I live in fear of those cable television shows where they videotape some unsuspecting woman, stage a fashion intervention where all her friends and family tell her how awful she dresses, then throw away her entire wardrobe, give her lots of money to go buy new clothes and cut off her hair. I sometimes hear the hosts’ voices when I’m at the grocery store,
“Okay, so there she is getting out of her car, wait is that a car? It’s gigantic, it’s like a parking lot Titanic. How many kids does this woman have!”
“And she is wearing jeans, of course, I mean what else would she wear to the grocery store?”
“How big is that purse?”
“I think it’s bigger than her car.”
“What is that in her purse?”
“OMG, it’s a diaper!”
“She’s putting her wallet and her keys in a diaper bag — this woman uses a diaper bag as a purse. Really? Tell me, who does that?”
“And please tell me those are not . . .”
“Yes, they are.”
“. . . gym shoes.”
I did not always carry diapers in my gigantic purse. After graduating with my MBA, I spent an entire summer living at home, waiting tables, being insulted and saving money just to buy my wardrobe to go off to work in the big city.
Eventually I invested in a corporate wardrobe of expensive clothes that I didn’t buy with my waitressing tips but with my salary. The look was easy. It was a corporate look that was based on what my firm, my clients and my peers expected me to wear. And then I quit.
At home with my daughter I had no idea what to wear or if it mattered what I looked like. It was much easier for me to be fashionable when I was getting a lot more sleep and someone or something else was projecting what I should look like.
While watching those shows on cable television with the ambush in the parking lot, I worried that I had become frumpy and unfashionable. I realized my husband’s Chicago Bears pullover probably wasn’t the best choice to accentuate anything, but should I be wearing designer boots to the park? Were turtlenecks a truly terrible choice for my neckline while I was doing unmentionable things to the toilets with a scrubby brush?
Since I tend to worry about everything, including turtlenecks, occasionally I would venture to the mall and try to decide if I really wanted to make more of an effort, try to improve my look and wear skinny jeans and those tall black boots the other moms were wearing to pick up their kids from school.
On one of those trips to the mall I walked into a store I used to shop in all the time. It had been one of my absolute favorites when I worked downtown. I was drawn to a stunning suede jacket. A saleswoman asked if I’d like to try it on.
“Oh yes, please,” I answered.
As I admired myself in the store’s mirrors, my obvious first question was not “How much does it cost?” but “How do you clean it?”
“What do you mean you don’t clean it?”
“Well, it’s suede, you just brush it.”
“You just brush it?”
“Yes, you brush it.”
“Aren’t there any special cleaners?”
“No, you brush it.”
“A suede brush.”
“That will never work. Can you use water?”
“No, it’s suede, you brush it.”
Losing her patience because I could not get it through my head that there were things in this world you didn’t scrub with a scrubby brush, she asked, “What could you possibly get on it anyway?”
“Slobber, spit up, milk, goldfish mush [which I explained was mushed-up Goldfish crackers and Gatorade], black banana, marker, crayon, Hello Kitty lip gloss, possibly urine and vomit.”
The saleswoman took the jacket out of my hands, hung it back on the hanger, and got pretentious and said, “I don’t think this is the right jacket for you.”
Then she said, “Maybe you should just go to Sears.”
Yeah, maybe I should. Truthfully, I feel comfortable shopping for my clothes in stores that sell power tools and lawn furniture, where I can buy a new summer dress and a basic black T-shirt. At my life stage I no longer need, or want, suede jackets that can’t get peed on.
Recently, dressed up to go out to dinner with my husband, I walked down the stairs to the playroom to say good-night to our children. Our younger daughter jumped up and shouted, “Mommy, you’re beautiful, you look just like a princess!”
I used to carry a diaper bag for a purse. Now that my kids are out of diapers, my purse is still gigantic enough to hold all the stuff I want to keep in it, sanitizing wipes and a gallon of Sani Slime hand sanitizer for the inevitable trips to the public toilets, a roll of hockey tape, four Band-Aids, a wallet full of grocery store receipts, Matchbox cars, a pack of crayons, homework pencils and Cinderella, all dressed up to go to the ball where she’ll meet her prince and live happily ever after, wearing her gym shoes.
Maraya Steadman, who lives in a Chicago suburb, is a stay-at-home mother of three children. See her biweekly “The Playroom” column at magazine.nd.edu and at her website marayasteadman.com/. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.