At the end of this short piece you will be able to feast your eyes on our “Sylvia Couture for Barbie” - the full collection on video, edited by my darling nephew, Peter Myers. Thanks again to my sister Karen Harman, who added wit to our Barbie titles and imagined dolly dilemmas to help create this fashion show.
Something has occurred to me. As I have mentioned before, our mother was timid. And shy. In groups of more than two, her stories and jokes were as wobbly as her confidence.
I remember one poignant and alarming moment when, at the Lake, I watched her instant anxiety as she was invited to an impromptu cocktail party next door at Aunt Ruthie’s.
Some friends had dropped in, and would she like to come over? The invite had rung out across the space between their screened porches.
These were people Sylvia had met countless times, over the decades that the two sisters had summered side by side. Yet the invite trigged a snit about her hair, her clothes, her weight and opened up a cistern of adolescent angst as she whined, “Those are all Ruthie’s friends.”
Good grief! I then understood something quite sad and painful - that if my dear mama walked across our shaded common of picnic tables where years of meals had been happily shared, unable to shake her self-dousing in anxiety, people’s attention would be drawn to the static disrupting her presence. They might wonder why this lovely little gal is so nervous. They would see the stain on her shirt she was trying to hide. She was doomed.
That’s if she showed up at all.
I understand now, how our Sylvia struggled to accept the imperfect version of herself, the one that was much less self-conscious and much more sloppy and exuberant.
That leads to the Other Realization, that playing with Barbies brought home, and that is, because my mother did not express her love for me the way I wanted her to, I did not feel loved, enough. I had the idea from fairy tales that Real Mothers wrapped their slender, fragrant, smooth and loving arms around their sleepy-eyed children and whispered, “I love you, always and forever. You’re awesome and beautiful, and I’m so proud of you, just the way you are.”
HA. Ha ha ha.
It’s a good thing my mother lived to be 93, because we did not express much affection to each other until her late eighties. In her final months as we hung out at her “condo,” she would lay a hand on my cheek and actually say, “I love you.” I got to say, “I love you back.”
I also look at this exquisitely designed and tenderly hand-sewn wardrobe. I wonder when my mother had the time to do all this handiwork, then I remember her careful stitching in a pool of light next to daddy, as he smoked and watched Johnny Carson. But, wasn’t she also going back to college through these Barbie years, to finish her degree? All the while tending to four rambunctious children?
So, I wish you today, if need be, you find your version of Love in a Swing Coat. That you, too, can realize how you were REALLY loved. And feel it, once and for all. And let go of the old resentment. The self-inflicted wound. The unrealistic expectations.
This page from my book, “It’s Too Late to Quit,” is about that. (You can order the book by clicking here.)
Finally and with great delight, I share the Sylvia Couture for Barbie collection. (Under 2 min.) Please share if moved to…