I was recently in a swanky baby store looking for items to tame my daughter’s growing mane. Since I was trying to hold off on her first haircut as long as possible, I had to find a solution for her new, rather unkempt little shag. I didn’t even think of my own rather unkempt coif.
As I shopped, a saleswoman approached me and exclaimed, “Isn’t he cute! How old is he?”
Now, many a mother might cringe at their daughter being mistaken for a boy, but I am not one of them. To my mind, babies lack the size, shape, and style factors adults use to signify gender, and so I never really cared to go out of my way to exclaim “Girl here!” when dressing my child. That is, of course, aside from my own love of dresses, all things pink, and teeny tiny little hair bows (I know, I know, but I seem to remember Emerson saying something about foolish consistencies and hobgoblins. . . look it up).
“She,” I said clearly but pleasantly to the saleswoman, “will turn one soon.”
“Oh!” said the saleswoman. “She looks just like you.”
Okay, now I became uncomfortable. Maybe I should have worn the skirt instead of my extremely comfortable but somewhat more gender-neutral cargo pants. But it got worse.
“You think so?” I stammered.
“Oh yes!” said the completely unabashed saleswoman. “You two have the same haircut!”
I was slightly disheartened to find that no one witnessed this personal assault — because that is what it felt like: a swift punch in the stomach for being clearly un-put-together. Before I had a baby, I didn’t understand all the fuss about the changed appearance of mommyhood: the post-pregnancy inches around the middle, or the lost mirror time resulting in tussled hair or non-existent makeup. I always thought, “Small price to pay for a little miracle.”
And while I still believe that philosophically, I now understand how humiliating it can be to wake up with this new, unruly appearance. One of the blessings of adulthood, I find, is that we grownups generally have a handle on our physical appearance. We know our little quirks, and have them mostly under control: how to fend off the occasional blemish on your face, which shirts look great on you and which make you look like a stuffed sausage, for instance.
But motherhood changes all of that. And it’s not even that the changes are bad in and of themselves. It’s just that you must re-learn all the rules of your appearance. And during that re-education, like in adolescence, you will undoubtedly take a misstep or two.
Witness my hairstyle that day in the baby store.
And regarding new body shape, one might be surprised to know that young mothers don’t necessarily feel fat. Despite the constant chatter to the contrary, I think I would qualify the sensation as less like feeling fat and more like feeling thick.
Not sure what I mean? Go get your heaviest wool sweater and put it on. It’s okay, I’ll wait.
Now go back and get another sweater, and pull it over the first. This is where the mommy begins; she attempts to slide her work clothes, or worse, her little black dress onto this unwieldly torso and spends the day attempting to act normal. Forget feeling together or posh; that kind of confidence vanished long ago.
Walking around in an unfamiliar body is not only disconcerting but it is also uncomfortable and surprising. Some mornings I awake so quickly, that I am already brushing my teeth before I realize, “Ding, dang-it! I’m going to have to fight like an alligator with my pants again this morning!”
But despite sporting a one-year-old’s hairdo and a closet full of pants that have no actual relationship to my body, I also have one thing I never had in my more svelt days: a new perspective on myself, literally. Whenever I feel like giving in to the “thick-mommy-blues,” all I have to do is look at my daughter looking at me. Like some kind of heavenly fun-house mirror, I can tell from one glance into her eyes that my baby not only (miraculously!) thinks I’m beautiful, but she is, even more astonishingly, learning to define beauty itself in the curves of my face. Sometimes I grasp her soft little hand as she twirls my unmanageable hair between her fingers, and I am overwhelmed.
Giving up size six jeans and a day at the salon for this? Not a bad trade, I say.
Shearer is an Oak Cliff mom with a doctorate in American Literature, but barely a pre-school education in Mommyhood.