05/19/2010 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Bread Man

"You'd better watch out, honey," I said jokingly to my husband after returning from the bakery. "The bread man was looking at me today!"

"Which one?" he demanded. "The one with the muscles? Did he hit on you? Why, I oughtta . . . "

"Don't worry, big guy," I said, comfortingly. "He wasn't that attractive, and I don't think he's really my type, and . . . "

"And you're married," he finished.

"Yes, that's exactly what I was going to say," I said guiltily, because of course that thought was no where in my head.

I was just so excited to be looked at again.

And I say "again" because there was a day when, dare I say it, I turned a few heads. I was young, athletic, well-dressed, well-coiffed, and not a little cocky. Unfortunately, those days have gone the way of eight-tracks and size 4 slacks. I tell myself that I don't need all that now. I don't need to look good. It's all about the family.

Then I remember a conversation with my husband about our complete lack of social life, and the fact that excitement now means the kids are in bed by ten. His response, for which he may or may not be forgiven in this lifetime, was, "It's okay, honey. I don't need excitement anymore. I have you."

And it hits me that I've fallen victim to the mommy-trap. I've stopped taking care of myself. No wonder my poor husband feels that way. Letting him see me first thing in the morning is love; looking the same when he comes home from work is just cruel.

Gradually I've became less athletic and not quite as well-dressed, Claiborne has been replaced by Champion, and I'm wondering how "coif" ever made my dictionary. When we leave the house, I make sure the kids look great and I jump into my sweats and head for the door. If I have an extra second to brush my hair, great. But I usually don't.

The kids are the center of attention. They are the ones people want to see, and that's exactly how it should be. But because of that dynamic, it's easy to start believing that we moms don't really matter anymore. It's easy to stop caring about ourselves.

When this guy gave me the eye, my first reaction was to flee to my car mirror to see what was wrong. Is my lipstick smeared like a clown? Do I have dirt on my face? Is my hair sticking up like Woody Woodpecker? What? What is it? What's wrong with me?!

The same thing happens whenever anyone looks at me, whether it's in the mall or the supermarket or stopped in traffic. I want to shrink into a corner and become invisible, because I feel like I'm not worthy of that look. I'm not a woman anymore. I'm a mom and a wife.

Then one day I throw on a little makeup and someone gives me an approving stare. And I remember how it makes me feel good to look good.

I don't care what people say; it does feel good. We don't just make ourselves attractive for the people looking at us; we do it for us, because when we know they're looking at us and smiling, it makes us feel good. When we feel good, we're happier. And when we're happier, we're better parents and spouses.

Being a mother has unleashed a selflessness I didn't know existed in me. But I have to be careful not to lose myself, because that will ultimately make me very unhappy and probably resentful, and my family will feel it. Just ask my husband. An unhappy mommy means an unhappy daddy.

I have to remember that it's okay to still care about myself. In fact, it's necessary. So thanks for the compliment, bread man.

I, er, kneaded it.