I wipe the kid’s nose on the bottom of my shirt while simultaneously swiping my sweating forehead with the collar. I scratch my tangled ponytail only to find a leaf lodged scalp-deep. I laugh when a little girl runs by, stopping to point out the rainbow of chalk handprints smacked across my stretchy pants. The wind blows, and I discover with some alarm but more relief a new hole ripped near the crotch. On such a hot day it’s best to take all the breeze you can get. Refreshed by the wind, I crawl and slide, swing and chase my son through a maze of plastic and metal. This is a glorious place, this playground.
Across the way I spot a gaggle of prim ladies perched daintily on park benches. They are shiny (save for their perfectly matte faces). They are starched and ironed, tailored and styled. They are cleaner than a bleach wipe and more feminine than a flower. They are moms who are not frumpy. They are defying logic. They are every cover girl I’ve ever wanted to be. I crawl and slide, swing and chase on, my tiny boy not bothered by their sparkle. But I crawled a little heavier, slid a little slower, swung with the weight of embarrassment pulling at my heels. I was all at once aware of my shortcomings. It was the wide-awake version of showing up to class completely naked.
For days I tried to achieve some sort of resemblance to stylish. I wore deodorant every single day for a week. I curled one eye’s worth of lashes and would have conquered the other had there not been a makeup tool injury the likes of which my poor retina has never seen. I brushed my hair, and- can you handle it?- dabbed lip gloss. Pink! Glossy! Lips! I felt no different by the end of this extreme makeover, though, and cursed the whole minutes of my life consumed by such tedious beautification. It was a fateful visit to a friend’s home just the other day that reignited my hope for hotness. Casually she whipped out the fancy in the form of a little blue dress. “You can have it.,” she offered, “Your boobs are little enough for it”. I glanced past my flat chest to the glorious garment in my hands. Glitter and dust blew from the crusted, old fashionable part of my brain. Years of glossy magazine images spun like a couture windmill, flooding me in a bedazzled breeze. Breeze! I eyed the wide open crotch tear of my ragged old pants and felt the creep of shame once more. Hand discreetly covering lady bits, I headed home anxious for the chic-ness that awaited me. I clutched the dress between my fingers as I drove, positive that what the powder fresh arm pits and tortured eyelashes could not fix this dress surely could.
That afternoon I stood stark naked before the bathroom mirror. I said a silent prayer: “Let this be the cute that cures me. Let me be shiny and new”. Attached to the silky fabric I found a directions pamphlet. This must be what respectable clothes look like. The dress, I learned, had multiple magical qualities. While at first deceptively tattered to the eye, the strips of cloth could be twisted, tied, and tucked to create an infinite number of silhouettes. I then Googled “silhouettes” and I found it to mean the cut, draping, or overall shape of an item. Excited that this teeny heap of fabric had already made me smarter, I grew more and more faithful in its ability to transform me.
As I wrestled a thigh, then a hand, then a- urgghhhh, wait- belly button into the spandex I hardly noticed reality in the mirror as my vision was so blurred with day dreams. Surely my son would weep joyfully when he set eyes on me. I would be the glamorous, dinner-baking Queen and he, the little prince. Strangers would hear of the beauty mowing the lawn next door. Neighbors would beg to watch my skirt sweep and sway. At the park the freshest mothers would flock to my well-appointed side. They would be desperately clawing at the seams to know where, where! did I get such fabulous fashion sense. Midway between my theory that this dress would stun the bark right out off my rotten dog’s mouth and the fantasy in which Peter Gallagher shows up at my doorstep begging to rub my dry feet so long as I’ll wear that little blue number, I realized I was stuck somewhere between a ruche and a hard place. With the ins and outs of outfit styling
somewhat totally foreign to me, I’d misread or misapplied or- whatever. I didn’t understand the fancy dress instruction manual and managed to hogtie my person with a bounty of Boy Scout knots. One butt cheek and half a boob exposed, I hopped to my phone and used my nose to peck a panicked text to my dear friend, The Giver of Dresses. It was a SOS and a WTF culminating with a LOL and the conclusion that perhaps I am not meant for such fashionable endeavors.
Oh the places you’ll go, little dress! Forty-two original “looks” later, I’d pulled a muscle in my groin and still not managed to take myself from drab to fab. The Flock of Seagulls, The Drug Raid, The Two Fisted Ring Tailed Tooter, even The Sponge Tori Square Shorts styles left me (and the greater Western Tennessee area) more disgusted than on my crotch-less yoga pants days. With minimal tearing and a few teeth marks bruised into the delicate hemlines, I broke free from the sassy shackles and threw the Wardrobe Wonder to the side. I dressed then, as days and weeks and months before, in simple things void of beading or fuss or frill.
We played outside today. I glance down to the dirt smeared on my feet, the frizz of my unruly hair, the small chalk hand print across my hips from a boy who so wanted a hug. I don’t wear makeup. What good is powdered blush for those out in the sunshine? I don’t bother with color coordinating my muu muu. It’s floral print, and we’re outside, so, you know, that’s something. If I wanted to get all poetic I’d say that everything goes well with the blue of the sky, and there is no color to compete with the rust of his sweet, baby hair. Instead my thoughts center around ” I am a hot mess,” as I use my palms this time to shoo away sweat. “I am a hot, comfortable mess,” I continue.
And it took a couple of years of motherhood, a couple of decades of trying to fit into a mold or a style or a tricky, blue dress for me to find the most timeless look. The chalk dust, the slobber, the grime and soil, these disastrously thoughtless ensembles I’ve thrown atop my skin: they are the threads of a real life. They are wrinkled and fraying and stained and so perfectly tailored for me. What they lack in gloss, well, they overcompensate with vibrant scenes of a boy crawling and sliding, swinging and chasing. There’s a flow, an ease of movement, in this most un-stylish of styles. Just enough for me to crawl and slide, swing and chase. I am a hot happy mess. And happiness might just be the trend that I can follow.