The sound of sniffling
It’s Murphy’s law, right? Those who can get sick just before Christmas . . . will? For the second year in a row, my household has been stricken with a plague in the second week of December. Last year’s was especially rough, given Oliver was less than a year old and his options for medication were slim. He was not sleeping; we were not sleeping. The most wonderful time of the year felt pretty miserable.
This year? Well, at six months pregnant, it’s my own options that are limited. You never appreciate a good decongestant until it is cruelly unavailable to you, friends. Given whatever I’m taking is, I presume, also passing on to my daughter, I’ve just been loading up on water and tr ying to power through it.
I really try not to gripe over the common cold, but this one has felt anything but common. It’s been a week and a half since the tell-tale tickle in my throat appeared, and last week — the work-from-home week — was stressful enough without adding illness to the pot. Oliver and I have not been ourselves, leaving my husband to tend to us in the evenings. An exciting and rewarding task, no doubt, especially when I’m uselessly crashed on the sofa by 7 p.m.
My sister was a huge help last week, but I felt guilty subjecting her to hanging out with me in all my unwashed glory. Katie and I shared a home (and a bathroom) for 25 years, but it was still slightly embarrass- ing to still be in my pajamas by mid-afternoon. I just didn’t have the energy worry about it.
In not-so-recent history, I would have been suffering horribly but still applying mascara to my watery eyes. I did not — repeat: did not — go anywhere or see anyone without wearing a basic level of makeup, a habit picked up sometime around middle school. “Putting on my face” is a morning ritual, even if I actually don’t apply ver y much in the end. A little concealer, some blush, a few swipes of eyeliner and I’m on my way.
That routine has been tested way more since becoming a parent. I used to be able to time my morning to the minute — and though my makeup habits have never been elaborate, it’s true that I once spent more time on my appearance.
But that all requires thought and patience. And time, for sure. I’m usually lucky if I have five minutes before the baby is hollering after I get out of the shower, so I do the best I can with my limited resources and depend on lip balm to get me through the rest of the day.
My sister understands this. We grew up under the guidance of our beautiful mother, a woman who doesn’t go anywhere without her lipstick — but never impressed upon her girls any unfair standards of beauty. Mom has always been supportive of doing what helps us look and feel our best, but she never stood behind us in a mirror to “help” with our daily styling. She does not pass judgment.
In fact, when I decided to “do my own hair” before fourthgrade picture day, Mom barely blinked at the final result: a messy top-knot creation with frizzy bangs that is forever immortalized in my school yearbook. I thought I’d done a great job — you know, at the time . . . without a mirror. But even I could see the picture was a disaster. Still, my parents dutifully cut out the sheets of wallet-sized photos, sharing and scrapbooking that unholy mess with all the others. That’s love. There’s a sense of needing to be “camera ready” in our society that inflicts such unnecessary stress. Every social occasion finds that one friend eager to snap group selfies and instantly share the results on Facebook. The vain side of me is often criti- cal of how I look, how I’m stand- ing, what I’m wearing . . . but you won’t find me untagging myself or hiding out.
Why? Because . . . well, because this is how I look. I’m just one flawed person. My worth isn’t determined by how smooth my skin looks or how impecca- bly my makeup is done on any given day. In a few years, I absolutely, 100 percent expect to be the mother in the school dropoff lane still wearing pajama pants — because I can’t always get it together, and that’s OK.
Whenever I felt the urge to apologize to my sister for my appearance last week, I took a step back to think: she’s my sister. To say she’s seen me at my best and worst is an understatement. She’s also seen me at my smallest, my ugliest, my most broken as a person . . . and will always show up, anyway.
Even when her sister and nephew are sniffling and tearing through a third box of tissues.
That’s love, too.