“Mama, you look old,” says my daughter the other day, lying beside me on the shag rug in front of our fireplace.
“I do?” I ask, shocked and hurt.
“Older than the other moms,” she adds.
I try to hide my reaction. I am unexpectedly upset. But I don’t want her to know that I care, that my appearance matters. Until this moment, I didn’t think it was. I don’t often wear makeup. I wear the same clothes day after day. I'm a work-at-home writer. It's all good, or so I thought.
In the hallway, outside my daughter’s grade two classroom, I watch the other moms for signs of aging. I want to see myself as my daughter does, to understand what she sees. There are moms slumping against the wall looking haggard and there are perky moms still in their workout clothes and pony tails looking ready to run a marathon. Then, there are moms in svelt outfits and perfectly coiffed hair who look ready for a night on the town. I’m not sure I fit into any of those groups, but according to my daughter, I’m with the slumpers. Depressing.
Unable to control myself, I ask my daughter, “What about Victoria’s mom? Do I look older than her?” She’s my age and has kids the same ages and when I look at her, I don’t feel like I look any younger or older. This, I think, will be a good measuring stick.
“Yes, you look way older,” says my daughter.
Until now, I hadn’t thought much about my age and how I look compared to other moms. I’ve had too many more pressing things to worry about. Until now, my politics were firmly anti-botox, anti-vanity and pro-wrinkles.
“You need to learn to love your wrinkles,” I’ve told my own mom countless times. “Embrace your aging. It’s beautiful.”
Now, suddenly, a lifetime of feminist politics crashes down on me and I can see why my mom scoffs at me. No one else thinks wrinkles are beautiful. Who am I to think that I can fight years of cultural influence, decades of propaganda put out there by women’s magazines and the cosmetics industry?
Clearly, I have finally seen the truth: I am getting old. Beauty is slipping away.
I am now at the bathroom mirror looking at my face. I see the deeply-etched crow’s feet around my eyes, the laugh lines around my mouth, the sagging skin. God, I need a facial. I trace my fingers over one line and force myself to think: This one is for the five years of your husband’s unemployment. This one is for the time he said he wanted to leave you. These three are for the many sleepless years of breastfeeding and toilet training. This one is for the constant worry that I won’t have enough income to pay the mounting bills. And this one is for the daily frustration that there isn’t enough time in the day to get everything done.
These lines are my life journey. Intellectually, I know that. I want to embrace them, to love them, to see them as signs of wisdom and maturity. But that’s harder now that I am old. Those things were much easier to believe as a young, confident woman.
How do you handle getting old? Do you get comments from your kids about your aging face or body?