You may have come across Marsha Ingrao’s blog, Always Write in your browsing. Story Chat is only one of its many facets: an opportunity for writers to get one of their stories out there for discussion. This month I am guest hosting Story Chat, to introduce Wendy Fletcher, leader of our u3a writing group, the Whittlesey Wordsmiths.
A Dress for a Princess
I am hot and tired, and I know that I shouldn’t have put off this trip to the shops until the last minute, but that seems to have become my style in the past few months.
Shopping with a toddler is testing reserves I didn’t know I had, and I fear that they will run out at any moment.
The assistants have smiled and been polite, but I am left with the impression they would prefer us to shop elsewhere. We have asked for more than they can offer, and they have done their best to accommodate us, but it is an uneasy compromise.
I push these thoughts out of the way to deal with later and turn back to Alicia. She is excited about this afternoon’s party and giggles as I try awkwardly to zip her into a frothy pink dress.
I try to stay calm and not dampen her enthusiasm, but I am struggling. It has been another long day in an unbelievably long year.
She is almost three now, and every day brings more exciting discoveries for her and more unforeseen challenges for me. We have fought through sleepless nights when her screams reached neighbouring houses and morning has found us huddled under a duvet, too exhausted to face the day. We have travelled together the precarious road of frustration that leads to potty training.
This term she has started nursery and made her first friends outside the family. I have watched her growing more independent and my heart has been torn. Part of me is delighted that she is developing into a relatively normal child. Part of me wants to keep her safely cocooned against my shoulder – the unknowing baby who won’t have to field awkward questions and face life’s cruel realities.
It was at nursery that she met the new little friend who has invited her to the birthday party this afternoon, and my thoughts return to the dress. The length is about right, but she still has that chubby layer of baby fat on her torso and the stitching pulls tight across the chest. I try to stop her bouncing long enough to check if the label corresponds with the ticket on the coat-hanger. It does, but I am still not convinced. ‘Age 2-3’ sounds quite vague now. Does this mean that all children of two and three conform to this standard?
Evidently not. Mine is definitely stretching the boundaries. I thought we were coming out of the phase where she pushed away all my culinary efforts despite much persuasion. Now I wonder if I have been over-feeding her. Is she on the slippery slope to a bad diet?
Another problem to examine later, but right now I must deal with the reality that I have picked up the wrong size for my child. She is almost three, so perhaps it is time to look at ‘Age 3-4’. Such a silly, trivial mistake but I am cross with myself. It means that I have to get her out of the dress again and clothed in her own little skirt and jumper, complete with tights and boots.
Whoever invented lace-up boots for toddlers?
Then we will trail back across the shop floor to the rail and only hope that it comes in a bigger size. If I could properly explain this to her it would be easier, but her vocabulary is limited. At this moment it is limited to ‘Princess, ’licia be princess’.
I cannot make her understand that we will get another dress, the same but bigger – hopefully. She resists in the only way she knows: by making the removal of the garment as difficult as possible. She wriggles and protests as she is buttoned back into her own clothes, pushing away my hands and wrapping determined little fingers around my wrists. I know the thought she cannot express is that the beautiful pink dress with its shimmering decorations is about to disappear from her life. She is disappointed and I hate to see disappointment in her soft hazel eyes, now clouded with tears.
The most hurtful part is that it’s not about the dress. It’s about me. She is disappointed that I have offered her something and then taken it away again. She is even more disappointed that I have not heeded her pleas and, for just a moment, I am tempted to put the dress back on her and let her walk proudly out of the shop, but I know I mustn’t.
I must find a way of coping with the emotions I see in her eyes. I will see more disappointment. I will see hurt and pain and anguish. I have to learn to deal with those looks of confusion, bewilderment and a sense of injustice. I have to mop up the stream of tears that gush forth and hold back my own until the day comes when we might cry together and mourn the loss of her mother.
Only then – maybe – will we be able to find humour in our lives again, and perhaps laugh about the day we went shopping for her first party dress and had to clamber into a tiny, unlit storage area beyond a mountain of boxes waiting to be unpacked, because there were changing rooms for ladies and girls, and changing rooms for men and boys, but we didn’t fit into their perceived vision of a family. We were just a lost little girl and a bereaved dad, trying to find our way to some kind of normality.
Wendy is group leader of the Whittlesey Wordsmiths writing group. Her first book, The Railway Carriage Child (available from Amazon) is a memoir of her childhood in the Cambridgeshire Fens, growing up in two Great Eastern Railway carriages. She is currently working on a first novel as well as collecting memories and pictures to compile a social history of the small community in which she lived as a child.
Wendy’s poetry has been published in The Poet (Christmas 2020) and you will find more poems and stories in anthologies from the Whittlesey Wordsmiths. Wendy is also editor of the local u3a magazine and an occasional writer for The Fens magazine.
Find Wendy online at https://wendywordsmith.com/.
Over to you…
Are things improving, or do shops still fail to cater for single dads with daughters?
Do parents recognise their own child-focused shopping trips in Wendy’s tale?
What aspect(s) of the story resonated most with you?