Recently, I had what Oprah calls an "aha moment." I'm no die-hard Oprah fan, but her term was a perfect description for something that happened earlier this week. It all began when I picked up my oldest son from school. I had just exercised and was still wearing my Nike black t-shirt. I didn't think twice about my attire. As long as I was on time for school pick-up and didn't look or smell too badly, I considered myself good-to-go. However, as I rushed to get to the pick-up area, I noticed a few other mothers and teachers greeted me with confused looks upon their faces. I guess my post-workout outfit was clearly not my best look. I didn't give any of this much thought. That is, until my almost six-year-old son Dylan, hugged me and said, "Mom, I can't figure out your shirt. What does it say?" Dylan is just starting to read, so he was working to sound out each letter and was (thankfully) falling short. My Nike shirt said, "Every Damn Day." If you feel compelled to exercise every day and have a love/hate relationship with working out, then this shirt makes perfect sense to you. However, like some parents and teachers, Dylan was not amused. He said, "A mom can't wear that shirt. It's not a good word. Right?" I apologized and sighed. I told Dylan he was probably right and I would not wear the shirt to school again.
Later that night, as I warmed up a bottle for my youngest son, poured chocolate milk for my oldest and sang a good-night song to my middle son, I got to thinking about being a mom. I take my parenting duties very seriously, and take pride in each of my sons. However, was there a mommy dress code that I missed the memo on? Did I have to play the role so well, that even my t-shirts, nail polish color and taste in music needed to be "in line"? I made a mental note of these thoughts and warmed up my own glass of skim milk. In an old tank top and mesh shorts, I turned out the lights and laughed at my "inappropriate/ non-mommy" nighttime attire.
I didn't give the x-rated t-shirt too much thought, until a girlfriend stopped by the house. This particular friend is one of these women who we all know. Whether it's gym time, bedtime or a night-out-on-the-town time, these women always look put-together. We will call her Jennifer. Jennifer is always matching, made-up and perfectly manicured. Her high-heeled sandals or pumps are often the center of our conversations. She has two children: a four-year-old boy and a seven-month-old girl. She rarely, if ever, has any trace of mud, slobber, milk or paint on her person. As I was grabbing some popsicles out of my freezer, I heard Noah, my middle child, tell Jennifer, "Those shoes make noise when you walk. My mommy doesn't wear shoes like that." He was pointing to the heel, and he was clearly making a comment on my taste in shoes. It's true. I live in sneakers, flip-flops and flats. I am practical and always feel too hurried and under-dressed to wear heels. Pushing a stroller or chasing one of the boys in the park is much easier in my Nike sneakers. Noah, however, told me (and my friend), that he liked "those" shoes that mommies wear. Again, I was faced with a violation of dress code. I am clearly not dressing the "mommy" part. Though his comment hit a nerve, I was determined to stay true to what I feel makes the most sense for me and for my lifestyle.
The last straw came when, the same month that the Nike t-shirt scandal erupted and the high-heel comments were made, my husband decided it was time to buy a minivan. Three car seats, one dog, and always at least one stroller required a bigger, more practical car. I, however, was not on board (pun intended), with this purchase plan. I always thought of minivans as a soccer-mom-slash-Martha Stewart car. I envision a mom in high-waisted, tapered jeans driving a minivan full of bright-eyed children in matching gingham outfits. I love my extra large Yukon, and again felt the van was a "mommy" look that didn't fit with my sense of self. Dylan and Noah, however, were excited by the van prospect. They, along with their father, tried to convince me. "Mom, all the moms at school drive one. Why can't we have the big van? Please?" I felt backed into a corner; even my car was now being judged. I shook my head and said " no thank you," but I encouraged the boys to ask their father to drive a minivan (if in fact it was so perfect for the family).
In retrospect, when I consider the comments from my children and the expectations from everyone about what a mom should look like, I start to understand. This is when I experienced my first "aha" moment: Even though I am young and a free-thinker and stylish (in my own way), I guess being a grownup means (sometimes) having to play the part. Inside, I feel similarly to how I did when I was in college, and I'm thankful that I have the energy and optimism of a younger version of myself. However, I know I look older, and I have no choice but to wear "regular" clothes and wake up before 11am (no more lounging in pajamas all day). As I pack lunches and beg Dylan for the tenth time to please help Noah wash his hands and face, I realize that my life is changing. Whether I don the obligatory school drop-off uniform, or my own boyfriend-style, baggy jeans, I look around at my surroundings and my three beautiful boys, and I admit, expectations and obligations are no longer just my own. I now have to check the school, soccer and karate calendar before I purchase tickets, or make any and all appointments. Like an optical illusion, my life is different than it may appear. I will continue to wear my Nike apparel, and I will not wear high-heels to every playdate. I will, however, honor my role and wrap my head around the concept of compromise. I'll reserve the right to wear my Nike t-shirts only in places where my children won't be judged by their mother's taste in fashion.
HuffPost Lifestyle is a daily newsletter that will make you happier and healthier — one email at a time. Learn more