I have a sort of baby face.
It isn't because of some amazing regimen with the blood of virgin kittens on a full moon. It just sorta worked out that way. At 43, I don't have many wrinkles. Maybe it's because I am so paranoid about bugs and skin cancer, I slather myself with SPF 2,000 and bug repellent when I'm outside. So you can imagine that when I was 27 and a new resident of Montclair, NJ, I looked, it stands to reason, even younger.
Montclair is an interesting town. It is the Mecca for NYC folk who can't bear the thought of the suburbs, but want a kid-friendly environment, so it walks a thin city/suburb line. There are independent bookstores. There are independent coffee shops (and three Starbucks, last I counted). And there are a lot of kids. It's a cool place to raise your kids because, in addition to the usual stuff -- sports -- there are all sorts of artsy things you can sign your kid up for after school. The schools themselves are all themed, based on your child's interests (or what you think your child's interests should be). Since you can pick, I picked the artsy school, Nishuane, a K-2 school where your children can take "aesthetics." For example, my kids took Chinese Culture and Cuisine, oceanography, rock climbing, yoga, acting, storytelling -- and who knows what else these days. My kids are now 22, 20 and going on 13. I'm trying to keep track of college classes and pimple cream now.
Many of the other parents at Nishuane were those ex-pats from NYC and they'd put career ahead of family. I don't judge this. I chose to have my kids at a young age (they were planned!) because my mother had me when she was a little older and then died when she was 49 and I was 11. So I planned, rationally or not, to have my children so that they would all be grown should I die at 49. And when I am 49, my youngest will be 19. So at 27, with two kids past diapers, I was one of the younger mothers in Montclair. I frequently had exchanges like this while waiting outside the school doors to pick up my first grader.
"You have such a good rapport with that little girl!" Older mother, wearing yoga pants which cost more than my entire outfit.
"....uh... thanks." At first, I was put off. I'm a little slow. It took me many such encounters before I got the drill.
"I've had such a hard time finding someone for my kids..." She'd look over at Elisabeth, my 4--year-old, who was probably either dancing around me, hanging off of me or trying to climb me.
"Finding someone?" I said I'm slow, right?
"You know. A nanny who really connects with them."
I'd laugh. "I'm not the nanny! This is my daughter. My son is in Ms. Peay's class."
The look of shock and mild horror never ceased to both amuse and offend me. I had my oldest when I was 21. I made a conscious choice, intelligent or not, to have him. I was married. I was young, but I wasn't a child. And regardless of my age, I was a good mother, or at least as good as these women who were trying to poach someone else's nanny. I guess that's what really offended me: the assumption that, because of my age (which was often assumed to be even younger than I was) I was unable to be a good mother. Yes, I was younger and had less money and less security. But age and money don't make you a better parent.
As my kids got older, this did not improve. I aged along with them, but I still had a sort of baby face. So, when I tell someone that my oldest son Alexander is, in fact, my son, I am met with shock.
"No!" They actually sometimes yell this at me.
"I'm pretty sure he's mine. See. He looks just like me." I'll pull his bearded face to mine. We have the same big blue eyes and same gigantic ears. His nose is a bit more like his father's and he is about nine inches taller than I am, but there is a clear relationship.
"Well... I thought your brother, maybe."
Much to Alexander's horror, sometimes that isn't the relationship they've imagined. When he was 17 we went to a yard sale in Upper Montclair, looking for a desk for his room.
The woman who was running the yard sale asked what we were looking for and I informed her. She said, "That's sweet. How long have you two been living together?"
I laughed. "Seventeen years. This is my son!"
Someone thinking your mother is your girlfriend might be bad, but I told him to look on the bright side. Someone thought he looked old enough to live on his own.
I have a similar experience with my 20-year-old daughter, Elisabeth, who really resembles me even more than her brother. Usually it is assumed that we are sisters or friends, maybe related, although she's five foot ten and I'm almost five foot four. But I think time may be catching up with my baby face. For her twentieth birthday, we got a Groupon for massages and facials together. The young Asian woman who was doing my massage and facial brutally scraped at my face. "You do not have young skin," she said harshly. "You daughter have young skin. You have old skin. You must have facial..." She consulted with her colleague in their language. "Yes, every month. I think so. Daughter has beautiful skin. Beautiful."
I agree. My daughter has lovely skin. And maybe people will stop yelling at me for being her mother if I avoid facials on my middle-aged skin.