Before I had children, I set lofty rules for myself. I would not let my kids rot their brains with TV, I would never let them eat at McDonald's and I would never, ever let myself look like a mom.
Fast forward five years and two kids later and guess which one of those rules I've broken? The television is on more than I would like to admit (but I turn it to Sprout!) and my newly revised rule on McDonald's is that I will take them there if and when they ask for it, as I don't want my kids to be the only ones in class who have never eaten a Happy Meal.
As for looking like a mom? It's something I fight against every day and sometimes I feel like it's a losing battle.
Let me preface all of this by saying I am very blessed to have a happy and healthy family, which is the most important thing in the world. My children don't care one bit what I look like, but I do. And I don't want to look like a mom.
So what exactly do I mean by "looking like a mom"? Everyone knows what a mom looks like and you can pick them out of a room full of strangers. Having children hanging off you and carrying a diaper bag is a dead give away, of course. But sometimes the biggest signs are crimes against fashion, thanks to mom jeans (brilliantly depicted by Tina Fey) and my personal pet peeve, mom hair -- the hum drum, practical chin length bob that fans out at the bottom like a Darth Vader helmet. Or worse, Kate Gosselin hair.
Of course it's really hard not to look like you're a mom when you are one. Yes, I may be a suburban, station wagon driving mom but I don't want to necessarily look like one.
And it's doubly hard, if like me, you are mostly a stay-at-home mom. You're going to get dirty and you don't want to dress up so much that you can't get down on the grass and play with your kids. Your children will cover your clothes in spit up, butter, markers, poop, goldfish, and glue. Nearly all of my shirts have dried milk stains and silvery trails of God-knows-what by 9:00 a.m. Sometimes I dream of wearing a crisp white shirt, and having it remain crisp and white all day long.
I have no idea how women who have to dress nicely for work leave the house looking pristine. Actually I do; my working mom friends tell me they put on their work clothes at the last minute and dash for the door, shrieking "don't touch me!" I used to think this was cruel and unusual punishment -- don't you want that last minute, adorable hug from your toddler? -- but now I realize there is a certain practicality to it. If you have to appear in court by 9:00 a.m., you will break a running world-record eluding a jammy toast-wielding toddler who is coming for you. On the few occasions that I do leave the house dressed nicely, I blow air kisses and sprint for the door.
But, I have no reason to buy a suit. I work from home, as a writer, where I don't have to impress anyone with what I look like.
So I make rules for myself.
I will not shop at Target for myself, because there is something demoralizing about buying your clothes at the same place where you buy toilet paper and Tide. I refused to buy a tankini from Lands' End -- because really, what is the point of a tankini?
I will not work in sweat pants, even if the only person I interact with all day is the Starbucks barista. I refuse to even own sweat pants or a sweat shirt, or anything with a visible Old Navy logo. Yoga pants are acceptable -- they don't scream "sloppy" the way sweatpants do, and they suggest health and flexibility, even if I haven't set foot in a gym in years. I try to brush my hair and apply lipstick, which is occasionally done at a traffic light. My car's cup holder contains a melted but recongealed and still usable tinted lip balm, which is handy for touch ups. My husband howls at the amount I spend on haircuts and color but he has no idea how bad I would look if I went au natural.
Last year I was introduced to the great suburban invention of the school car line. It's like drive through Dunkin Donuts for your kids. You don't even have to get out of the car to drop them off, and no one can see what you're wearing. It's genius -- but doesn't exactly encourage any kind of personal style. While I never actually drove my kids to school in pajamas, I've come close.
But I don't want to be that mom. So, I try. But generally fail.
Consider outerwear. Have you ever tried to balance an umbrella and push a stroller at the same time? No? That's because it's impossible. You have to suck it up and wear a raincoat. If I had more time, I'd scour the Internet and shops for something fashionable. But I don't have time, which is why I end up wearing an ugly but practical raincoat that makes me look like a member of a mountain rescue team.
Take my shoes. Like many moms, over the years my shoes have been reduced to three types: Birkenstocks in the summer, Converse in spring and fall, and Uggs in the winter. Looking at my shoe rack, it is definitely more of a "before" than an "after" fashion shot, because all my nice shoes are tucked away and only appear for nights out and weddings.
But I try to up my game and pull it together. I have left a pair of nice, delicate strappy sandals by my front door, in the hope that I might actually wear them. I know that whatever I am wearing would look infinitely better with chic sandals rather than Birkenstocks. So I decide I might put them on. But in between yelling at everyone to hurry up because we'll be late, wrestling a baby who is trying to launch himself down the stairs and gathering up backpacks, water bottles and snacks and locking the door behind me, I don't have a spare set of hands or five extra seconds to reach down and fasten the straps on my sandals. So, on go the Birks and another day passes where my feet don't look fashionable.
But I keep the sandals by the front door, and pledge to try again tomorrow.