In six weeks of pre-adoption training, no one ever mentioned that I would lose the fight against becoming a frumpy mother. While I was prepared for the mental, emotional and physical exhaustion of dealing with social workers, birth families, teachers and cultural judgments, I had no inkling that my sense of style would crash and burn. Having skipped the required change in wardrobe demanded by pregnancy and with no post-baby weight to lose, my dress code was never supposed to change. I would remain sexy, current and not look like an 8-pound bowling ball had been dragged from my loins. My breasts would sag from maturity, not a tour of duty in the hands and mouths of babes, and lace would trim my dainty panty sets. Yes, sets, because that’s how one purchases undergarments, not piecemeal when panties get stretched out and bra padding goes limp from being machine-washed with Tide, rather than Woolite.
In my new parenting days, I wore skinny jeans, willing to suffer through the squeeze marks left on my abdomen. I even accessorized with jewelry and carried cute handbags. Not one to wear a lot of make-up, I made time to apply lipstick, eyeliner and eye shadow, even if it was in the car on the way to work. I thought it important to not look like a mom, lest I be judged like a mom. Don’t get me wrong; motherhood looks good on me. I just never wanted to be complimented for looking like a mom, a lesson I learned from one of my best girlfriends after remarking that her body looked great for having had two kids. She didn’t like the comment, and my explanation only made it worse. I wish the 2015 September issue of Self was around back then. In it, Actor Kerry Washington said, “her body was the site of a miracle.” She’s right, and that is what I was trying to communicate to my friend.
These beautiful women were growing matronly before my eyes, and I wanted no part of that.
Years ago, a sorority sister told me that she only bought black or brown shoes. She was married with two kids and explained that she needed shoes that matched everything. We were in our dirty 30s, and I thought that was sad. Then, another woman I know said that she stopped buying heels after her kids were born. Why? I was so confused. What did shoes or shoe colors have to do with becoming a mom? These beautiful women were growing matronly before my eyes, and I wanted no part of that. On the other end of the spectrum were my girlfriends who kept it popping and clicking. Their make-up was always in place, nails were done and they wore clothes, not yoga pants. I just knew that when I became a mom, I’d pass on the frumpy Kool-Aid and camp with the well-put-together ladies.
And for a while, I did. At least once per month, I’d buy myself something nice. I was a regular at the Pilates studio, got pedicures and made small purchases. Sometimes it was dangling earrings or a pair of fun shoes. This lasted until private school tuition kicked in, followed by a lay-off and a second adoption. Within two years, my life had taken on a new normal and I succumbed to a web of parenting duties that left little time for myself. Even when I fought back, the kid’s schedule took over and my needs went to the bottom of the list; thus, the cost of parenting.
Intellectually, I know it only takes seconds to apply lip gloss or choose to wear real clothes. But then I face the closet and realize that I haven’t shopped for myself in so long that all of my clothes are out of style or dirty. That is depressing. So I slip back into my past-their-prime ride-or-die jeans and faded tank top feeling comfortable but not pretty.
Side note: I clean up well. If you invite me to a party, I will pull a rabbit out of a hat and actually look like a grown woman who happens to be a mom. This super power, however, lies at the discretion of circumstance, which is why I was slow to recognize my slide into frumpy motherhood.
I had blithely ignored the hints – using lip liner so old that it gives me a rash, wearing flat sandals when a heel is in order, going weeks without a haircut, skipping the colorful scarf that would add polish to my ensemble because keeping up with it and a diaper bag was too much. Even after I saw my future – a closet full of black and brown shoes – I used the single parent excuse. Since I didn’t have a man to get dolled up for, there was no need to be a mommanista. And yet when I worked in an office with men, I was on top of my game. I liked the attention and even corrected a flat shoe faux pas when a male co-worker suggested they made me look short. The implication was clear: I was slipping. So I caved to his subtle dig for fear of looking good for a woman who had a child. Karma’s a bitch.
Post birth, adoptive mothers do the same parental heavy lifting and turn into sleep-deprived, exhausted ghosts of our former selves. I didn’t give birth and should look fantastic, but my heart is the site of two miracles and that is my new wardrobe. Not sure how I missed that memo, but motherhood got me quickly told. Officially humbled, I periodically apologize to the women who have gone before me.
I work from home now, but my wardrobe does not have to advertise this. Even on a budget, I can bring sexy back with quality pieces that enhance what my mama gave me. It also means making myself a priority and remembering that I’m still a woman… who happens to have kids.