I used to think pregnancy would be the blackest chapter in my personal fashion history. But now I know that it was merely a dress rehearsal. After months of wearing maternity “jeans” without a trace of denim paired with tops that resembled colorful pup tents, I vowed that I was going to be one hip mama once I delivered this baby.
Making a fashion statement
Although we’re no longer in the 80s, I still have an indelible vision of what a suburban mom looks like. You’ve heard of the Valley Girl… well, let me introduce you to the Valley Mom. If there were a Valley Mom Barbie Doll, she’d be wearing black leggings topped by a long baggy T-shirt with colorful rhinestone cats emblazoned on the front. Keds sneakers are de rigeur. Her hair is short, frosted and permed, and her favorite accessory is a fanny pack. Yet now that I actually am a mom, I should look so good. Welcome to my nightmare.
The change of motherhood
Now that I have experienced firsthand how motherhood can transform a woman from fashionable to frumpy, virtually overnight, I am no longer so smug. First of all, a newborn baby is the equivalent of extra-strength Kryptonite — sucking out all the hipness from a supermom. And in my case, all regard for personal hygiene and good grooming as well.
In the early weeks, I rationalized this lack of attention to my appearance to the usual postpartum purgatory of life with a newborn. The constant nursing required me to be topless so often that I looked like the cover girl from “National Geographic.” And when I did wear a shirt, it was invariably soaked with leaking breast milk and spit-up, which are excellent cat hair magnets. Some days, I was so exhausted and time-pressed that I skipped the shower and just sponged myself off with baby wipes instead.
No more excuses
But now that it’s been six months, I’m quickly running out of excuses. To be fair, since I do work (or make vague attempts at some semblance of it) at home, my work uniform of choice is pajamas. But in my pre-baby life, I splurged on ridiculously expensive, trendy pajamas like my Nick and Nora cloud pajamas as seen on “Ally McBeal” — who always seemed to be dancing around in them — or my Paul Frank pajamas emblazoned with his trademark monkey face. I even wore matching fuzzy slippers.
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But these days I can’t even seem to pull together matching pajamas. I may optimistically start the day that way, but invariably Jonah will poo, pee, spit-up, vomit, drool and spill on me. (Notice that this besotted devotion to someone who treats you in this sadistic manner is reserved for sexual deviants and mothers?)
And rather than change both the top and bottom, I’ll just hastily change the stained garment with something that isn’t in the overflowing laundry basket — which doesn’t leave me with much. Since I can never keep up with the laundry, my only clean clothes are the outdated, ill-fitting clothes I should have given to Goodwill long ago. It doesn’t help that I’m so in denial over the five lingering pregnancy pounds that I refuse to buy new clothes that actually fit me.
At least I haven’t cut off all my hair — in fact, I’m actually growing it out. But that’s only because a short hairstyle would require some minimal upkeep, i.e. washing and brushing it periodically. This way, I can just wear my overabundant hair in pigtails. One day, I was changing my clothes after Jonah decided to dump what appeared to be 10 pounds of poo into my lap and I happened to glance in the mirror on my way to the closet.
With my pigtails askew and my tattered, mismatched clothes covered with poop, I looked like an Asian Pippi Longstocking strung out on crack who had been lying in her own filth for days. It’s what I like to call my “Blackwell Moment.”
And yes, I am referring to the Mr Blackwell of the worst dressed and best dressed lists fame.
Oh, Mr Blackwell
Here’s the origin story: I once wrote for a dishy, community newspaper that covered a ritzy enclave of Los Angeles known as Hancock Park. Mr Blackwell was a prominent resident, and he wrote a monthly column, which I had to edit since I was the bottom feeder in the office food chain. It was such a garbled, incoherent rambling mess of run on sentences, non sequiturs and grammatical errors that I was forced to do a total page one rewrite. To this day, I am convinced that Mr Blackwell was hooked on something — and it certainly wasn’t phonics.
I happened to pass Mr Blackwell on the street during my lunch hour, and if I could dispense fashion citations, I would have cited him for numerous violations. He was wearing a Hanes T-shirt tucked into a pair of navy pin-striped suit trousers, topped off by a green plaid blazer two sizes too small. His trouser leg was tucked into one of his mismatched argyle socks. It’s a good thing I recognized him in time or else I might have offered him some of my spare change.
It was a moment of pure irony, disillusionment and proof of life’s inherent unfairness. This man — this self-anointed Queen of Fashion who was always quoted saying something scathingly catty or pithy about Madonna’s outfit or Cher’s latest fashion faux pas — can’t string together a sentence and dresses funny. Hence, my Blackwell Moment.
The maternal cloak
And as I stood in front of that full-length mirror, I had my own excruciating Blackwell Moment as a long-cherished fantasy of maternal hipness was dashed to pieces. But all excuses about time constraints and exhaustion aside, I think the most overlooked reason for my maternal frumpiness is simple: nobody notices me anymore.
My cute baby is the ultimate cloaking device. It doesn’t matter whether I’m out in public or among friends and family. As long as the baby is around, I might as well be invisible. Everybody is too busy staring at Jonah and ooing and aahing over him. I’m just a 115-pound appendage that is annoyingly in the way of baby access. Not that I crave being the center of attention, but a simple acknowledgment of my existence once in a while would be nice.
Apparently, greeting the baby in my arms counts as a two-for-one deal. The “Hello, how are you” pleasantries normally directed at me are buried somewhere in the cooing and unintelligible baby talk now directed at my son.
Case in point, my mother and my mother-in-law barely even talk to me anymore and instead, address all passive-aggressive questions and comments to Jonah instead. For example: “What did your mom dress you in today?” Translation: “Why in the world are you wearing that getup instead of that adorable sailor outfit I bought last week?”
Or the eternal favorite, “When is your mom going to let you eat solids?” Translation: “When is your mom going to stop monopolizing you with all this breastfeeding and let me have a turn at feeding you?” Ironically, my attendance at family events is of the utmost importance now, but only because everybody wants to know if the baby is coming.
But to my complete surprise, I’m really not bothered by it. Buying a new pair of shoes or making inane small talk with people just doesn’t make my day anymore. Could it be that I’ve actually stopped being so shallow and superficial? Could it be that I’ve finally realized that happiness doesn’t revolve around rampant consumerism? I doubt it. Or could it be that when I walk into a room, Jonah only has eyes for me?
His chubby face lights up like a beacon, his entire body wiggles in barely suppressed joy and he smiles so hard it hurts. It doesn’t matter what I’m wearing or how haggard I look after another sleepless night, whenever I’m basking in his gorgeously gummy grin, I’ve never felt so beautiful.
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