I wore red lipstick yesterday. It was an accident. A friend gave me a bag of make-up and lotions she didn’t want (in every group of friends there’s always the one who will be happy to take your unwanted things and in every group of friends I AM that person) and I didn’t realize the shade of lipstick I was applying was a true, bright red. And I was on my way to pick-up my older kids from Vacation Bible School. It was not exactly the moment for aggressive make-up experimentation, but I was running late enough that I didn’t have enough time to undo what I had done.
I walked out of the bathroom and my three-year-old said, “You look so beau’full, Mommy.” That helped me work past the nerves I felt about being THAT mom, leaving bright red lipstick kisses on her future Kindergartener’s cheeks while picking him up. Something about the decision to wear red lipstick felt ostentatious. It felt extravagant. And these are not words that typically define me.
As you would imagine, outside of my toddler, nobody noticed or cared. Or if they did, I didn’t notice or care. And I will likely wear that lipstick again because it did something to my soul.
When I caught sight of myself in the mirror, I was reminded of one of my favorite poems I first read in high school. I remember reading “Warning” which starts, “When I am old, I will wear purple.” and with line after line, I felt this strong sense of identification. (Here you can watched the author read it herself.) When God was handing out “wild oats” for people to sow, he skipped me. I knew even in high school what she meant by “the sobriety of youth.” I have been a rule follower for as long as I can remember. I love a good rule. I love conformity and duty and doing what’s expected. But I have also always longed for the day when what’s expected of me would become a little less conventional.
I thought maybe that would happen with motherhood. When I became a mom, could I start wearing oversized puffy painted sweatshirts and bulky, highwaisted jeans? And I don’t mean ironically. Could I sometimes do school drop-off with curlers in my hair, hidden under a plastic cap? Could I be proud of my killer cupcake recipe and stop worrying about ridiculous things like “thigh gaps?”
But that’s not how things work anymore. Moms are supposed to be hot now. We are supposed to have pre pregnancy bodies and pre pregnancy careers and pre pregnancy priorities for the rest of our lives. So I learn the rules and I follow them– feeling crappy if I gain a pound, fighting for career goals in the midst of parenting six kids (I have no words for how much I hate this “Lean In” moment we’re in when it comes to women and work), and all the while trying to figure out how to do it without sticking out too much.
So help me, if we start having to be “hot” grandmas and keep working until we die and always be dutiful and obligated, I’m going to cry. “Lean In Farther: How Grandmas Can be Even More Productive if They Just Sacrifice More.” I can see the million dollar book sales now. People, you lean in too far, you fall over and potentially break a hip. I’m looking forward to all of us being the women who knit and take cake decorating classes and volunteer at the polling location whenever there’s a local election. I want to go on a cruise with my husband and our friends and we’ll all wear floppy hats and scandalous swimsuits and laugh too loud. I want to wear big brooches for no good reason.
But I’m afraid we aren’t raising kids who can handle the kind of “adulting” necessary for us to be able to become the kind of grandmas we want to be. If our kids are too busy rejecting duty and obligation and we’re too busy letting them, then I think we need to prepare ourselves for never getting to wear purple. We’ll raise our kids, then care for them well into adulthood, then raise our grandkids (all while we’re expected to work, be physically attractive, read the news, be involved at church, etc.) so our kids can still be eccentric and free-spirited and “themselves.”
That’s not what I want (I mean, I love you, future grandchildren, but I am not all about raising another generation when mine are grown and gone if I don’t have to). So I’m going to wear red lipstick. I’m going to start practicing for the fun of my old age now. I’m going to show my kids that work has a reward and I am not some duty robot, but a person with spunk and spirit. We work hard because we enjoy the feeling of accomplishment and because hard work allows us to sometimes do things that aren’t hard work. If I give my kids all the rewards of hard work without requiring that they actually work hard, I’m failing them. If I keep working hard without rewarding myself with the occasional break from my duty-bound tendencies, I’m failing me. I’m not talking about joining the ranks of moms who go clubbing, I’m talking about prioritizing self-care in a way that let’s my kids know I am a “self.”
Today, self-care looks like wearing the red lipstick. Daring to be bold, to communicate to the world (or at least the internet repair man who came by today) that it’s okay for me to not take myself too seriously. To have fun even if it’s just in picking out a lipstick color.