The mailman delivered a note attached to a bag of jewelry as I packed for a writing conference in New York: "I feel like I am with you when you wear a piece of my jewelry. Wishing you a grand literary adventure! Love you -- the grandmomma of your precious boys and one of your biggest fans!"
It all started with an earring. The first time I met my mother-in-law, I was in college. She visited for parents' weekend. I liked her son Josh. A lot. But meeting Jan helped seal the deal.
I was overwhelmed and intimated. Was I smart enough? Funny enough? Tall enough? Then she lost an earring at the restaurant. Searching for it together provided some comic relief. That earring mishap let me see that she wasn't perfect, even though she sure seemed to be. How great to realize I didn't need to be perfect either.
Jewelry helped smooth the transition to becoming the daughter-in-law, too.
At the engagement party my parents hosted for Josh and me, I was presented with the sweetest, most delicate emerald ring -- the ring Josh's dad gave to Jan on the day Josh was born. Accepting that ring, watching Jan choke up as I showed it to others at the party, helped me realize I was indeed part of their family.
Jan is a complete and total wow -- confident and skilled at entering a room. She's warm and giving and gorgeous and fashionable.
Oh, the fashion. She's an original fashionista. In the 15 years I've known her, I've never seen her wear the same outfit twice. Even her pajamas are fancy. She loves clothes the way I love books. She knows labels and trends and designers, and the woman can literally shop until I drop.
Me? Not so much.
Sure I like to look good, but I have no clue how to do it. And if I actually have time to shop, I'd much rather plunk myself down at a book store than hit the mall. I can't put an outfit together to save my life.
Jan has been so patient with me, trying to teach me the difference between a sheath and a maxi dress, a textured a-line and a chiffon mini. Once, when she came to our house to babysit, she said, "I've got the boys, honey. Go ahead upstairs and get ready for your big night." Of course I didn't tell her that I thought I was ready.
Thank goodness Jan has become my stylist -- for weddings, work functions, date nights and now writing conferences. I actually take pictures of my prospective outfits then e-mail them to her so she can guide me: "Try an animal print shoe. You need a pop." ... Or, "Get those jeans a size smaller. They'll stretch then sag."
When I went to a Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators conference in Los Angeles, Jan let me borrow some of her jewelry. I had just signed with my dream agency and sold my first book. I was invited to cocktail parties with industry professionals. I had never been so excited and happy and nervous and freaked out all at the same time, especially because I was going by myself and didn't know anyone who would be there.
Jan was up for the challenge. She styled me right down to my Spanx. I was ready!
But in L.A. when I got dressed for that first cocktail party, I suddenly felt too alone. Too scared. How would I walk into a new place, meet new people? The weight of officially stepping into a new career -- realizing a dream I'd worked toward for nine years -- made it hard to breathe.
I paced my hotel room and tried to give myself a pep talk. I took a sip of water. Still couldn't pull it together. A gulp. No better. I chugged the bottle. I had to snap out of it. My new editor would be waiting for me to get off the elevator.
That's when I finally remembered Jan's bag of jewelry. When I untied the strings and pulled the silky cloth open, I could smell Jan's perfume -- H'adrien. And there waiting for me was her fun, silver bracelet. When I slid it on my wrist, I relaxed. I checked myself out in the mirror.
The elevator doors opened and my editor stood waiting. I wrapped my hand around my wrist, around Jan's bracelet, and took a deep breath. When I walked into the cocktail party, I waved at the founders of the agency. As Jan's silver bangles clinked together, I could hear her saying, "Good luck, G! Good luck!" Even though I've never asked her what the 'G' stands for, there, at that moment, I imagined it meant "girlfriend" and that's exactly what I needed.
I know the relationship I have with Jan is unique. Wonderful. Lucky. So while she talks about clean lines and modern designs and the importance of cashmere, I smile. She's gifted at pulling together must-have looks then adding little luxuries that make all the difference. But does she know she's the must-have for me -- the little luxury that makes all the difference?
How can I thank her? I just hope that when the mailman delivered my note to her after the New York conference, it did the trick: "I felt like you were with me in New York when I wore your jewelry. You helped me enjoy a grand literary adventure! Love you -- the momma of your precious boys and one of your biggest fans!"
Kate Dopirak is a writer and former elementary school teacher who lives in Franklin Park (www.katedopirak.com). Her first book, "You're My Boo," is forthcoming from Beach Lane Books.