Today, I stopped home to change my outfit before picking up my kid from day care.
What, because you never know who might snap a photo as I lure my child into his car seat with the whispered promise of a Grover juice box? No one cares. Except now that I’m a parent, I care deeply about lots of things that are totally meaningless. For example, what I wear when I fetch my kid.
It’s not that I want to impress the other moms, or the woman who runs the place, or her assistant. It’s that on some level, I need to impress them.
Or at least that describes the urgency with which I want to stroll in wearing skinny jeans tucked into high-heeled brown suede boots with a casual but clearly expensive T-shirt.
It was one thing for me to show up places with a guacamole stain on my sleeve when I was only representing myself. Maybe it was even cute, not Zoey Deschanel in a romantic comedy cute, but I like to think it was close. Now that I’m a mom, for some reason it seems important to look important, or at least like I don’t eat in my car and buy accessories at Claire’s.
Yep, get ready, because this is one of those mom moments triggered by one of those daughter moments. Get cozy, it’s blame mom time!
It may not surprise you that keeping up appearances wasn’t exactly a thing to my mom, and bless her heart for being all free-spirited, but her free-spiritedness cost me big time.
My mom wore what she wanted, regardless of the setting. Graduation from Confirmation class at Temple Sherith-Israel, the other moms wore knit separates and wrap dresses, my mom wore something with a batik feel, something Mrs. Roper might have sold at a yard sale after placing it in her “too loud” pile. My mom never shaved her armpits, but always wore sleeveless. Granted, it was San Francisco and the hippie thing was arguably fashionable, but not at Hebrew school.
Part of me wished she would see that, and bend to the obvious notion that all kids want to fit in, and by extension, they would like their parents to blend.
Blending is an important skill I had to teach myself, the way I taught myself table manners and cursive, because counterculture childhoods kind of skip those stops on the growing-up train.
Looks matter. And by that I mean the sideways looks you get when your mom is sporting an exotic beetle-sized amethyst brooch to the dentist’s office.
What never fails to surprise me is the pressure I put on myself not to make a single mistake my mom made.
No epiphany about perfectionism or how shallow wardrobe is as an assessment of a person’s character is going to stop me from being aware of my wardrobe choices from now until I’m dropping my son off at his college dorm room (or visiting him in prison; I don’t want to jinx anything). I can’t hide how deeply I want to do better than my own mother, because I’ll be wearing it.
Ironically, I’ll be wearing wrinkle-free and appropriate clothing as I make a bevy of other untold errors in judgment that my son will go out of his way to avoid when it’s his turn. That’s how it is. We over-correct. In doing so, we make all sorts of other gaffes. There’s a closet full of ways to under-achieve, so grab whatever is on the rack. There’s something to fit everyone.
Teresa Strasser is a Los Angeles Press Club and Emmy Award-winning writer and the author of “Exploiting My Baby: Because It’s Exploiting Me” (Penguin). She blogs at ExploitingMyBaby.com.
Seth Menachem is on paternity leave and will return at the end of April.