I wish twenty-six years ago, as a brand new mom, I knew how to measure beauty. At nine months pregnant with my first child, I thought I looked awful. Hoping to improve my appearance, I went and got a perm at a JC Penney’s in Alabama. Needless to say, I gave birth with bad hair.
After that birth, I spent far too much energy longing to get back into my old jeans. Beauty mattered a great deal to me and my body wasn’t the same after having a baby. I felt like a milk cow. And struggled to regain how I used to look, thinking I was no longer attractive. When in reality, becoming a mother is beyond beautiful, but I didn’t know that back then.
For my second birth, I kept my hair straight. I looked decent, but our daughter almost died. She was born premature and was shipped to UC Davis med center. The first three days were touch and go. Our little Lacy could die at any moment. I don’t remember even combing my hair. I remember crying a lot.
Lacy lived and I got back into my jeans after recovering from the trauma of nearly losing a child. By the time I gave birth to our third baby, it was all about how I looked. I was twenty-nine-years-old and into Cosmopolitan magazine. Scott was a pilot and money wasn’t a problem. Every six weeks I got my hair done. Nordstroms was my favorite store. Beauty didn’t just matter to me, it ruled me.
After weaning our third baby, I found a breast lump. Surgery revealed it was benign, but then another lump developed. After my second surgery, I was declared cancer-free. After nursing three children and having several biopsies, my breasts needed some help, so I got implants.
If only I had known back then my breasts were just fine without help. I’m the one who needed help. I measured beauty so badly when I was a young mom. It was all about how I looked instead of how I loved.
In a few weeks, I turn 50. Yesterday, I treated myself to blond highlights and bangs. My hairdresser, Starr, always works magic. My hair looked so pretty when I got home. But I was headed back out for our son’s soccer game in the rain. I knew my hair would be ruined. I rarely take selfies, and when I do, they are laughable but I wanted to remember my curls with the hopes of recreating the style if I got to go somewhere for my birthday.
When I looked at the selfie, it hit me. I’ve spent most of my adult life–all of it really since I was pregnant by 22– messed up by my children. I’ve worn vomit in my hair on countless occasions, not because I’d had a good time with my girlfriends, but because my children puked on me.
One particularly bad flu season, all of our children fell terribly ill. I had the flu as well. It went on for weeks. I’d given up and gone to bed with sick babies, thinking perhaps we would all die, go to heaven, and our suffering would end. It wasn’t long before one of the little ones threw up in the bed. I was too exhausted to clean it. I moved my babies over to the dry spot and slept in the vomit. It’s good to know dried vomit holds your hair better than hairspray. Of course, it doesn’t smell nice, but I was used to no longer smelling nice. My pediatrician told me I had to stop wearing perfume. It wasn’t good for babies, he assured me. I didn’t wear perfume for years.
And after I turned 40, I gave up my breast implants and returned to my natural hair color. Almost. A couple times a year I visit Starr for some highlights. But really, I’m so busy taking care of my kids that I’m lucky to make it to the dentist for a cleaning. Instead of spending money on makeup, I buy vitamins and pray for the strength and health to keep up with my boys. Fortunately, Scott still thinks I’m hot. I think my husband’s hot too. Getting older looks good on my man.
But as I age, I wonder how much time to spend on myself. Self-care was never a word in my grandmothers’ or my mom’s vocabulary. These women cared for others. They aged gracefully and I remember thinking how beautiful my Grandma Helen was gathering cows on her horse when she was in her 50s. Her son, my Uncle John, had a cattle ranch, and a couple times a year the herd had to be moved to greener pastures. Wearing lipstick and a cowboy hat, Grandma Helen was always there to help move the cows. She also irrigated my uncle’s pastures.
My Grandma Anne was a farmer’s wife. She worked so hard. The only thing I remember her doing for self-care was saying the rosary in her chair at night before bed and getting a perm once in a while. Both my grandmothers tirelessly served their children and husbands. Just like my amazing mom does now. I don’t remember my grandmothers ever serving themselves. Their lives weren’t glamorous, but my grandmothers were the glue that held our family together.
Recently, I came across this Bible verse: Do not adorn yourselves outwardly by braiding your hair, and by wearing gold ornaments or fine clothing; rather, let your adornment be the inner self with the lasting beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in God’s sight. 1 Peter 3:3-4.
I’m still working on that gentle and quiet spirit. This is not the nature I was born with, I can assure you of that. But I have gained some wisdom and now have a bunch of young mommies in my life. Watching these girls being changed by motherhood is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. I want to tell these young moms true beauty is not in your looks, it’s in the way you love.
Loving takes a great deal of sacrifice, but I have found loving my children is easy. Until teenagers. Honestly, when our oldest son, Luke, went sideways in high school, we loved him even more. We knew it was love that would change Luke, and it did. This wasn’t easy love. It was hard love. And an absolute reliance on God to do what we couldn’t do with our wayward son. And for God to guide us as parents.
Now God is guiding Luke and Alex as parents.
A baby changed our son, and his sweet Alex.
Just as our granddaughter, K.J., has changed our daughter, Cami. “I know my bangs look terrible. I cut them to keep them out of my face because I’m taking care of Kara and that’s all I can do,” said Cami the other day. “I don’t have time for my hair!” Yesterday, when I saw Cami, she was in a ponytail.
I wore a ponytail for twenty years. It kept my babies from pulling my hair. Today I adore seeing mommies in ponytails. Cami may not have time for her hair, but she has time to love her baby.
And so do you, new mommy wearing a ponytail or vomit in your hair. If you’re a young mom worried about how you look, I encourage you to look at your baby. Measure your beauty by the way your baby looks back at you. I guarantee you, your baby sees you as beyond beautiful, and so do I.