Red. Lipstick. There was a woman dropping her kids off at school yesterday wearing RED LIPSTICK.
No, it wasn’t some smeary mess left over from the night before. It was freshly applied, neat, and really, really cool and shiny.
She smelled good too, like a mix between Restoration Hardware couches and pumpkin pie.
She was the quintessential picture of the modern mommy ideal: her kids were happy, her hair was brushed, her phone had a stylus, she was just reeking of balance…and pie.
Then, there was me. In the yoga pants I wore yesterday. Running around town with only one plucked eyebrow and smelling like B.O. and toaster waffles. My toddler was clinging to my leg singing a song called “Mama’s Too Old to Have a Penis” as I was hurriedly and fruitlessly trying to unknot his hair before we reached the door.
As he disappeared into the building, I felt a wave of exhaustion wash over me as the last of the frenzied morning adrenaline evaporated and I sighed—audibly. I watched Relaxed Modern Mommy kiss her kids goodbye, and I begged the gods to reveal the one unkempt hair or patch of baby vomit that I knew must have escaped her, but they didn’t. Instead, I noticed she was drinking a bloody latte. And it was hot.
How is it possible?! She can’t be clean and sane and happy, can she?!
There it was. In that moment, furrowing my brows (which looked SO crazy, by the way) and marveling at the beautiful and composed creature before me, I began to wonder: Did I let myself go?
There’s a new kind of pressure on the mommas. It sucks, it’s everywhere, and it got me. “Don’t lose yourself in the baby,” “Practice self-care,” “Get a Massage,” “Go out with your friends once a week,” “Don’t give up on your dreams,” “Go to that yoga class,” “Date night,” “Do Him,” “Do YOU,” “Do everything, girlfriend.” And whatever you do—don’t let yourself go. UGH. I’m pretty sure all of these post-partum commandments are supposed to make things easier and lead to some kind of healthy and enlightened state of parenting, but they can actually do the opposite. It’s no longer sufficient to be awesome at momming. We have to be awesome at everything we did before the momming too. Bonus points if you have über-cool red lips while doing it.
After I had my first colicky gremlin of a child, I was determined not to succumb entirely to motherhood. I woke up in the morning and made my bed, straightened my hair, and wiggled into my old jeans. (This was not easy or successful. My closet is a veritable burial ground for small jeggings.) Between naps and nursing, I scrubbed dishes and wrote pithy commentary and cooked fabulous meals with expensive cow protein. I went to yoga on Tuesdays, had sex on Thursdays, and had people over to the house on Sundays. All on top of the obligatory story times, puppet shows, and play dates that come with having young child. I looked great, and I looked like I felt great, but I didn’t. I had successfully mated Mary Poppins with Carrie Bradshaw, and I was so depressed I could barely function. I was doing all of the things I thought I loved, but I wasn’t having any fun, and I didn’t know why. Instead of embracing my new role, I became obsessed with preserving the old one.
Then, something wonderful happened. I almost drowned in the shower. Okay, so not really. But I did start to fall asleep while I was shaving my left leg. As I smacked my weary noggin on the Head & Shoulders, it hit me—I just wasn’t the same person anymore. Having my son caused a near-seismic shift of identity. My needs and wants were different, my entire relationship with the world was different, and—until that day—I ignored the aftershocks completely. I was afraid I’d be one of those people who just wasn’t the same after the baby.
But here’s the thing: None of us are the same after the baby.
No matter how hard we try. I cast down my Lady Bic, called my friends to cancel (because how much fun would leaky-titted karaoke be anyway?), and spent the next hour trying to make my stoic baby laugh at me. Then? I went to bed at 9:32pm. I loved every minute of it, and I haven’t looked back since.
Now, over two years later, my life looks unimaginably different than it did in those grandiose plans I drew up when I was younger and adorably ignorant. I have a sink fully of dirty dishes, and I haven’t seen my blower dryer in 9 months. There is a stegosaurus in my shower, my butt is getting kind of big, and I probably won’t go to the bathroom by myself for at least the next three years. I spend my days building pretend campfires with my son, sticking my tongue out at my 10 week old twins, and collapsing into bed with my husband—who has never liked girls in red lipstick anyway. (God bless him!) I still love going to yoga, and if somebody teleported me to a wine bar, I wouldn’t be mad at them. However, I really just don’t care too much about those things anymore. And nobody is more surprised by this fact than I am.
I do still have moments when I miss the days of making coffee in the French press, the days when I might have been a little cooler and didn’t secretly wonder if Tame Impala was an indie band or a children’s book about an overly friendly goat-deer thing—but I get over it quickly. And when somebody else’s eyeliner or polished floors or professional accolades make me ask myself if I “let myself go”? I remind myself of what letting go really means.
My answer is a proud and resounding YES. I let myself go. I allowed myself to let go of the things that didn’t make sense for me anymore and disposed of the notions I had conceived about motherhood before I ever got here. I stopped mourning the high heels and started celebrating the bare feet with their chipped polish and gnarly callouses. I welcomed the still slightly shell-shocked woman who had emerged from this whole child-birthing thing in earnest. She is neither conventionally impressive nor is she glamorous, but she is profoundly grateful and happy—even in her exhaustion.
So, mamas? Go ahead and let yourself go—whatever that means to you. You’re enough. You’re so much more than enough. Be proud of yourself, listen to yourself, and remind yourself over and over again that rejoicing in the changes that come with having children doesn’t mean that you’ve given up or given in. You’ve given life. Not only to the sweet little human in your arms but to a mother—a glorious, treasured, rightfully hallowed being—whether she’s in red lipstick or in those pajama pants with the weird dog faces on them.