Last month, my son dropped his morning nap. It happened too suddenly (for me) and it took (me) some time to adjust. His afternoon nap time was up in the air — one day at 11AM, the next day at 1PM. One particularly strange day, he didn’t go down until 2PM and slept an epic 3 hours. Hallelujah, right? Nope. I quickly paid the price for this luxury. Bedtime was hellish — and I am being quite generous with my words.
That night, when my son finally drifted off, I actually heard an angelic tune resonate from the other room. Turns out it wasn’t angels singing, it was my laptop. It was a Skype call from my mom. Every few days, she calls to talk to me — not her grandson, but me. I emphasize this because there was a very drastic shift in the object of everyone’s attention from the time I was pregnant to the time I became a mother. My mom was one of the few (perhaps, only) people that made sure I didn’t disappear into the shadows after childbirth.
The melody continues, and I answer the call.
Mom: You look horrible. What happened?
I look down at my pasta sauce stained T-shirt and let out a big sigh. The little window on the right corner of my screen displays a person I do not recognize.
Me: It’s been a rough day, Mom. We are still adjusting to the single nap.
Mom: When was the last time you got your eyebrows done?
Me: I don’t know. But, thanks for pointing that out.
Mom: I’m sorry. I know that’s not what you want to hear right now.
Me: You’re right, it’s not.
Mom: It’s something you need to hear, though. I don’t want you to make the same mistake I did. Don’t make your life all about your children.
Me: Should you really be saying that?
Mom: Yes. There is no shame in being a woman first, and a mother second. Don’t forget to take care of yourself. You will be a better mother for it.
The subject changes and we discuss the crazy Canadian weather, upcoming family functions, and hang up a few minutes later.
Her words stay with me long after the talk.
It’s been a month since that conversation, and I still think of it. I think of the days when I take the time to shower and put on my makeup before I go out. I think of the rare day or two in the past year that I have gotten my hair done. I think of the afternoons when I opt for a flattering dress instead of a hoodie and sweatpants.
There is something that these small acts all have in common. They transport me back to a time when I was in the spotlight — when every thought and action wasn’t intertwined with the What about my child? question. And, perhaps most importantly, I realize that these simple details do make me a better mother.
When I put on a dress and pull a comb through my hair, he points at me and says “pweety mommy!” I don’t know how or where he learned these words. I don’t even know if his 17-month-old mind comprehends the meaning of what he has just uttered. Regardless, I am taken aback by his words; so much so that I get unexpectedly choked up.
Yes, I want to teach my son that his superficial exterior is never a representation of who he is on the inside. But, for some strange reason, this simple compliment about my appearance means so much to me at this very moment. I know he loves me regardless of how stained my T-shirt is or how many tangles populate my birds nest, but it is still so nice to hear those words.
I have lived a life where my value was at least partially determined by my physical appearance. I am not sure if that is the fault of society, my upbringing, or perhaps simply my approval-seeking personality. Wherever the fault lies, the truth is when I look good, I feel good. I stand a little taller. I walk with a little more confidence. I smile more. I laugh more. Somewhere along the way, my physical appearance became tied to my emotional well-being.
All of this leaves me a little confused and conflicted. Doesn’t this contradict everything I have ever believed? I have always felt strongly about not letting my outward appearance define who I am as a person. So why have things suddenly changed?
I am reminded of my mother’s words. Don’t forget to take care of yourself. For some people that might mean eating healthy; for some it may mean spending time reading non-rhyming literature; and for others, it may mean taking a few moments to be the woman you once were before you proudly wore the Mommy name tag.
And, that’s just it. It’s not so much about my appearance as it is about putting myself first — even if it just for ten minutes. Those ten minutes are the short, but much needed, recess from a day in which I always put myself last. Those ten minutes make me feel like a real person — an individual who is part of society. And, like my mother pointed out, those ten minutes allow me to return to my demanding job feeling good about myself. Those ten minutes make me a better mom.