I moved back into my bedroom last week, one I haven’t lived in since summer breaks in college. They are time capsules, our childhood bedrooms. The things from our teenage years remain there like artifacts. Though they no longer serve a purpose to our adult lives, we don’t have the heart, or will, to remove them now. There are dusty yearbooks, pictures of ourselves in facepaint at Friday night football games, and dried corsages from Prom. There are trophies, and medals, and stacks of old mix-tapes from ex-boyfriends. Our closets are a strange mix of items too; random articles of clothing left behind from the last decade. In mine there are old cutoffs from Abercrombie I suppose I’m keeping in hopes that one day they fit me again? There are Christmas sweaters, ratty work out clothes, and the dress I wore to graduation. There are flip flops in every color and faded bikinis with worn-out elastic I still suntan on the porch in – because who is going to see me?
Because of this, I typically pull an outfit from my mom’s closet when I’m home. We are the same size in nearly everything, and while my closet looks more like an aisle of the salvation army, hers usually resembles the 2nd floor of Saks Fifth Avenue.
My mother is, and has always been my fashion icon. I can only attribute any style I have, at all, to her and her teachings. Let’s take a look at some highlights of the past few years.
She not only showed me style by her example, but she also trained me young to dress up and accessorize. No matter the occasion. She started from the time I was young..
My baby clothes were velvet, lace, and tulle. My onesies ruffled and embroidered. I always had a bonnet, headband, or a ribbon tied around a little tuft of hair once I got some. And I always wore shoes, though totally impractical for a baby who does not walk, or go anywhere. You’ll also note from a young age, I already had two bracelets, nearly identical to ones I own now.
As a little girl, she put me in full-skirted dresses each Sunday for church; tiny, woolen, suits with black patten- leather shoes for Kindergarten; and later, colored-pleated front cords with coordinating sweaters and turtlenecks paired with saddle shoes. I always had large ruffles on my socks, a bow that matched my outfit, and again – jewelry. Also, I am usually wearing a good amount of sass.
My siblings were occasionally pulled into a coordinating look – because what pre-teen wouldn’t want to twin with their sister who is seven years younger than them?
As I grew a little older, I got into matching with my American Girl Dolls. I spent several occasions twinning with Kirsten and Samantha. There was even a Christmas my hair was weaved into an elaborate, wreathe braid and embellished with green and red ribbon to look like holly berries. Every holiday produced an outfit dilemma – but Easter, my birthday, and Christmas were the three high points. With age, my hairdos became more elaborate, as did my earrings – which ALWAYS matched my outfit.
As a teenager, Homecoming, Turnabout, and Prom became the main events to dress for. My mother and I used to drive to every store in the entire state searching for the perfect dress: the right combination of tulle and satin, and sparkles. It couldn’t look like anyone else’s; it had to be unique, sophisticated, show-stopping. Then we had to accessorize – the perfect earrings, shoes, and bag took several other weeks to procure.
I wish these photos were outliers, but I have albums full of them. Every day was dress up. Every day was a theme. This is what me the clothes monster that I am now. This is why I have different wardrobes for the continent I’m on. This is why, if I’m in Morocco, I’m dressed like princess Jasmine from my billowy, silk, harem pants, to my tassel earrings, to my long braid. It’s ingrained in me. I don’t know any different.
While I do have an extensive collection of activewear, I have very little in the way of “normal” clothes. I own maybe a few t-shirts and sweaters, but it’s mostly one extreme or the other for me. My suitcase I brought home from Paris included an emerald green skirt entirely made of fringe, silk pajama-style blouses, thigh-high suede boots, a dress that resembles a French maid costume, another dress made of pale pink velvet, eight pairs of 4″ heels, all my silk negligees, and two bottles of champagne. Which begs the question – what was I packing for?
Since I workout in the morning, and then shower, I have found myself needing to get dressed, in real clothes, most days. I’m not one to spend the entire day in my pajamas, even in isolation. Since the aforementioned items in my closet are not really an option, that leaves me with my mom’s closet.
But I learned from the best remember? She’s not much more practical than I. So this week, we decided to play dress up. It was Easter, after all. We decided to get all dressed up like we were going to church and then the Easter Parade on 5th Avenue, and then sit on the porch in the sun and drink cocktails. Why not?
She styled us both. For her – a favorite suit she’s worn every Easter for the last decade. It’s pink, and looks like she borrowed it from Jackie ‘O herself. She paired it with some bracelets that were her moms, and her favorite purse that pays tribute to our late Yorkshire Terrier, Lucie.
For me, a full, floral dress in a beautiful brocade fabric with a scoop neck. While she donned an Easter bonnet, I swooped my hair into a french twist. We argued over shoe choice – my mom didn’t think my idea of her rose-printed heels was the right look. But the proof was in the pudding.
She also didn’t agree with my idea of wearing my grandmother’s bubble beads. “It takes away from the earrings Ann,” she insisted! But to me, more is MORE, so I wore them. We were just going to be sitting on the porch, after all.
As we sat there, sipping wine and gossiping in our fabulous, fifties outfits, it dawned on me. We are the modern, blonde version of Rose Weissman and Midge Maisel.
