Here goes a frank discussion, if ever there was one. It all started last week when I was meeting my friend Jan for lunch. When she finally arrived (late, which is unusual for her) the first thing she said was "Tell me the truth, Lee Ann. Do I look okay to you?”
I sized her up. "As far as I can tell” I replied.
"No, seriously”, she said, "I need to know. Is my hair too ‘poufy'? Have I overdone it on the blush? Should I have gone with the chunkier necklace? Does this sweater make me look like a "maw-maw”? Is this the right purse? Are these sandals okay with my pants, or would flats have worked better?”
I finally had to literally hold up my hand and shout "Hold it! What's with you today? You look absolutely fabulous just like always.”
"Oh I don't know” she said meekly. "It's just that ever since Marcie left for college last month I feel like I'm flying blind. I mean, I never left the house without her weighing in on what I was wearing, and now that she's gone I have no idea if I'm put together right or not!”
"And it's even worse when I go shopping” she went on. "Like last Thursday. There I was in the Macy's dressing room, surrounded by mounds of garments of every style, color, fabric and size, and I just stood there, frozen with uncertainty. I was, like, ‘Should I go with the straight leg or the boot cut? Is this tunic supposed to be belted? Do I wear this top tucked in or left out? And how on earth do you tie this dumb scarf anyway?'” Her eyes filled with tears, "Do you know what I did? I finally just put my clothes back on and left the store. How pathetic is that?”
It's not pathetic at all, of course. In fact, as I told Jan, it's perfectly normal. My own kids have been out of the house for over a decade now and I still occasionally have feelings of self doubt about my appearance. It drives me absolutely crazy. After all, I'm not typically an insecure person, and I certainly have a sufficient amount of self confidence. So why was it so important what they thought about my looks?
I think I have the answer. We Moms are scrutinized so frequently and so freely by our kids, that over time we begin to doubt our own judgment – to the point where we become dependent on their opinions, even if those opinions are not always delivered in the most congenial of ways. Take my friend Barbara for instance. She says her daughter has a certain way of letting her mother know how she feels about a particular outfit and it goes something like this: When Barb comes into the room Michelle looks her up and down, sort of lifts her eyebrows and gives a little upward jerk of the head. Then she smiles, ever so slightly, and inquires, "New shirt?” It's very subtle, of course, and yet there's just something about the way she says it that registers a mild disapproval.
In my case I confess that I tend to be most acutely aware of that feeling of "flying blind” not so much in what I wear, as whenever I'm worried about what we refer to around our house as "The Three B's” – Boogers, Bad Breath, and B.O. As long as the kids were still at home, they never hesitated to point them out. And even beyond the Three B's, I could also count on them to say things like, "Gross, Mom. You need to mow.” (Translation: You need to shave your legs) or "Ewww. You've got Chia Pits” (Translation: You need to shave under your arms.)
These days I have friends who are thoughtful enough to ask if I have any breath mints, as a signal to take one myself. (My kids, on the other hand, would just recoil dramatically as if they'd been maced, and shriek "Gag me. Goat breath!”) Similarly, my close friends will occasionally hint that my nostrils need attention by discretely appearing to clear their own noses. (My sisters and I use the code "Bats in the cave”.) But it's just not the same as having one of your teenagers come right out and say "Mom, you've got a booger. Uh uh… the other side. Nope, still there. Okay, you got it.”
You're probably wondering why I'm telling you all of this. It's probably more detail than you ever wanted to know. The only reason I did it is because I'm convinced there are a lot of you out there, like my friends Jan and Barbara, who feel like you are flying blind now that your kids are no longer around to point out your shortcomings; and I just want you to know that you are not alone.
But it's not enough to simply share our misery. We've got to help each other out too. So from now on, I pledge to you that I am going to pick up where your kids left off. Whenever the situation calls for it I will call attention to your visible panty lines; and declare your new haircut "dorky”. I will lift my eyebrows and haughtily inquire "New shirt?” I will come right out and say "Sick. You've got spinach in your teeth.” And I promise that I will faithfully yell "Bats in the cave!” at the top of my lungs whenever and wherever there are indeed bats in the cave.
All I ask is that you please, please do exactly the same for me. Thank you.