The longing for the store bought dress: A lesson on gratitude and appreciation.

August 19, 2020

During my high school years, finances were tight. I knew that my parents couldn’t afford to buy me many of the name brands that my friends were buying, so I just didn’t ask for them.

If I really wanted something, I would save up my money from baby-sitting and buy it. Sometimes, when I finally had enough to buy it, I didn’t even want it anymore. I knew how long it had taken me to save up just enough for that special bag or shirt and it was hard to give up my hard-earned money!

It’s tough though when your friends seem to be able to buy what they want and you can’t. I guess in retrospect, it was especially difficult since I was in a private school. It’s assumed that when you’re in a private school your parents can afford anything you want, but that’s not always the case. Sometimes parents sacrifice everything to give you what they think is the best education that money can buy, even if that means going without something.

My parents were Cuban immigrants. They left Cuba in their teen years and watched as everything their parents owned was taken away from them by a communist regime. They arrived in the United States with literally nothing but the clothes they were wearing. Throughout my childhood I heard endless stories about how they sometimes went to bed hungry and how they washed their school uniforms every night because they could only afford one.

Education was always a priority. It was considered a must. I was always told that everything I ever owned could be taken from me at any time, anything but my education. This was drilled into me from a very young age and I always tried to be the best student I could be. I wanted to make my parents proud and of course I dreamt of a life where I too could buy the dress I saw at the store without looking at the price tag.

When prom came, I knew there was no money to buy a dress. Lucky for me my grandmother was an amazing seamstress and would design and lovingly make any dress that I could imagine. I would spend hours looking through patterns and choosing fabric. Then she would gush over her work as I finally put it on and wore it. Prom was no different, and she was so excited to make my prom dress.

What I never told her was that what I really wanted, at the time, was to be able to go to the store, pick out a dress and buy it. I wanted to be like my friends and buy a dress. But I knew this wasn’t an option, so I designed the dress with her, picked the fabric, she made the dress and went happily to prom in my home-made dress. She really did amazing work and her hands worked tirelessly to design the perfect dress. It was her way of giving me what she knew that I wanted, even though she couldn’t afford to.

Now that I am an adult, and a physician, I can go to the store and buy the dress. I can try on any dress and if I really wanted it, I guess I could buy it. But here’s the thing, when you buy a dress off the shelf, most of the time, there are hundreds of dresses just like the one you chose. Chances are, there are hundreds of women in the world choosing the very same dress I am holding in my hand. So except for a few exclusive designers, a store bought dress is not that special. It’s likely made by a machine in a factory and shipped to be displayed in a store.

It isn’t made with loving hands attending to all the details. It isn’t made by someone that loves you so much that they are willing to dedicate hours of their life to making it perfect.

So, yes, now I can buy the store bought dress, but what i really wish that I could have again is the dress made with love by my grandmother.

Always appreciate what you have, because one day you may not have it anymore…

Elizabeth Vainder, M.D.

How to teach gratitude and appreciation:

  1. Be thankful and write down what you’re thankful for every day. Pick 3 things to write down every day.
  2. Model gratitude towards others. If someone does something nice for you or treats you well, be genuinely thankful and tell the other person how thankful you are for their gesture or words.
  3. Be there for others or help others when they need or ask for help.
  4. Consider volunteering. Sometimes seeing another person’s perspective changes your way of seeing things.
  5. Say please and thank you. We all like to feel appreciated, so let’s begin by appreciating others first.
  6. Point out to your kids how everyone likes to be appreciated, even for simple things.
  7. Thank your child when he/she does something kind to others or helps without being asked.
  8. Write thank you notes when someone gifts you something or does something nice for you.
  9. Appreciate the important people in their lives like teachers, coaches, doctors, family members, friends..etc. Spontaneous acts of gratitude are always a good idea.
  10. Be thoughtful. For instance if someone is sick or alone, encourage your child to call or send a letter.

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