The proper attire to attend church
by Robert Hamill
While '90s rap music thumped in many houses, while contemporary America used microwaves to cook without fire and Zoombas to clean floors--luxuries and delights beyond the imaginations of pharaohs, kings, and people of earlier centuries--another task remained beyond technology. Teenagers struggled and escaped childhood rules and demanded their right to make choices for the world unfolding before them.
It was a warm Sunday morning in early September, about 8:30, in a quiet suburb of a large American city. The green house at the end of a nice row of bungalows had two occupants, Emily Dorsey and her thirteen-year-old daughter, Claire.
This bright morning, Ms. Dorsey was busy in the kitchen. Before church, she always prepared a bag of packaged goods for donation. "Claire," she called up from the kitchen. Receiving no immediate answer, she called louder. "Claire, we've only got five minutes. Let's not be late!"
Claire, in her bedroom, covered the phone receiver. "Just a minute, Mom." She examined her hair in the full-length mirror on the back of her closet door. Lifting her hand off the receiver, she continued with her friend Angie. "I hope Federico likes my hair short." She could trim it and find out. Of course, she would have to pay with babysitting money, but for a more mature look, it was worth it. Her mother always stressed her independence, of controlling her fate. Claire liked that her mother was strong.
"Got to go see Federico at church," she said to her friend. "See you tomorrow at ballet." After hanging up the phone, she allowed a quick last glance in the mirror. The dark blue shorts looked good, and she loved how her beach tan contrasted with the yellow of her favorite top. Satisfied, Claire left her room and skipped down the steps to the front door.
Ms. Dorsey came out of the kitchen, handed the donation bag to Claire, and then stopped in her tracks. "No, you can't go dressed in shorts to church. No. No. No."
"But Mom, we wore this to St. Charles by the Sea last week." Claire's voice rose, despite her effort to keep calm. Just like her mother to ruin a good day.
"Attending our church is different than going to church at the beach. It's vulgar to show so much skin here," her mother said. "No decent person attends mass in scandalous clothes."
"Mother, don't be ancient." Claire glared at her. Her mother wore a chic dark blue sheath, three-inch matching heels, and a silver necklace with a small cross. "Your little black dress is... who are you trying to get to notice you?"
"Don't be flip? Insolent girl!" Her mother raised her arm.
Claire jumped back, dropping the donation bag. She scampered up a few stair steps.
"There's nothing wrong with shorts at church despite what you say."
"Don't you dare question me! I have nothing but the best intentions for you."
Claire typically her mother's anger like gravity--something that just had to be endured. However, she wanted to see and be seen by Federico. "Sorry, Mom. I was carried away when I said that, but all the girls will be dressed in shorts. It's hot today."
Eyebrows raised, her mother said, "Only girls I wouldn't want you to associate with. Go upstairs right now, young lady, and change... into that floral jumper. You looked very nice in that last Palm Sunday."
Claire considered herself an obedient girl, doing what her mother asked as soon as she asked, but today she couldn't stop herself. "Last year I was a child. I won't wear that childish dress ever again. I'm already dressed."
"You will change. I knew it was a mistake to let you get your haircut. I'm not letting you go to church and disgrace me."
Claire shook her head in astonishment. Her mother's insult stung her pride and her self-image. She ran back upstairs to her room, slamming her door. She locked it and wept with impotent rage.
In a moment, her mother came up. She pushed the door and then rattled the doorknob. "Open up, young lady."
With her back against the door and her feet against the cedar chest, she denied her mother entry. "No. Never."
Her mother banged hard on the door with her fist. "Come on. Get dressed. Let's not be late for church."
Claire covered her ears. Until today, she always gave in. It was easier than fighting, but now she wanted something she would fight for. And it occurred to her that seeing Federico was one thing, but this was even bigger than that. She wanted to decide for herself.
After a few minutes of not responding, her mother ran out of steam. In a nasty whine which Claire had dreaded, her mother summed up. "You've made us late for church, you wicked girl. I hope you're happy. You caused two mortal sins."
"No, I didn't." Claire yelled at the door. "You did. I was ready to go. I'm never going to church with you again." Straining to hold the door closed, Claire realized a deeper truth. Her mother's words no longer could make her do things.
"In that case," Ms. Emily Dorsey said, "don't expect me to do you favors, like taking you to ballet."
Gaining independence comes with costs.