One morning a couple of weeks ago I entered the kitchen before school to find Bear sitting at the counter.

To the best of my recollection, I was wearing dark wash jeans, my teal top with a lace flower neckline, flats, a silver bracelet, and hoop earrings.  Not exactly an outfit that would stop traffic, but apparently it caught my 8-year-old’s eye.

Bear glanced up, looked me over, and sweetly asked, “Why do you look so nice today, mom?”

Okay, so this sounds like a compliment.  Except kind of not.  Because by asking why I looked so nice on that particular day, it felt a little like I look like crap on a typical day.

This got me thinking about lots of Big Stuff like My Life and What My Daughter Sees Me Do and DO I Look Like Crap on a Typical Day?  You know, the questions that can keep you up at night.

On at least two weekday mornings my daughter finds the “put together grown-up” me in the kitchen.  I’ve showered, put on what she’d consider a nice outfit (i.e. not sweats or a t-shirt, and it must involve jewelry of some kind), fixed my hair, and applied makeup.  These are usually days I’m volunteering at the school or have a committee meeting — times I want to look like a grownup who’s got it together.

Unless I have somewhere I have to be within an hour of their leaving for school, the other mornings find me making breakfast and getting them ready while I’m in my PJs.  On most semi-public days (like ones where I have to take T-man to tae kwon do) they’ll return home to find a more “casual” me.  Jeans.  Shirt.  Usually a ponytail, often with little to no makeup on.

If I manage to score a house day (aka “tackle the mountain of clothes overtaking the laundry room” day), we’ll crank it down another notch.  Yoga pants are likely, despite the fact that nothing resembling yoga happens while they’re in school.  T-shirt.  Hair thrown up with a clip and not a stitch of makeup on.  I also refer to these as “days I avoid mirrors and cameras at all costs.”

You’ll notice my level of presentation is based entirely upon my activities out in the community each day.  People who come to my door get what they get, though I do manage to be clothed in something when they knock and see me through the window.  My neighbors seem to have learned that I’m kind of an eh, this is my reality today girl. Let’s just say that nobody’s surprised to find me in pajama pants at 7:00pm.  (aaaahhh, pajama pants…)

Funny thing.  (And by funny, I mean not so much.)  When we moved into our house we already knew the neighbors, and even though their son was younger than T-man and Bear we’d often all end up outside in the afternoons when the weather was nice.  His mom and I would sit at the table and chat while we watched the kids play, mediated the occasional fight, and tended to the not-so-occasional boo-boos.

We’re both stay at home moms so the further into the afternoon it got, the longer the minutes felt until a dad would show up for reinforcements.  A lot of the time it helped immensely just to have the kids distract each other and run loose as we waited for the work day to be done.  (Note: at the time I had a five-year-old boy and a three-year-old girl who were incredibly active and Wore Me Out every damn day.)  

Shortly after we moved in The Question first occurred.  That day the neighbor’s husband got home and walked across the yard toward his family.  He greeted me — I was doing my typical hang out & make sure the kids don’t kill each other thing — and then kindly asked if I was all right.  (me, a little confused) Um, yeah.  Why?  “Oh, you just look tired, that’s all.”  Well, bless his heart.

Except what I was actually thinking was “REALLY?  I’m home with two preschool kids all day long and I look tired at 6:00?!  I’m shocked.”

Seeing as he’s a nice guy I managed not to say this out loud (though it was really noisy in my head).  I think I made it through a few more experiences with The Question before I finally just said that THIS was how I looked at the end of the day.  Game over, the end.

So there are a few reasons I’m probably sensitive to comments on how I look.  I’ve never been that girl, the stylish one with the perfect hair and makeup.  I didn’t learn any of this stuff growing up.  I didn’t think much about it in college (which was good, because I wouldn’t have had the money to fix it anyway), and then I was just busy being me after I graduated.  And “me” wasn’t overly concerned with looking put together.

I made a start at trying to be more girly (remember the makeover in my late 20s?) and was just getting the hang of it when along came the kids and BAM!  Everything changed.  Managing to get a shower was a monumental achievement for the day.  Spending time on hair?  Makeup?  Ridiculously impossible.  And there was no point to wearing nice clothes when they’d all end up with an assortment of baby stains on them anyway.

Now we’ve entered a new stage.  One where you’ll find “cool & collected” or “a red hot mess” depending on the day.  I should probably embrace even having the option to dress up or down more.

So when Bear admires an outfit I’m going to accept that for what it is: a whole-hearted compliment from a little girl who is into fashion and all that jazz.  She’s actually a very stylish chica, so getting the thumbs up from her is high praise indeed.

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This day was “Bear Approved.”