The other day, I got to see someone I hadn't seen in a long time -- the real me. It wasn't in a mirror, it was in the eyes of a 19-year-old boy at the supermarket checkout. Let me tell you, it was an eye-opener. After 20 years of raising a family, I know I'm not a doe-eyed ingénue anymore, but I wasn't quite ready for his well-meaning offer of assistance.
My cinnamon-colored knit cap with the pom-pom on top sat low and snug on my head. My hair, nearly the same color and texture, poked out of the bottom of its neatly folded edge. I'd only just discovered the benefits of wearing a cap like this. As a young working mom, I'd never have considered it for myself. I worked at a job where I wore a suit replete with pumps. Even when I started my freelance career, wearing jeans and t-shirts, day in and day out, the concept of a knit cap felt too grunge -- not at all feminine. But at 52, with both my kids nearly out of the house, I found myself buying one and wearing it whenever the temperature in Texas dipped below 90. It keeps me warm, and makes me feel hip, and yes, young. Who knew a hat could accomplish all this?
Truth be told, I never once looked at myself in the mirror while wearing the hat. I don't mean I didn't look look -- I did, but I didn't see. After all, I feel the same as I did when I was 25, I sound the same, act mostly the same.
Or at least I thought I did, until the teenager who was helping to bag my groceries - groceries I bought to make a nice dinner the night before my oldest son went back to college -- he glanced up at the hat on top of my curly head, then looked me in the eyes and said, "If you pull your car around, ma'am, I can load the groceries for you so you won't be so cold. It's also pretty slippery out there. I know my mom has trouble with that too."
My face flushed.
I waited a beat. This is the benefit of growing older, and raising kids, I thought. You don't respond immediately because kids, they really do say the darnedest things. And those darnedest things are not always cute.
What I wanted to say is that I walk several hours every week for exercise -- that I'm perfectly strong and healthy and don't need help of any kind. I even do push-ups. Well, modified push-ups. And that I don't fall. Yes, okay, sometimes I trip, but that's because I wear clogs. (Well, only sometimes, and just the Borns, 'cause they're warm and lined yet still cool. I saw them once recently on a movie-star's feet, I can't remember whose, so I know I'm not a total '70s nerd.)
But I didn't.
He meant well, I know. And he was polite in that way you hope your kids are to their elders.
So I pulled my car around and let him load the groceries into my mom vehicle. Then, when I was out of his sight range, I glanced at myself in the rear-view mirror. There, right there, were the lines drawn round my face -- the lines that told the story of my life so far. There was no hair falling around them, no curls to soften the blow-- the cap had framed my mug so tightly it inadvertently exposed my age. Exposed me.
What was I thinking, buying this hat?
I took the hat off and kept it off for the next two days. Let my hair hang long and loose around my face. And I wore lipstick to do errands.
Oh sure, I poked at the hat now and again -- the way a dog does a toy he once loved. But I didn't dare put it back on. No sir.
Then it got cold and windy. And I caved.
In the bathroom I took a long hard look at me in a real mirror. With the hat on. What I saw was a mom in transition. And you know what? I earned those lines. And the right to wear any damn hat I want.
What I need is to get comfortable in my new, older skin. How dumb would I look today with the skin that I had when I was 25? I'd look like the plastic surgery addicts we all wince at.
Actually, I did notice that if you wear the hat pulled back from your forehead, it lifts the lines, and it's almost like having a facelift without actually having one.
Hey, maybe I'm onto something here. I can see the ad campaign now: Empty-Nest Beanies for Women Over 50. Wear them and be young again.
Or at least think you are, which is just as good.
Join me next Monday for another installment of The Pre-Empt Chronicles, as I transition from full house to empty nest.