It started with an innocent manicure. I told my younger son, who’s 7, that he could paint my nails for Mother’s Day. He’d done it last year on that day – each finger a different shade – and he hadn’t forgotten about the special treat of playing with his mother’s polishes.
So I sat at the kitchen table last Sunday afternoon while he lovingly globbed bright orange polish on my nails. It made both of us exceedingly happy. About 90 seconds after he finished, he asked if they were dry so he could add another color. I touched them gingerly and reported that no, they were still pretty wet. That’s when things started to go awry.
After rebuffing his offer to paint my toenails too, he retrieved a hairbrush and water bottle spritzer from the hall closet and began spraying and brushing my hair. Tiny droplets trickled down my forehead and I closed my eyes as the brush pulled my head back. I tried to relax, soaking in all this sweet pampering by my first-grader as my third-grader sat reading in the other room. This is a perfect Mother’s Day, I thought. And we had frozen yogurt sundaes to look forward to, as I’d promised to take them to Sweet Frog for a dinner treat that evening.
My eyes were still closed a few minutes later when I felt the cold water misting my bare feet. I jumped, eyes wide open, and he looked up at me and smiled. He had the kitchen towel in his hand. “I’m washing your feet,” he said, and continued his ice water assault on my toes. I grimaced and let him.
After Round 2 of nail polish – this time a shade of royal blue added to half of each orange nail – he disappeared again and returned with a shade of lipstick so bright I keep it in the bathroom for the sole purpose of writing messages to them on the medicine cabinet mirror.
He uncapped it and looked at me matter-of-factly. I think by then he had a whole plan in mind, but I was still oblivious. He told me to hold still. Then: “Oh man,” he smiled at his handiwork, shoving the cap back on before twisting the tube down. I stood up and checked myself out in the mirror: I looked like a middle-aged hussy who’d tried to “freshen up” after having a few too many vodka tonics. He waited for my reaction.
“Wow,” I exclaimed, wondering silently how long I needed to wait before wiping it off. Then he asked for the rest of my makeup, and I thought Eh. We’ve come this far.
I have two makeup bags: A small one of stuff I use every day – concealer, pressed powder, mascara – and a bigger bag of odds and ends I’ve mostly gotten from Ipsy that I never wear but won’t throw out because you never know when I might need six shades of gray eye shadow, or dual-color blush crème, or something ridiculous called “eyebrow mascara.”
That is the bag I pulled out for him.
When he was finished painting my face, he asked me to put my hair up in a ponytail, then retrieved the five small flowers he and his brother had presented to me in little vases that morning and stuck them, one by one, in my hair. He took a step back from me and smiled, delighted with his work thus far. “Now, would you like something to wear?” he asked in a tone of voice that suggested he was now my personal stylist, not my son.
I looked down at my jeans and T-shirt. “Why, yes, I think I would. Do you have something special in mind?”
“Ohhhh yes,” he said. “I will return in a moment.” He disappeared into my bedroom, and I thought, This is so fun. Until he came back holding a pair of black and white tie-dyed running tights; an orange, black and white patterned bikini top; a multicolored sleeveless blouse; and a red, white and blue flannel shirt to go over the whole thing. “If your nails are dry, I can show you to your dressing room,” he said, all business.
I checked the blue polish; it was a bit tacky, but congealed enough. “Yes, thank you, sir,” I said, standing up. He led me to my own bedroom, placed the clothes on my bed and left.
When I emerged, my pint-sized stylist gasped. I don’t remember him ever looking so proud. He called his brother in to see his masterpiece, and one of them said, “We need to get dressed up, too!” That’s when I knew that this wasn’t some silly afternoon game; this was careful preparation for a special outing.
And I was going to be leaving the house looking like this.
Evan wasn’t quite done with me, turning his focus to my jewelry. He asked me to remove my rings and found two other, fancier ones for me to wear. He selected the largest earrings I own, and chose a necklace for me too. Then he placed brown pumps and white sandals at my feet, and told me to choose.
When all was in place, he took a few steps back, stared hard at his creation from head to toe, and announced, “You’re done.”
Kostyn took my phone and snapped a full-body photo. As he handed it back to me he whispered, “You look amazing.” I beamed.
As they rushed around their bedroom, donning collared shirts and khakis and looking for accessories to dress themselves up even further, I glanced at my reflection in the mirror and noticed I couldn’t stop smiling. I thought about all those times I’d scoffed at the notion that women “give up” once they become mothers, that “mom jeans” become the norm and fitness takes a back seat, that we moms no longer care much what we look like. I’ve always known that to be a load of crap.
The truth is we still care very much, I thought, smooshing my lips together to even out my horrendous lipstick. But we also care about other things, things that mean more than perfect manicures and flat stomachs. And sometimes, those things make us feel the most beautiful.
On that day, at that moment, I felt ridiculously beautiful.
When they presented themselves, dapper and ready, we took a few selfies to document the day.
“Mommy, do you think everyone at the Sweet Frogs will think we were just at a wedding?” Evan asked with such sincerity I had to keep myself from squeezing the daylights out of him.
Kostyn answered for me. “Oh yes,” he said. “Every head will turn our way!” I glanced down at my running tights and grabbed my keys and purse. “You betcha,” I said, and we were off.
The place, of course, was packed.
I am not a bold person; I prefer to blend into a crowd, not do or say or wear anything that will turn the spotlight in my direction. There was no hope of blending that day. But it didn’t matter. You know how some people make you feel beautiful just by the way they look at you? Every time my boys glanced my way, I felt beautiful. I was beautiful. I walked in with my head held high and we waltzed straight back to the frozen yogurt stations to start making our gigantic sundaes.
Once our bowls were piled high with sauces and candies and sprinkles, we claimed the only free table in the joint and I went back to the counter for water. I could feel other eyes on me, and for a moment I shrunk inside, momentarily embarrassed. But then as I walked back toward my sweet sons I saw them high five each other. When I sat down, Evan held up his hand and said, “Good Mother’s Day, Mommy,” and we high-fived; Kostyn did the same. And once again, I was beautiful.
“This is a perfect Mother’s Day,” I told them, and they nodded matter-of-factly. They knew it.
“Fist bump,” Evan commanded, and we both obliged. The neon orange nail polish created the perfect fireworks.