In the old days, getting ready to go out for the evening was a long, luxurious and Byzantine process. During The Dating Years, I would commonly begin preparations at 5:00 for a 7:00 date, earnestly believing that I could achieve a kind of careless perfection only by spending hours on a somewhat tortured redux of my actual self. I generally started with a triple shot of espresso and the removal of existing finger and toenail polish, followed by a soaking bath with exotic unguents to make me not only silky, but irresistable to touch. (Had asses’ milk been available at CVS, I would have been all over it. Well, in it). During the bath I pumiced, plucked, and pushed back my cuticles while speculating on the enchantment ahead, imagining myself flirting, batting my eyelashes and generally behaving in ways that rarely blossomed into actual performance. After the bath came a shower, in which I shaved, shampooed and deep conditioned; this was followed by drying off, massaging various moisturizers on various “problem areas,” and a facial masque which tightened and imparted a preternatural glow. I also painted my toenails an appropriate, seasonal color, even if they were going to be hidden under black opaque tights (control top) and 3-inch black suede pumps.
After de-masquing, I dried and styled my hair using approximately 5 kinds of “product,” spent at least half an hour applying makeup calculated to make me look as if I had giant eyes, hollow cheeks and a kissable mouth (in place of my actual moon of a face), re-styled my hair, got dressed, re-styled my hair, sprayed on perfume, and painted my fingernails. There was even a sound track for this ritual, including “(You Make Me Feel) Like A Natural Woman” and “Jump (For My Love).” (There is really nothing like songs with parentheses in their titles to complete the mental transformation from mousey to magnificent). At the end of all that, I was one smooth, revitalized, polished and pouffed creature. I should probably mention, for the sake of historical accuracy, that the date rarely lived up to this level of preparation, and in a few, sad cases, didn’t last as long.
Last night I got ready to go out for an evening of decorating gingerbread houses at the home of a friend. After dinner, in the 10 minutes I had given myself to look less like an extra from “Dirty Jobs,” I reflected on the fact that The Mom Years version of getting ready was a far cry from the elaborate schtick of my youth. There was no bath; my current bathtub is something called a “half bath,” which means that it was designed to be used only by children, Little People or those who actually like having cold, dry knees. There was not even a shower, since I had taken one earlier in the day and was carefully monitoring household water consumption. There’s also the fact that the path to crone-hood includes something called Dry Winter Skin which is, sadly, worsened by the glory that is a long, hot shower.
In lieu of actually getting cleaner, I changed from a sweatshirt and sweat pants into jeans and a black sweater which seems to hide my puffy midriff. I decided to put on socks in case it was a “shoes off” kind of house. (Which it was). Unfortunately, the ragg wool socks I pulled from my drawer were child-sized specimens that had belonged to Sam, so the heel was actually hovering somewhere around my instep. Looking in the mirror, I noticed that my bra had a significant hole in it, which caused me to look rather as if I had a tiny animal curled up under my sweater. Maybe it looked more like a small yurt built on a mountain range, seen from an aerial perspective? At any rate, I took it off, threw it away and replaced it, making a mental note that I really had to stop putting bras in the dryer. I fluffed up my hair because I had fallen asleep on the couch earlier, and there was a peculiar dent on the left side of my crown. I noticed a snag in one of my short, unpainted fingernails, wondered if I still had an emery board somewhere, and got distracted by the animal hair on my sweater. I found the lint roller and removed it, denuding a sizable amount of cashmere in the process. I brushed my teeth, put on my winter boots and called it good.
Despite looking entirely like myself (I don’t think anyone was really fooled by my midriff-concealment tactics) and having wads of wool bunching up at mid-foot, I had an absolutely wonderful time. I had more fun than I ever had on a date (except the dates with my husband, which were worth the effort), made new friends, and possibly looked better because I forgot to think about what I looked like. When I got home, I noticed that I had collected quite a bit of dried icing and sugar in the generous cowl neck of my sweater. Twenty years ago, the discovery of a single baguette crumb in that location after an evening out would have caused paroxysms of panic, self-recrimination and attempts to figure out exactly how long it had been there, whether he had noticed it (of course he had) and whether he thought I was a slob and a pig (of course he did). Reveling in the gifts that come with being old and married, I threw the sweater in the dry cleaning pile and smiled at the thought that I might have looked rather as if it had been snowing on my sweater. Good thing the yurt was safely relocated to a more temperate climate.