What’s a Mother to Do?
by Ann Edwards Cannon

Chapter 17
Fashion Folly 

[p.51]I’ll never forget the day I took our three oldest boys to the doctor’s office for penicillin shots. As they pulled down their sweat pants one by one, I realized that nobody was wearing any underwear. Sometime between last night’s baths and the present moment, they’d all ditched the He-Man underoos and now they were standing before me, the pediatrician, and his nurse, advertising the fact.

It was one of those lows in my mothering career. A real nadir, don’t you know.

“Just for the record,” I said with as much dignity as possible, “I, at least, have my underwear on.”

“SO IS THIS A GUY THING ORWHAT?” I asked the three of them on the way home. Then I proceeded to give them the kind of lecture that I imagine June never had to give the Beav—i.e., that some things in life, such as wearing underwear to the doctor’s office, are not options.

I called Ken as soon as I got home and wailed with embarrassment.

“What did you expect?” he said philosophically when I was finished. “They are your children after all.”

“Excuse me?” I responded with what the French call hauteur. “I never leave home without my underwear.”

“Of course you don’t,” he soothed. “It’s just that you’re always the first to admit that you have a certain flair for underdressing.”

He had a point there. Take what happened to me last weekend when my mother invited me to attend a luncheon and fashion show with her. I left home wearing a sporty double-knit pantsuit that was (mostly) clean. Also I combed my hair.

I should have known I was in serious trouble when my mother met me out front looking like she was in the middle of doing a fashion shoot for Vogue. Things got worse when we went inside. Everyone present was doing (a) linen, (b) silk, and (c) mousse. Also they were all heavily into large Joan Collins-type accessories.

Needless to say, I did not see myself coming and going. “How did you know what to wear?” I hissed in my mother’s ear.

[p.52]She shrugged helplessly the way she used to when I was in the fifth grade and somebody told her I’d been throwing spitwads on the school bus again. “Well, it is a luncheon after all, Sweetheart.”

I gave one of those bitter snorts you’re always reading about. “I’ll tell you what I think. It’s a conspiracy. Everybody here received an invitation that said, ‘Please RSVP and also really dress up so that Ann Cannon will feel like she did the day she got married.’”

My wedding was, perhaps, my most notable fashion disaster. All of my bridesmaids and most of the people who came, including the adolescent girls who served the nut cups, were better dressed than I was.

The idea of wearing my mother’s wedding dress seemed like a good one at first. It was, after all, a splendid satin number with a very serious train. That it clearly looked better on my mother than it did on me didn’t matter much. The sentiment of the thing was what counted. Besides, I would wear flowers in my hair and people would say I was ravishing.

“You want to wear a wreath on your head?” my mother asked when I told her of my plans. It was obvious she thought I’d been sitting in the sun too long. Or maybe she thought I was ovulating.

“A garland, not a wreath,” I told her. “Lots of people do.” This was, after all, the 1970s.

“You want to wear a wreath instead of a veil or a nice little hat with a bit of net over your face?”

I held firm, and in the end she called the florist who said he would deliver the garland the afternoon of the event. Such was my faith in his ability that I never even bothered to look at it until thirty minutes before my reception.

I was in the reception center restroom with one of my bridesmaids when I opened the florist’s box and saw my garland for the first time. Instead of a romantic confection of baby’s breath, rosebuds, and daisies, it was made up of evergreens, not unlike the shrubs growing in front of my parents’ home.

I gaped.

“Maybe it looks better on,” my friend said doubtfully.

With trembling hands, I reached for the garland and placed it squarely on my head.

[p.53]“Oh dear,” sighed my friend. “You look just like the Ghost of Christmas Present.”

So that was that, and in the end I attended my reception absolutely and completely bare-headed.

Underdressed, as usual.