Reclaiming, not reliving

I get it. As a woman who’s hit her fortieth year (and a few more), I’m deemed no longer young. I’m okay with that…probably because I still don’t fee old. Tired, sure, but old? Nope.

I also recognize that I’m in a new stage of life. I am no longer a new mother, young mother, or mother of small children. All my offspring are now teenagers or beyond. My oldest child is twenty.

I remember being twenty.

This really is a weird place to be.

My life has been a series of revelations, from love to motherhood to backbone to acceptance. But it’s also been a series of reminding myself to be myself.

See, as a mother, and as a woman, it’s easy to try to conform to what society has deemed acceptable for women and mothers. And once you reach a certain age, you’re supposed to conform even more, or it’s seen as trying to relive your bygone youth.

But is it reliving? Or have some of us just decided to reclaim the person we were before life and kids and career happened?

When I was in high school and college, I had an eclectic look, a bit of “thrift shop meets donation bin meets sale rack” that I tried to morph into a Victorian/gypsy look. I loved long skirts and flowy things and bangles and hoops. I had the perfect shade of red lipstick. I was not cutting edge, except maybe that I was a bit grungy before grunge happened, as I didn’t have money for new clothes, and loved flannel shirts. Most likely, I probably either looked slightly homeless or if I was going to a dress-up party.

I was okay with this. It suited me.

Then I got married, had babies, and little by little, conformed. I stopped wearing bangles on my wrists because bracelets would dent a sleeping baby’s head, and good moms didn’t have babies with dents in their heads. I stopped wearing hoops and dangling earrings because sparkly things hanging from my ears were so very tempting to tiny fingers, and I didn’t feel like getting my ear stitched up after a toddler ripped out my earring. Red lipstick could get smeared, and really, who had time for red lipstick anyway? I was a stay at home mom. No one saw me much anyway. Clothing had to be washable and practical. I was also a young looking young mother, so felt judged every time I stepped outside, so tried to at least look the part of somewhat respectable human being.

One day, when I was in my early thirties, my mom complimented an outfit I had. “I have that same outfit!” she said.

I was slightly horrified.

Mind you, my mother has always been magnificently stylish. She can magically transform curtains into an outfit a la Scarlett O’Hara, and had a shoe collection I am still mad that I could never fit into.

But my mom and I have always had two very different styles. We’re also different shapes and sizes (she’s taller, hence why I never fit into her shoes.)

I can remember the outfit she complimented. Navy gingham shorts and a navy polo top. It was a cute outfit, even I knew that. But it wasn’t very “me”. My mom and my daughters look fab in polo shirts. Polos are one of Maura’s most favorite things. She looks fabulous in them. Me? I realized I kept trying to like them but never really did. My best friend? She can rock a polo. Me? Not really.

And I realized…I was trying to look the part of a proper maternal sort. I wasn’t trying to look like me. The only problem was, I didn’t know who I was anymore besides a mom. And then, Maura’s issues reared their heads, and once again, fashion was the least of my concern, especially as Maura used me as a kleenex for the next five years (okay, she still does.) Slowly but surely though, I figured out what was the new me – the me that was wife and mother and music lover and wannabe writer. Things started sliding into my wardrobe, much of it with the help of my husband, who also remembered the girl who wore flannel and hoop earrings and fake Doc Marten shoes. When I felt like I couldn’t buy myself a new pair of Doc Marten boots, he got them for me as a Christmas present. They’re kick-ass, and I adore them. Of course, getting the boots meant I had to get clothes to work with them.

So now? Now my kids are older, my need to blend in is once again erased, and I’m remembering the things I once loved, and bringing them back into my life. Am I reliving my youth? No. I’m just able to pull out the bangles I have kept for years in a drawer and wear them again, and add to my collection. Wearing hoop earrings is no longer risky. I have time to put on lipstick and go out. I finally figured out eyeliner. One of these days, I may actually figure out how to French braid my own hair, and then watch out!

No, it’s not reliving my youth. I was too nervous to dye my hair when I was younger, and to be honest, I liked my natural hair color. Now that greys are creeping in and all sorts of fun colors are out there, I felt ready to dye my hair. I have tried wearing my hair more shoulder length, and while it looked good, I feel more myself with longer hair so have been letting it grow out again, which means I’m putting it more into braids and buns like I used to (but not French braids because I’ve yet to figure out that great mystery.) I grabbed a couple maxi skirts the other week off the clearance rack at Target and am rediscovering how much I enjoy wearing skirts, especially now that I don’t have a toddler trying to hide under it or hitch it up, or a preschooler I have to scoop up off the floor. And I’m wearing bangles and bracelets again. Yesterday, I didn’t, and it felt weird not to have them on.

It’s not reliving my youth…no…it’s reclaiming parts of me that I put away for a while, joining it with the things that I’ve also claimed as my own along the way. Because at heart, I’ve still got a lot of that twenty year old girl in me, and that’s okay. That girl was pretty damn cool – she can just afford to buy full price Doc Marten’s now.