Even as a little girl, I had absolutely no desire whatsoever to be “Cinderella.” Although I loved the movie, I couldn’t help but wonder, “How could a girl could be so stupid that she lost her own damned shoe?” And while thankfully, I feel I didn’t grow up to become some dumb, naïve princess-type, I’ve had my fair share of what I refer to as “Cinderella Moments” throughout my lifetime. “Cinderella Moments” are those instances where the dress really makes the occasion, where you captivate an entire room of strangers by your appearance, and when you take your partner’s breath away when he/she sees you coming down the stairs.
I met my husband in 1998. One of our first dates was to see Chicago on Broadway and I wanted to impress him…really impress him. I was 18 years old and ordered a dress I couldn’t afford from a local bridal shop. It was a floor length olive green, A-line gown. At the time, I was all of 120 pounds, with an hour glass figure and big boobs. Buying anything off the department store rack was out of the question. Leading up to the big date, I spoke to my husband, then boyfriend, nightly on the phone. He had a suit that was a similar color he was going to wear that evening. When he picked me up at my parents house the night of the show, I made my mother answer the door so I could make my entrance. He was waiting for me at the bottom of the stairs with a bouquet of flowers, blushed cheeks, and a big smile. He told me how beautiful I looked and I believed him. That evening in New York City was one of the most romantic, most exciting and most memorable of my life. As we were walking back to our car, an old woman stopped us on the street, “I just have to tell you, you two look amazing, what a lovely couple.” Cinderella Moment.
Funny how life can throw curve balls like it’s the World Series. Less than a year after that wonderfully perfect night, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was only 19 years old. Under a regime of chemotherapy, radiation and different medications, I watched my body change into an almost unrecognizable state. My weight fluctuated like a yo-yo from all the medications. I lost my hair so many times, I can’t even count. The hourglass figure of my high school era was long gone and a 60-pound heavier version of myself stared back at me in the mirror. Slowly, I fell into the habit of elastic waistbands, yoga pants and extra large sweatshirts. I wanted to wear comfortable clothing during my physical pain, but I also wanted to appear somewhat invisible. I didn’t like when people looked at me. I didn’t want anyone’s pity. I just wanted to be left alone.
Amazingly, that same guy that took me to see Chicago, stuck around. We moved in together and he took care of me. Three years later, my cancer had become very bad and I was growing weaker. One morning when we were laying in bed I started crying and asked him, “What are we going to do, I am so sick?” Very calmly, he said, “We are going to get married.” A month later he proposed. On June 27, 2002, at the Wedding Pavilion in Walt Disney World, Florida, I met him at the alter. I wore an ivory princess ball gown and a wig covered up my bald head from my cancer treatments. We took our vows. There was no one in the room but he and I. It was most definitely a Cinderella Moment.
Years passed in our marriage and cancer continued to haunt us. I’d get better and then get sick again. My immune system had become so compromised I was forced to stay indoors. My doctors had warned me that someone who had undergone the kinds of medical treatments that I had would undoubtedly have long-term health effects. I began noticing changes in my vision in 2008. First, with horrendous, crippling headaches that put me out of work for months at a time. Later, after extensive neurological testing, we discovered I had ocular hypertension. Within a year, I had gone color blind and lost most of my depth perception. In January 2012, I went to work at a local school and came home with a pounding headache. I took a nap, hoping to alleviate some of the pain, and when I woke up I was unable to see anything. Upon being examined by my ophthalmologist and neuro- ophthalmologist, I was declared “legally blind.” Over the next several weeks, my vision changed multiple times. Doctors attributed my condition to years of chemotherapy and radiation treatments. It was classified as a neurological condition in which my optic nerves no longer communicated with my brain. The end result, I’m completely color blind, have absolutely no vision or light detection in my left eye, and 20/800 in my right eye.
Becoming blind sent me into a very deep depression. I felt I had become an immense burden on my husband and a disappointment to both our families. I was mad at the world, mad at God, mad at everyone. Months passed and with orientation/mobility training I slowly regained some independence. I was able to get out more and rejoin the land of the living. I was feeling better mentally and physically, and then another curve ball struck. Thankfully, it wasn’t cancer…it was an unexpected pregnancy! In the midst of so much sickness, trauma and loss; after 10 years of marriage, we were having a baby! My daughter Nuala was born in 2013! Less than a year later, her sister, Aoife, was born. Proof positive, lightening can indeed strike twice.
Now as a blind mother of a toddler and infant, my daily attire consists of old pajamas or left over maternity clothes. Very few things I wear aren’t stained by baby formula or some other bodily fluid from one of my children. It’s gross, but it’s my reality. Life is a balancing act, between the roles of mom, wife, social worker and blogger. Date nights are practically non-existent and I had begun to believe Cinderella moments had ended for me at this stage of my life.
My current position as the Director of Education & Outreach for IlluminArt Productions (www.illuminart.org) in Staten Island, includes helping this theatrical non-profit organization with it’s annual fundraiser/cabaret show, Empowering Voices. While I absolutely love my job and the people I work with, the mere thought of having to get something to wear for this event was enough to throw me into a full blown panic attack. Since losing my eyesight and adjusting to my post-partum body, Empowering Voices was really the first event I had to get something special to wear.
Trekking two babies, a double stroller, a diaper bag and white cane does not make for easy travel. I prefer to shop online in the confines of my home office. After weeks of searching, I finally made my purchase, a Gabby Skye fit and flair red floral dress. When the box finally arrived; I was nervous. Upon trying it on, my first thought was it was much too tight. My husband disagreed, saying it fit like a glove. I took pictures and turned to social media. The consensus was it fit perfectly and to keep the dress.
On the night of the big event, I brought my 2-year-old daughter, Nuala, into my bedroom to watch me get dressed. She was fascinated by stockings, high heels and jewelry. She had never seen me in anything that did not have an elastic waist band or drawstring before. She sat on my bed, watching my every move, soaking it all in, wide-eyed and curious. When I was finally all zipped up I asked her “how do I look?” She smiled at me, that same smile her daddy had all those years ago, and said “oh, mommy, you’re so pretty, just like Cinderella.”
That’s when it hit me. I was having one. It was a Cinderella Moment. Not because of the dress, or the shoes or the hair and makeup – because in this unique moment in time – my two-year-old daughter thought her mommy was just as “pretty” as her favorite princess.
Of all the Cinderella Moments I have had thus far, the one with my daughter is my favorite. I know part of being a good mother is showing her that sighted or blind, women have to “rise to” and “dress for” the occasion. She looks to me to set an example and I take that responsibility quite seriously.
Embrace the “Cinderella Moments” in your life. Look back on them. Cherish them. Every girl should be the bell of the ball more than once. You don’t need vision to embrace your inner princess.