Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Mirror, Mirror or Why the Evil Queen Wasted Her Time

Mirror, Mirror or Why the Evil Queen Wasted Her Time

“Oh. Dear. Sweet. Lord.  I look like Jane Fonda in Klute.”  

Jane and Justin. Either way not a good look
at 40.  Well, in my case, maybe never?!

I thought this, but I said nothing.  It had been 3 H.O.U.R.S. in the hairdresser’s chair.  Hours, honey.  And I have no color in my hair (give it a few more years, then I won’t be adding Proverbs 16:31 to my signature line).  I had switched stylists.  I didn’t want to, I really, really, really didn’t.  But the lunacy of the receptionist at the old salon was such that I couldn’t get an appointment, and herself being tragically hip, and me being a middling age from the ‘burbs, well, I was sacrificed on the wall of cool. 

I don’t have a really cool haircut; it’s a bob.  You know a regular bob, not a “dutchboy bob” just a regular one.  But my stylist back home in Connecticut once told me that the classic bob is something really tough to get exactly right, you can’t mess up, it shows.  But Sandra isn’t here, and I finally found someone who understood my need for “comfort bangs” and we worked just well on fine together.  Then the perky receptionist.  Now I’m here. And the gorgeous friend who referred me here wasn’t wrong.  This stylist is very nice, very talkative, very personal, very, very.  But somewhere around 1.43 in I was tuckered.  I mean my threshold is very low people.  I can barely make it past 10, I don’t like driving at night.  Look at me Miss Daisy, seriously, I am starting to doubt if I can even hold my head up at a wine tasting anymore!  So this was an evening appointment.  My courage started to wane and when she started taking LONG cuts off of my hair, I just stopped saying anything and just sat there mute.  “It looks pretty… thin?” I say meekly.  “Well that’s just the cut, it’ll fluff out once you’re at home.”  My bum was asleep I had been sitting so long, so I stretched, and paid out of my really fabulous Target pleather bag, and headed out to the parking lot where I did what any sane woman would do after a 3 hour tour, I called my husband and told him I hated my hair.  “Why?  I’m sure it’s great!”  “It isn’t.”  “Oh, it is, come home.  It’s fine.”  I called back, asked for facetime with my eldest son, Joe.  Joe wouldn’t lie, no matter how much he still loves me.  He’s in bed already.  I feel no guilt.  “Well?”  “It’s awesome Mommy.”  “Really?”  “Yes, super awesome….  Okay, I need to sleep now.”  Shipwrecked and gobsmacked forsaken by my own progeny!

So I do the secondary thing that any sane woman would do.  I text my truly be-yew-ti-ful friend ,“I hate my hair cut.”  “It can’t be that bad.”  “Oh trust me, it is.”  “I’m sure it is beautiful.”  (I pay my friends to say these things, don’t you?)

The next morning, my friend texted again, “Feel any better?”  “No,” I reply, firm and definite with each tap, “I look like a cross between a news anchor and the lady in the neighborhood who collects too many cats.”  (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)  Diane Sawyer has amazing glowy skin.  Nonetheless, each day I woke up and disliked my hair a little more.  I fiddled with it.  I tried. 

Exhibit A.
“It’s trendy,” my friend said, “It’s modern,” my other friend soothed.  It didn’t matter.  I seethed.  I was wearing an imposter’s wig and I knew it.  It’s not that it was even that bad, see that profile picture up there ä?  That’s it!  See, it’s truly not.  But it wasn’t me.  It didn’t even feel remotely like me.  One of my oldest and dearest came round at Christmas-time to see her in-laws, and I remember texting her saying, “By the way, I just had a tragic haircut, don’t judge.”  She hadn’t seen me in 13 years.  But she got it, right away.  “It’s okay, really.  You just need to grow it out or cut it pretty short.”  See?

Me and John before.

And after. Eh.
I have tried to be a prepster since I was in high school.  Just ask anyone who knew me from that era, I tried, tried, tried.  They were all but worn out telling me it wasn’t going to work.  I didn’t get it.  I tried some more.  But I admit it.  After years and years of seeking the seersucker, I wasn’t going to be Vineyarded, Lilyed, or Brooksed.  They were all, beautiful, picture perfect and classically not me.  Some kind of paisley was always going to be sticking its fuchsia self somewhere ruining the pearls.  If I was classic, it was pearl-quirked.  Or pearqly.  (Leave it to me to find a whole new name for it.)

But this really has nothing to do with pearls or being a prepster, a look I love to tears and years, it really has everything to do with finally being comfortable with being me.  That I knew myself well enough to know what I most admittedly am not. 

It took me so long to be comfortable with me.  So long in fact, that I surprise myself when I know what I’m about.  For as long as I can recall, the person I saw was not who I wanted.  And I thought if I looked long enough, wished enough and created enough, I’d be whoever would have it easier.  I drank the evil queen's koolaid, “Magic mirror on the wall, who is the fairest one of all?”
Even though she's pretty scary, I really always
dug her lipstick
Oh the Evil Queen.  Since her creation by the Brothers Grimm, she has never failed to stand for the ultimate in vanity and fear.  In the original tale, EQ was so jealous of the beauty of her stepdaughter, Snow White, that she tries to kill her--not just once, but repeatedly.  And get the methods: she disguises herself as an old peddler and convinces Snow White to take a beautiful lace corset that she then tightens until the girl passes out.  Death by fashion.  (She survives once the corset strings are loosened by the dwarves.)  Then she poisons a comb and has Snow White brush her hair with it.  Death by beauty.  Still she survives.  Finally, she uses all her dark magic and places it in an apple, upon eating it Snow is in a state of suspended animation.  Death by food.  When Snow White coughs up the apple piece from Prince Charming's artistic and loving heimlich, she marries and the Queen is brought to justice.  For her crime of wanting more, she is forced to wear hot-iron shoes and dance to her death.  Grim indeed.  The story has been told again and again.  Many variations of the Evil Queen exist, most recently as Julia Roberts in Mirror, Mirror
and Charlize Theron in Snow White and the Huntsman.  

