There are at least 25 magazines stuffed in a wicker basket on the floor of our family room. Most of them are home related – Southern Living, Garden and Gun, House Beautiful. The well-worn issues are Ladies Home Journal and MORE magazine…the ones dedicated to balancing (there’s that word again) a busy lifestyle while maintaining a youthful appearance. I have to manage well AND look good? At the same time?
My favorite sections are the ones dedicated to before and after photos. I am captivated by the makeovers that turn comfortable housewives and overworked executives into hotties — and you know what I’m talking about: from broomstick skirt to little black dress; from long, stringy locks to sleek, liquid-like strands; from dark circles to smoky eyes. Beauty editors must think we’re absolutely stupid — the first shots are taken without makeup and in the worst outfit in the closet; the final shot is taken after experts have waved their wands. These “real” women even look 10 pounds lighter (because they’re standing at an angle with a hand on their partially-hidden hip). Yet, we still sit back and exhale. WOW… she looks incredible!
But I want to see those women three days later when they’ve got to apply that eyeliner and blow out that mane by themselves.
My daughter, Ava (age 9) was sitting on the edge of the bathtub watching me twist my arm into knots as I tried to dry my hair with a round brush the size of a soda can. As I sectioned off part of it with a clip, she gasped and slapped both hands to her cheeks.
“MAMA!” she cried. ”You’re so gray! How did that happen?!”
I turned off the hair dryer. ”Do you really want me to answer that question?”
“There’s so much of it!” Ava continued. She stood up and got closer. ”It’s not brown anymore!”
“Haven’t you seen a Calico cat? They have brown, black, white and blonde patches of fur.”
Ava wasn’t amused. ”Are you going to cover it up?” she asked.
“Why should I? It’ll just come back,” I countered.
Her voice softened. ”But…you look…..old.”
I looked back in the mirror and stared at the gray wires standing out from my head like a broken kitchen whisk. No, it wasn’t my best look.
“Maybe I should cut it,” I suggested. ”It takes too long to fix anyway.”
Ava panicked again. ”NO!” she protested. “Don’t cut it!! You’ll look…old.”
I threw the brush in the sink and unplugged the dryer. ”People age, Ava.”
Irritated and hurt, I went to my bedroom and looked for something to wear. On top of a stack of clean laundry (yet to be put away) was my uniform: baggy Levis and a long-sleeved tee-shirt. How old are they anyway? Seven years? Ten?
My girl didn’t mean to hurt my feelings, but sometimes the truth does hurt. I did need a haircut and I did need to do something about the color, which was faded from sitting in the sun and dried out from swimming in the pool all summer. I don’t agree that I looked old, but I do admit to looking worn down.
About a week later, I went to see my stylist who has been with me through thick and thin hair. I sat in the chair and held up my hands.
Nancy, the hair therapist as I call her, knew just what to do. “Let’s tone down the brassiness and trim up the back.”
I felt a surge of caffeinated energy. ”Cut it,” I agreed. “Short. Pixie-short.”
An hour and a half later (be nice, dear readers…miracles take a while!), I spun around in the chair with far less gray in far less hair. Six inches….gone. I admit: It was a shock. Remember the scene in “Steel Magnolias”? Shelby looks at herself for the first time and grabs her hair as if to pull the whispy curls into longer waves? I did that.
What will Ava think? I wondered.
Who cares what Ava thinks. I thought.
I went home and smeared concealer on my face and painted on the brightest red lipstick I could find. I pulled a similarly-shaded top from the back of my closet and decided to try on the “fitted” jeans that still had the tags hanging from the waistband. Then, as if I were appearing in the October issue of InStyle, I snapped a picture of myself and posted it on Facebook.
Off with her hair, I wrote. One hundred-plus glowing reviews later, I sensed that I should have tried this years ago – when I was about 30. Big hair and big clothes had become a security blanket. Just like working from home, it was apparent that I’d been hiding. Who knows why. Maybe we all go through these phases.
That afternoon, I waited on the sidewalk at school and expected the girls to walk right passed me. Maryn bounced down the steps first, grinning as if I had just returned from an extended vacation. She buried her face in my shirt.
“Do you like it?” I asked.
She nodded. ”Can I have mine cut short, too?”
Ava walked up behind her and flashed a familiar smile.
“Well?” I asked.
“It’s pretty,” she said quietly.
“Do I look old?” I teased her.
She shook her head no.
I wish someone would pay me a dollar to find the phrases “mom hair”, “mom jeans” and “mom purse” in magazine articles. I’d make enough money to buy an entirely new wardrobe. ”Mom” has become an adjective instead of a noun — or a verb, for that matter. I don’t know why it matters to anyone that we look like we have children. I’m proud to be a mother. I’ve earned every gray hair, every line and every curve. So we need to spruce ourselves up every now and then. So we need to be reminded that we’ve had better days. So what? Aging isn’t about growing older. It’s about becoming more mature. And you know what? It’s time.