This morning as I got ready for work I was thinking about my friend Brandee; her favorite Merle (as in Haggard) was on the Grammys last night, and I wondered if she had seen him. Brandee left Facebook for her son’s fourteenth year of life, and all I can say is more power to you, girl. That’s a good gift, one of your self and your focus, and I ought to mind your example and do the same thing.
But I was thinking of Brandee and Merle as I washed my face, as I did that thing where you lean in close to the mirror – really close – and examine your pores.
I guess that’s what we’re doing, anyway. Women do this all the time, don’t we? Looking at pimples or soon-to-be pimples or what-used-to-be-a-pimple, and that spot that looks a little bigger than it did yesterday. The stray eyebrow hairs and our lashes or wrinkles, the tiny blood vessel there and the bit of a blackhead that you know you shouldn’t mess with…
I lean in close because I’m ridiculously nearsighted and can’t see myself at all unless I’m two inches from the mirror. I do it every morning, out of habit or compulsion.
Today, my face Cetaphil-clean, I patted dry the dampness and leaned in.
Now I’m about to get all honest and truthful up in here, and I don’t want to hear anything about it from those of you who will see me tomorrow, and I especially don’t want to see you looking, so promise me you won’t.
I leaned in and looked and wondered why – for all that is sweet and lovely and holy about the wisdom of age and timeless beauty and earned wrinkles and all that – why did God see fit to turn up the hair-growing hormone for women as they move through the middle part of their aging? Because there it is, in all its loveliness – a downy, dewy peach fuzz, like my son’s pre-pubescent boy-face right before he ripened for the razor and moved into the stage of stubble.
I sighed and realized that after spending the final moments of last night’s Grammys running in and out of the bathroom trying to color my hair (yes, I did. Now it’s not news.), I had more delicate self-care to manage.
Getting older means spending more time in maintenance, that’s for sure.
I’ll deal with the hair removal, and now you know my secrets, but back to Brandee and Merle and all that. I wondered if Brandee had seen Merle, and realized that I’ll either have to email or call her or just show up at her house to ask her, because I don’t think the girl texts and she’s done with Facebook and she’s got those three littles at home, plus her teenager, and I don’t much see her out and about town. I considered the joy of showing up on her doorstep because I wanted to ask if she’d seen Merle, and in a flash I realized that in the not-so-distant past, that’s how it worked.
When I was wearing Brandee’s shoes, with the littles underfoot and the house always upside down (and no worries for hair color or removal, either one), people just showed up. I had all those babies, all the time, and there was always somebody popping in. And it was always okay.
We were attached to the church, always some church that paid the bills while the kids’ dad was leading youth ministry, while I managed the kids and pregnancies and tried to keep up. I remember this, the sense that I was obligated to be a cheery representative of maternal joy, to demonstrate that the salary and the housing and the occasional meals and love offerings were well-placed. I was a happy, barefoot mother and wife, nurturing and nesting. Messy, but joy on display for all to see.
For the most part, I think it was true. I was cheerful, and optimistic, and I fiercely loved my little ones. I felt blessed, and I considered it a duty to live like it, to reflect the Joy of the Lord. But there’s this – I never planned on having a big, squirming batch of kids with names that all began with the same letter. I hadn’t yearned to be a homemaker and a stay-at-home mom. It happened, and I was happy, but even then, as the kids came along one-by-one, my sense of who I was and why I was doing what I was doing was pinned to this notion of a responsibility to please someone else. Who? The church? The husband? The in-laws? I think my own parents thought I’d lost my mind; the jumper-wearing, rural-redneck country girl was so far from the bookish, jazz-loving city international-traveler self that I’d been wearing that I think we all spun in circles for a while, trying to grab ahold of just what happened.
The focal point of all this, the consolidation, came to light in God; thrown around lightly it makes me uncomfortable, but it is true: Jesus saves. I can tell you surely that there was a great deal of daily rescue that came in the form of a still, small voice and a gentle nudge to keep turning, keep turning in and out of all those seasons, until I’d come round right and found some sense of myself again.
And I did, peeled back until the roots were exposed and then built back up again, fashioned into a girl who realized and reclaimed her purpose in the walking, talking, pooping, fussing antidotes for selfishness that the Giver of life bestowed in five equal and necessary portions of grace and humility.
I love my kids, both outside of myself (totally differentiated, fond of who they are as independent people) and deeply within, as they themselves formed the texture and substance of the me buried beneath all I couldn’t gather, running in the wind to present something of worth to grasp at a moment’s approval.
Trace it all back to Brandee, who I imagine to be surrounded in the chaos of preschoolers in a little cabin in the woods, with only a glimmer of what 20 years will bring to her. And let’s tell the truth again – it’s really not about Brandee, is it? It’s about me, and who I was when I lived in her shoes and hadn’t a glimpse of what it would be like to be me, two decades past the days that merged into diaper changes and feedings and constant vigilance and car seats and strollers and mini-vans. Somehow, those years rushed by even as they moved like molasses, and the littles became big, in full possession of good grammar and drivers’ licenses and bank accounts, degrees and destinations and extravagant plans and places to go.
And I’m still leaning into the mirror, looking at my face, while time paints a portrait and my soul continues to stretch and grow, to morph into something new and yet worn by the unceasing tempo of the years. It seems like a lifetime ago, and it was a different life; and yet it was just yesterday that all this was yet hidden, waiting to be unwrapped, sloughed off, revealed.
That’s the thing, I think; the further I move from where I was, the more the light reveals. The old continues to go, peeled back to expose secrets and substance as yet unimagined. Good stuff; rich, abundant and aromatic.
With the occasional wild hair.