The Evil Queen couldn't be content being beautiful or thin or powerful.  She wanted to be something else.  Something more.  So she begged her mirror to tell her that she was more, and she knew that the mirror couldn't lie to her.  "Magic mirror on the wall, who is the fairest  one of all."  Just one quotation, in a Disney film, transported that ubiquitous object into something that we worship, and, alternatively, fear.  No matter how we feel or we think we feel, the mirror doesn’t lie.  It’s there.  All my life it has been there, taunting me, seducing me into spending more time than I should have trying to figure out ways to make myself appear better.  It took so much time.  Every teenage girl can tell you, and then it doesn’t quit.  

Then there are days you can’t face the mirror.  The day you have stayed up too late, stayed out too late, was with the wrong someone, did the wrong thing.  It’s there.  Right in the mirror.  No matter what I believed or wanted to believe, the mirror showed me the same face.  The same moles, the same nose that tilted slightly, the dark circles that makeup could not cover.  So I went along, I crushed out old friendships, turned my back on former seasons of my life on my infinite quest for an image makeover that would fit whatever was in my head.  I tried on a lot of different personas to make myself something more.  And the heaviness was that it didn’t change me.  Not one bit.  I was still the girl who often fell over my own feet, once I did that right in Harvard Yard.  (By the way, I am convinced a very prominent economist walked right over my bruised ego and my silent pleadings of not being noticed.  I can’t be entirely certain, I was blinking and looking up from what appeared to be a really long way away and hoping said gentleman, wasn’t going to drop any of his soft serve on me as he straightened out the Federal Reserve.)

So what changed?  Marriage didn’t change me.  I got the guy, and he says that I’m great just as I am. A couple of earth-rocking, shape shifting things happened.  My mother died. And just shy of a year after, I became a mother.  One seismic fault line forced me to look at my life with a lens of bravery and self-courage because the one who made sure I could stand, had fallen away, too quickly, too early and far too quietly.  Yet as the bandage ripped from me, and my mother’s heart was torn from me, the wound still was soft and raw even with Joe’s birth.  Perhaps even more so.  Because my identity had changed.  It had to.  I was now a mother.  And I had no idea how to be one.   This last statement is not so different I think from everyone else.  No one knows how to do it.  And I suspect I wasn’t even that different when I thought I had no one to teach me because my mother was gone.  I just remember looking in the mirror and not recognizing any part of who I was anymore. 

I’d peer into the glass of the old cabinet that was Philomena’s vintage (our house had only one owner, with a fantastical first name), and I wondered, “are you even in there?”  Ouch.  It hurt.  And those wounds of the not-knowing and the not naming and the uncertainty haunted me those first few months when everything was complicated by sleep deprivation and just fear.  I didn’t know what size my pants were because if they weren’t stretch, I couldn't fit in them.  My feet which had swollen to the size of pontoon boats had not really shrunk back to their small Asian selves.  I remember everyone telling me to “get out” more.  Were they insane?  Did I really want anyone to see me like this?  I did go out one fine morning with this mewling crazed infant and saw to my horror that the lady at the playground…matched.  And more. She had a beautiful diaper bag.  I don’t think it even ever saw spit up of any kind.  Her child was wearing a lovely matching outfit.  Joe had already blown through 3 costume changes since we’d been up.  It was a low time.  Low.

When days grew cloudier and I was still wrestling with my grief and my anger towards God for taking my mother, my mother for leaving me, something in me finally got it.  It wasn’t me.  I was just fine.  And when I was okay with that.  When I was okay showing that perfect imperfection to the world, when I was willing, in other words, for people to see me the way God saw me before I put the armor of pride, judgment and beauty products on that I thought would protect me from harm from those I still didn’t know, I got the chance to invite people into my life who saw me as God saw me.  And they were able to respond to a piece of that—the imperfect, the slightly clumsy, the awkward person I still am.  I guess what I am saying is that this mothering thing, it is such a hard gig, the toughest around.  But God sees us, sees our unique struggles and challenges us through motherhood to reveal ourselves in a way that we otherwise wouldn’t.  We are never so vulnerable as when we have children and in that vulnerability is the capacity to build connection with other women.  Until I was able to show myself the way I felt God could always see me, I never got the courage to say, "hey—I’m Sara and I have these crazy kids, let’s talk awhile."

So my haircut, the Fonda inspired klutish shag, it was taking precious time away from me.  Time I could be spending listening to the world’s best knock-knock joke for the fifteenth time, making some new recipe for my family’s visit, or just chasing down the friend I kept seeing who had some sign of something scary deep in her eyes and the way she clutched at her hands.  I have no time for this mirror nonsense.  I needed to be sure that the reflection I saw was who I knew myself to be so I could go and be elsewhere.  

Maybe this Easter season, no matter what your belief—we can call it a wash. A chance to begin anew at something, resurrect a friendship, forgive yourself a misstep, open yourself to healing the past.  You are so beautiful just as you are, I know it, God knows it, maybe it is time to let someone else in on it.  Allow your grace, the grace that fills you and feeds you and shines around you to be an extension of God’s peace for someone else—someone else who needs it whether they know it or not.  I know I need it, as scary as it may be.  Show me the real you, and I’ll be right there to walk with you through it.  (And I’m going to need you, because my old stylist, the one who is in the process of rescuing this klutishness?  She’s moving to Portland.  So, let’s hope for the best.  And anticipate the worst…together.)


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