During one of the cabin-fever snow days of this month (which has had so many, I am losing count,) Lila came to me to ask if she and I could do each other’s make up.
I had not showered, had no desire to have little fingers prodding at my eyelids and smearing me with glitter, and had I anything else pressing to do, would have said (what I always say when I really mean no,) maybe later.
But, during that particular storm, there was nothing left for me to do. Dishes, done. Editing queue, done. Writing and personal stuff, done. Even the laundry was folded. There was nothing left but my own selfish desire to not do it.
And so, we sat by the windows in my bedroom. She and I raised the curtains, letting in the cool, silvery light. We sat legs crossed across from one another, and as she unzipped her make-up bag, I realized just how ill prepared I was.
The bag I unzipped? Translucent powder, some neutral eye shadow, an eyelash curler, a tube of Neutragena chap-stick that I have no idea how I somehow acquired, a bottle of foundation that has sunscreen and something trendy that starts with a “B” in it. Oh, and a tube of whatever mascara was on sale, in the color “brownish.”
Her bag? A treasure trove of all things bright and glittery. It was like she unzipped her little pouch and a sunbeam came shooting out. Shiny glosses, a few hand-me-down pinkish lip balms that I had long since given up on ever using myself, neutral blush, a couple of eye shimmers (from Santa) and about half a dozen bright and gorgeous nail polishes.
She wanted me to do her first, so I leaned down and plucked a pretty, gold eye shimmer from her bag. She shook her head and pointed to my powder compact.
Oh, you don’t need that. Your skin needs to breathe, and besides, it’s flawless just the way it is.
What does flawless mean? she asked.
Well, it means perfect. Without marks or imperfections.
She tilted her head, still not satisfied.
Can I have, just a little?
Of course, I conceded and touched her nose and cheeks with the lightest dusting.
But, why do you use it? she asked, her eyelids fluttering as I finished smoothing the powder of her cheeks. Her eyes snapped open and she leaned in close to me. Too close. Nose bumping, freckle-apocalypse, close. I think your face is flawless too.
Well, thank you, is what I said, as I inched back, away from the closeness of her eyes to my face.
But, even as I wanted to take her words and tie them like a ribbon around my heart, all I could think was, Oh, Lila Bean, you have no idea (how hard this is for me.)
And I’m not even talking about the state of my skin.
That Lila thinks my skin is flawless is sweet.
She’s wrong, and she’ll figure that out one day in an Ah-Ha! moment when she sees me for the flawed, totally normal human being that I am.
But, for me, I’m just uncomfortable with her even looking so closely.
I’m uncomfortable with closeness, with being seen.
Not just looked at, but really, seen.
Like, beyond the freckles and wrinkles and the flaws that makeup can cover over.
I’m uncomfortable with closeness that leads to vulnerability.
And to my surprise, I’m even uncomfortable with it with my own children, who crave it.
I love that they come running to me, eager to wrap their arms around me and nuzzle their heads against my chest or shoulders. I love that Lila still wants to kiss me goodnight, every night, on the lips.
I love that they know I am here for them. But, in some ridiculous way, just letting them sit closerthanthis to me, feels like a victory for me, as a mother. Really.
Because, you see, while I want to give them all that they need from me, emotionally, physically, more often than not, there’s something in me that just wants my space back. To have an empty lap, to have my face not-so-closely inspected, to just have room to walk across the kitchen without someone crashing into me, clinging on for dear life in the middle of one of their mystery games.
I need enough distance to not be fully swallowed by them and their needs.
I need enough distance to remember how to navigate the world as myself. Not as Alex and Lila’s mother. Not as Evaline’s diaper carrier or as the woman whose son has the most adorably raspy voice for a four year old, ever.
Yesterday, for a co-op project on Italy, I dug through drawers and dressers, searching for my scrapbook from our honeymoon. I tore through bins and boxes and more bins, of photographs and notes and cassette tapes. It was my entire lifetime, pre-family. Pre-motherhood.
The kids descended in on me, picking through pictures, asking so, so many questions. Who’s this? Where’s that? Why do you look like that? How old were you? Is this Daddy? Are there pictures of me?
I sent them all to the kitchen for a snack (in a probably more grouchy than necessary tone.)
But, for the love. This, this is my world. This is my life. These classic hits from ’95 that I recorded off the radio, so careful to avoid commercials, while sitting in my high school bedroom, with Christmas lights twinkling all around me. These are mine. (Probably never to be heard again, but mine, nonetheless.)
These pictures of Poland. Of Budapest. Of me at Shakespeare’s birthplace. Of the flowers your father gave me, that wilted as we traveled overnight in an unairconditioned train car from Rome to Venice. This poem from a friend. This acceptance letter from a lit journal. These are all mine, and I would like to gather them back in to myself, even for just a minute, so please, for the love, just go and eat a banana.
Maybe it’s my own cabin fever. Maybe it’s the season.
Or maybe, it’s just a new phase of my life, where hanging on to everything thing just seems that much harder.
Evaline will be three next month. We are out of babies, and into real life with children, turning into fully formed people. All of the lives in this small house are growing bigger and bigger until we are all closerthanthis.
And there seems to be so much less space for me.