their first love.

A few weeks ago, my son walked in on me doing something he’d evidently never seen before.

“Mama, are you trying to take your eyelashes off?”

My mouth fell open and I broke my gaze from my bathroom mirror in order to meet Dax’s three-year-old baby blues, squinted in confusion. I paused for a second, then acknowledged the mascara wand in my hand.

“Oh no, baby,” I chuckled. “I’m putting mascara on my eyelashes.”

“Why?” he asked, genuinely curious.

And I didn’t have a satisfactory answer.

Because I need to make my eyelashes darker than they naturally are? Because I have this fear that when my eyelashes are naked it makes my face look washed out and tired? Because I am a woman and I need to prove to society that, despite being in a happy marriage and caring for two small children, ONE OF WHOM STILL WAKES SEVERAL TIMES A NIGHT TO NURSE GODBLESSHIM, I’m “not letting myself go”? I am still pretty, right?

“Because that’s what grownups do sometimes,” I half-heartedly offered after a beat.

He glared at me, still confused. Then he shrugged and left the bathroom.

Last night, after Dax and Case were in bed for the night, I turned to Dan with bright, expectant eyes.

“Can we dye my hair now, please? You promised you’d help me do it tonight.”

He shrugged in agreement, not entirely convinced I needed to dye my hair. But I’ve been overwhelmed by the army of grays storming my crown, growing bulkier and more threatening each day, and the box of hair color I picked up from CVS in a panic was burning a hole in my hand.

As soon as I mixed the hair color and began sectioning out portions of my hair, Dax quietly crept out of his bed and into the bathroom.

“I have to go potty,” he announced, shuffling past me.

He sat down on his potty, and Dan sat down on the toilet across from him.

“What is Mama doing?” Dax asked.

I felt a pang in my stomach, the very same kind I felt when he asked about my mascara, as I listened to my husband trying to explain.

“She’s changing the color of her hair,” he said. “You know how you paint? Well, she’s kind of doing that. She’s painting her hair a different color.”

He looked at me and took the whole scene in — me, wearing thin, too-roomy plastic gloves, squirting dark goop onto my scalp and trying to spread it around — and just shrugged. “She needs to do that in the shower.”

My brain flashed backward to when Dax was maybe a little older than a year old, and I did something (can’t remember what, maybe picked him up?) that made him exclaim, “Mama strong! Mama Hulk smash!” and I remember thinking that I wanted him to always think of me that way.

Strong. Confident. Hulk smash.

Not overly concerned about my appearance. Not going to pretty inconvenient lengths to disguise my age.

A while ago I found some weird meme that had a picture of a young mom and her baby boy with text that read, “You’ll always be his first love,” or something, and I kind of rolled my eyes at the time, but I get it now, especially since the birth of Case who has unashamedly claimed me as the love of his life.

The look on Dax’s face as he was trying to figure out why in the world I’d want to change anything about my appearance, for seemingly no real reason, was pretty humbling. And I’m not sure he’ll even remember these instances but I will. And I hope to go forward from this in a different direction, one that brings my kids up knowing their worth does not depend on their looks, nor does the worth of the women around them.

Especially not their first love.

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