I’m a young, divorcee that has moved back in with my parents. My mother is tiny, adorable, and terribly worried about everything that I do and what my fate will be given my “unusual” lifestyle. I am subject, daily, to the eccentricities of my no-nonsense father, who is often kept in the dark about what my mom and I are up to. I have a career my parents don’t understand, and I often disappear for hours without explanation. My ex-husband is Jewish, and ex-in-laws live just down the street. I own an extensive collection of hats, and my mom has a closet of incredible dresses, shoes, and purses. All I’m missing is the two children and cabin in the Catskills!
This comparison brought me a smile, since to be honest, Midge Maisel got me through my divorce in many ways. In those first few weeks, when I would wake up and look at myself in the mirror – my broken, puffy-eyed, shell of myself – I’d force a tough grin and say “channel Maisel.”
Her composure, her matter-of-fact attitude about her world falling apart. She wasn’t sitting and moping; she wasn’t polishing off pints of ice cream or crying her eyes out in sweatpants. She knew there was nothing she could do about her husband leaving, she had to just move on. So she was getting dressed in a new Dior with matching heels, and putting on lipstick, and going out, and carving a new path – HER OWN path. She was strong. She was fearless. I had to be like Maisel.
So I rewatched it all. It gave me strength, it made me laugh, and it made my cry. The first three minutes of Episode 4 begins with one of the most heartbreakingly beautiful scenes I’ve ever seen on television. It’s a montage of Midge’s happiest and most special moments in the apartment with Joel: him carrying her in after their wedding, game night with friends, tucking their baby into her crib, her proudly watching him practice his routine.
But slowly each happy scene morphs, fades, or changes with an angle to show her present: packing boxes and moving furniture out of the room they were once so happy in. At the end, she’s in the living room, and the camera does a 180 as the scene changes from her kissing Joel at midnight on New Year’s Eve, surrounded by everyone she loves and swimming in satisfaction at her beautiful life – to her standing there alone, the apartment now completely empty; that entire life – gone.
It’s set to a haunting version of Barbara Streisand’s “Happy Days Are Here Again,” and I can’t tell you how many times I listened to that song as I packed up my own apartment thinking “Channel Maisel.”
Thanks to Midge, I didn’t shed a tear.
When I got to Paris last August and felt like myself again for the first time in years, I thought of Rose in the opening of Season 2. It took just a setting to change my life; my whole outlook. I got back to Paris recaptured my joy, the spirit I had living there ten tears ago as a student. It was right there where I left it, waiting for me on little street in the Marais. I settled into my apartment and sat alone drinking wine that first night, looking out the window thinking as Rose did, ‘I’ve missed me.” I realized right then I never wanted to go back. So I didn’t. I moved to Paris in January for what was supposed to be forever.
Until last week, when I finally unpacked that suitcase I brought from Paris into my closet in my parent’s house in Canton.
“This is temporary,” I reminded myself with every hanger I hung.
It seems like the strangest reality, to be living here again. I love this house, I love my parents, and I’m so thankful to have somewhere safe and beautiful to be right now with people that I love. But this was the year I was supposed to take my life back; to start it over, and I had done it – I was making strides! Last year was the diaster, last year was the mess, last year was my world-ending! I had finally started over, now I couldn’t help but initially feel like I took a giant step back by returning.
I love Ohio, but I left it, a long time ago, with no plans to come back for anything except a week here and there in the summer and at Christmas. No part of my adult life ever took place here, so whenever I’m back now it feels like an extension of my teenage years. I sometimes wake up panicked that I’ve accidentally slept through first period of high school! So much has changed for me in the last year, I still feel uncertain about what my reality is most mornings these days.
“Aren’t I married,” I sometimes ask in that initial fog of sleepiness.
No, I remind myself – not anymore.
I’m supposed to be in New York, aren’t I?
No, I remember – I closed that door.
“Paris,” I smile as clarity arrives. I moved to Paris! I started a whole, beautiful life there. I have an apartment, and friends, and a crepe lady who knows my order!
But, I remember, I can’t go back there yet.
Two weeks ago, my brother-in-law was rushed to the ICU, diagnosed, and hooked up to three separate machines that are currently keeping him alive. My family has spent every waking moment since consumed with how to help him and my sister. Suddenly, every problem of my own seemed insignificant. Every joke about isolation and the virus was no longer funny. A month ago, I had been uncertain whether I should leave France and return to the US, but something told me I would need to be near my family. Now, I’m so thankful I made the choice to get on that plane. Thankful that I can hug my mom as we cry together, and hold my dad’s hand as we pray, and know that I can get to my sister to help her.
This time has put us all on hold, it’s changed our priorities and paused our projects, and our progress. We will all get back to our lives. They might have changed, but we will get back to them. I will get back to Paris the very day I can. I will bound back up the stairs of my apartment, I will drink too much natural wine with friends again, I will shop for figs at the marche, I will go back to ballet class, I will eat so many crepes! I will.
But for now I’m my hometown. In my old bedroom. In my parent’s house. Channeling Maisel.