Written by Lee
Oh it was supposed to be sooooo fantastic. My day off from work. A day with my babies. A happy mama buzzing around in the morning with no place to be, just making lunches, attempting to braid some wispy hair, sitting on the floor to help with shoes, not feeling rushed to get out of the house myself, smiley kisses as they hopped into the van with daddy and promises to pick them up from school.
And after homework and a snack, we would head out on an adventure of epic Thursday afternoon proportions. A trip to the mall to find some dresses to wear for their upcoming Christmas program. My girls love their fashion, twirling and posing in all of their eclectic fabulosity. I don't think I've dressed them since they were like 2 and now Claire is 7 and Phoebe is 5. Their look is all their own. I love that.
Or at least I think I love that.
I don't know exactly why I thought it was all such an awesome idea to take the girls and my lil' train obsessed 2-1/2-year old Tommy to Macy's for Christmas dress shopping. I guess I just thought they would dig the idea of a new fancy get-up and then they would get to pop into a toy store to start compiling their Santa lists and maybe, just maybe, they would see the ol' guy himself and get to whisper in his ear some of their most outrageous Christmas wishes.
If only they weren't so deathly afraid of large bearded men in red suits.
My girls are fierce. Independent. Strong. Creative. And imaginations that make me wish I could shed my adult skin and jump into their raw alive child-minds and run fast and free in their ever-changing story-lines filled with fantastical characters and the silliest plot lines ever concocted.
And my girls are expressive. And loud. And opinionated. And bossy. And irreverent too much of the time it seems. And dramatic. And wow.
So when I stepped into that over-sized dressing room pushing my gargantuan stroller and holding my bag of tricks along with a slew of holiday dresses, I should have known that disaster was imminent.
But I was in denial. Slightly delusional. Blinded by the high expectations a working mama has when she has a day off with her kids that is supposed to simply be fabulous.
The road to destruction was a slow but steady build. The first 15 minutes or so of dresses going on and off and Tommy pushing his brand new Hot Wheels I just had bought him to keep him amused while we browsed the racks all went relatively fine. But then the voices started raising, the temperature started rising, the walls started shrinking and with each costume hoisted over their precious heads, the drama in their little souls let loose with reckless abandon.
I'm not sure exactly what made me snap but it happened somewhere between Phoebe sitting on the ground in the 8th large puffy snowflake of a dress screaming "I looooook ridiculoussssssss!" and Claire dancing around in a hot little pink and purple number that had no place being hung on a Christmas dress rack all the while making Tommy scream as she attempted to yank his cracker bag out of his hand because "I am hungry toooooo!!" Red-faced and teary-eyed, Tommy wailed and slapped at his big sister, and she cackled and grabbed the crackers anyway because that's what big sisters do sometimes.
And I felt my insides boiling. I hated the sound of my voice as I tried to keep it quiet for the sake of other customers being subjected to our own personal hell. I felt spent from the hour it took just to get the dresses off the rack and into the dressing room. I was hungry. I was tired from trying to be it all. A working woman. A working mama.
And I was speaking in harsh tones with my mouth tightly clenched and I told the kids I was done. I had warned them already multiple times. We had made a pact before we entered the mall that we would stay happy and work together and for our good behavior, we would get rewards. A trip to the food court. A romp to the toy store. But now everything was being ruined. There would be no new dresses, no fun at the food court, no Santa lists being made.
My fabulous day was being ruined and I. Was. Pissed. Off.
And while I hurriedly picked up the dresses off the floor and tried to hang them back on the hangars, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. And it was not a face I wanted to see.
I remember in my younger, partying days in my mid-20's or so, I would do this thing that if I was altered in any way by a variety of partying uh, substances, I would every so often take a little look in the mirror and make sure I was still all there. And no matter what, I could always see me. Even through the altered brain.
But in that dressing room as a mama of three, I let my eyes linger for a moment at the face I saw in the mirror. And it was tough to see me right then and there. I have to be honest. It was not an expression I recognized. It was not a familiar face. I was really hoping that that person I was looking at was not me. It simply could not be me.
And my kids saw it too. Mainly my girls did. They saw something in their mama that made them feel sad and maybe even a little scared. And as they begged for us to stay and not to abandon our mission, I still silently and quietly picked everything up and firmly told them "Let's.Go."
They followed me out of that dressing room like good little ducks - all in a row. They were subdued and quiet and obedient. There were no tears just solemn faces of acceptance. There would be no new dresses today, they knew. No fun at the food court. No new toys to fantasize about.
And as walked past the rows and rows of holiday dresses on our way out of the store, Phoebe suddenly grabbed me around the waist and looking up at me she said "Do you forgive me Mama?"
And I stopped in my tracks. The tears welled and I said "Of course I forgive you Phoebes. I will always forgive you."
"Can we try again Mama? Can we try to find our dresses for our Christmas Program?" she said.
And with that face of light and innocence and 5-year-oldness that is palpable and precious staring up at me, my heart gave way and a part of me I recognized resurfaced.
I took a deep breath and said, "Sure Phoebes. We can try again."
And we grabbed some more glittery holiday costumes and headed back into the dressing room.
I don't know why I am still fighting so hard. To maintain the me that was. Maybe because I am working again and it's a tangible reminder of the person I used to be. Maybe it's because it's the path I am meant to walk on this eternal journey of surrendering to motherhood. Maybe it's because I, like my girls, am fierce and independent and opinionated and bossy.
But that glance in the mirror was a wake-up call to me. I didn't like what I saw in that Macy's dressing room that fabulous Thursday afternoon. And I hope I remember the visage that was staring back at me. 'Cause I believe it was telling me to find a new way.
It was telling me that I can't look in the mirror expecting to find the me that I used to find so many years ago. That me is gone. There's a new me in there. And it's the new me that I want my kids to see and know. The me that is head over heels in love with being their mother. The me that will always be willing to head back into that dressing room again and again and again.