. I register for it because it was a twofer. It took care of a diversity studies requirement and it finished off my electives for my English major. I would have much rather taken a class for modern short fiction, or some sort of creative writing, but once you’ve taken ten semesters of higher education, you realize that time is no longer of the essence and that  you want to get the hell out of college. At that point, you take whatever classes will let you do that.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that I enjoy the class. It helps that my professor – Norlisha Crawford – is an extremely engaging woman. I’ve had a few similarly themed classes – you know, minority or comparative studies – but they were fairly unremarkable. I took a Toni Morrison class that was incredible in a very Toni Morrison sort of way. Just when you think you know what’s going on with Morrison’s characters, she throws in a dead ghost baby or gossip from unnamed characters. The African Women’s literature (note the lack of American) class I took last semester was so incredibly dull. The class failed to peak any interest in colonialism. I thought the books on my syllabi were supposed to vie for my attention. They’re supposed to be strong examples of good literature that will drive me to learn more about the class’s topic. I’m sure my lack of interest in colonialism makes me a terrible liberal arts student, but whatever. You win some, you lose some.

Anyway, two weeks ago, we read Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (read it for free here!) and one of the assignments for the class is a journal presentation. Basically, we can take any topic that we’ve mentioned in class, do some sort of research or elaboration and present it to the class. It’s extremely open-ended. Though I haven’t started the project, I’m planning on comparing Jacobs’s book with the story of Addy Walker. I’ll look at the differences between the reality that’s presented in the novel to the fictional account of Addy’s tale that was read by young girls.

I grew up with the American Girl Dolls. I first got a Bitty Baby – which I named Tia. I got the hispanic one, and I specifically remember deciding I wanted that one because it was different. I knew other girls would get the white baby with the blonde hair and blue eyes. Geez. Even as a seven-year old I was determined to be different. For Tia’s first birthday, my mother gave me silver Gerber spoons. When I was deemed both old enough and responsible enough, I got a real American Girl doll – Samantha. Over the course of a few years, my mother made clothes for Samantha, my dad and my grandfather made doll-sized furniture. My bedroom had more doll furniture than it did actual furniture. And it was awesome.

The awesome land of make believe and dolls aside, I also read the series ferociously. I had the entire collection – Addy, Samantha, Kristen, Molly, Felicity, and Josefina. These books were awesome. I went home this afternoon to get the Addy books for my presentation and I was able to look at my collection of books from my childhood. They were virtually all historical fiction. American Girls, Dear America, and Little House on the Prairie. I was such a cool kid. The American Girls of today are hardly recognizable. It looks like they replaced the historical education portion of the books with modern problems. I don’t have a problem with that, really. The company seems to have the same sort of mission – to encourage girls to be smart and socially aware. I think it’s just my sentimentality that makes it an issue. Where will nerdy girls get their historical fiction if not from American Girls? Where will they find possibly not very historically accurate representations of life throughout the history of America? If there is another company that does this, I’d like to know, because when I have a daughter I want her to be a socially aware, historically informed, brilliantly imaginative child.