My son just realized that I exist this month. OK, that’s an exaggeration. To be honest he noticed that I hung around near him for a while now. It's not like the cookies magically appeared in the cabinet. It’s just that lately he's been looking at me with the closer level of scrutiny that I have previously encountered.
For example, the other day we went to leave the house and I was wearing my workout clothing, because I was going to work out at some point in the day, and I put on my workout gear in the morning to ensure that I actually do it, or at least feel guilty if I don’t.
“Mama, are you wearing pants?” he asked me.
“These are exercise shorts,” I said. No response.
"They are completely acceptable to wear out of the house,” I reassured him.
“Oh, OK, I just wanted to make sure,” he replied, not looking convinced.
Suddenly, I wondered if everyone else thought I had forgotten my pants. It wasn’t like my cheeks were hanging out, for the record. The questionable shorts ended mid-thigh. I had owned them for a very long time—like twenty years. I had worn them rollerblading and bike riding and out to the store on many occasions. It’s not like they were a new acquisition. I hated that my eleven-year-old made me doubt my fashion sense, then I remembered the fly.
You see, in the recent past I had refused my youngest son’s request to wear his “compression shorts” to school. That must have been what confused him. Certainly he knew that I would never leave the house without pants.
“The difference between exercise shorts and underwear is the fly,” I explained. “If the fly is visible, it is underwear. If there is no fly, then lycra shorts count as apparel.”
Problem=solved. Or so I thought.
A few days later, said son noted that the back of my dress looked kind of wrinkled, and he wanted to make sure I meant to go out of the house like that. I patiently explained that my brand-new most favorite dress had a crisscross back, and wasn’t just wrinkled. Again, he pretended that my answer was acceptable to him. I could no longer avoid it—I was being judged and found to be wanting in the fashion department.
The next night he looked at my hands and noted that my veins were very large and protruding.
"They're not ugly,” he reassured me, “I just want to make sure that you're okay and don't have some terrible disease."
Great, kid. You noticed my embarrassingly large veins. Thanks a lot.
I remind myself that I was embarrassed about my mother at his age. Not that there was anything wrong with my mother—I loved her dearly and she always wore pants outside of the house. But I didn’t want to be kissed in front of people and I felt like a baby when we went to places like the mall or the movies together. It was as if admitting to having a mother made me less cool and immature—I wanted to pretend that I had been hatched and had no parents at all.
I just meant to be a cooler parent. I swore that I would listen to the pop stations so that I would know all of the hip new tunes and that I would always dress in style. Unfortunately, I’m still me, and that means I prefer audiobooks to the pop station and I dress mostly for comfort and can’t remember to look at my hair before I leave the house.
But maybe I’m reading this wrong. Perhaps I’m assuming criticism where none exists. After all, he has no way of knowing that I’ve been insecure about my big-veined man-hands my whole life. It is just as likely that he is feeling protective of me. He still wants me to go to his sporting events and lets me drop him off in front of the school instead of several blocks away. Maybe his gaze is loving and eye-roll free.
I remembered back to when he was four and I told him that before we left the house I needed to fix my hair. He insisted that my hair was perfect just the way it was as he ran his little sticky chubby toddler fingers through it with a look of sheer adoration. This is the same kid that used to slap my belly and laugh as it made waves and jiggles. “I love your jiggly belly!” he used to tell me. OK, back then he was occasionally critical that I had bad breath but otherwise he thought I was damn near perfect just the way I was. The only fashion advice he gave me was that I really needed to buy the orange stiletto hiking boots on sale at Target. Of course, he was right about the boots, so I bought them.
We were at an airshow this past weekend, and he noticed a woman at the front of the line.
“Look, Mama, she has your sweatshirt,” he pointed out. I was wearing a nondescript white zip-up hoodie—it was right before Labor Day and I was going to get one last wearing in if it killed me—but when I looked around, I didn’t see anyone else wearing one.
“Your orange-ish one. That you used to wear all the time,” he clarified. There she was—a woman in a hoodie identical to one of my favorites. It had a red-orange body with an embroidered sun, and rainbow sleeves. It was one of more unusual and beloved articles of clothing. “Why don’t you wear it anymore?” he asked.
“Oh, my closet light burned out a few months ago. I tend to grab whatever is closest to the door.”
My son wasn’t worried about me standing out or being too weird. I think that instead of embarrassment, he is just getting to an age where he notices clothing, and that all my lectures about society’s standards of acceptable dress have finally sunk in. It’s possible—maybe even likely—that he recognizes my somewhat scattered nature and really believes I am capable of forgetting pants and would appreciate a reminder. Seeing as I have driven him to school in my slippers on occasion and just admitted to being too lazy to replace a light bulb, he may have a valid point.
I rummaged through my closet this morning, and found that rainbow sleeved hoodie. I wore it on the way to school. When I dropped him off, he voluntarily hugged me—directly in front of the building, in full view of 8th graders. He’s not yet embarrassed to have a mother. As for me, I think I’ll keep him—at least a few years longer.
Copyright © 2023 Lara Lillibridge
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