As a teenager, being cool was all I could think about. I was a pretty bright kid who got along with most people, so though I wasn’t one of the cool kids, I was not so much an outsider that they wouldn’t talk to me. I was someone they could maybe copy from in class and throw out the odd pity invite to a party in return, and I scraped by until I managed to pull it together and not give a crap about whether I was cool or not. In those years of uncertainty before that, I did form a group of genuinely amazing and life-changing friends who are by my side even now.
Then I had my three children.
Now in motherhood, I look back at my misspent youth of worry and agonizing inadequacy and suddenly it’s laughable to me. Not a “LOL,” a laughing emoji, or a fake laugh, but a gut-busting snort-inducing starts-as-a-laugh-ends-up-as-a-cry kind of laugh. As a mother, I had little time to do anything other than eat (occasionally), force small people to put on/take off various garments, and hunt for missing Peppa Pig toys (“not the red dress one, the spaceship one!”). If only I could go back and have a word with my awkward, shy and so, so anxious teenage self.
I’m a ’90s girl. I lived through the “Rachel” era. I know all about fad hairstyles. In 1998, I was pressured into getting a “pob” a la Victoria Beckham—at 15 years old, in a trendy salon, I hadn’t learned the art of interrupting the stylist to make sure my hair ended up the way I wanted it. In true British fashion, I sat silently as pieces of my soul fell apart while my long hair was hacked off. I was supposed to leave the salon a cross between Posh Spice’s cute bob and Gwyneth Paltrow’s Sliding Doors choppy pixie cut; it so happened I looked more like one of the Taylor boys from Home Improvement, with none of the wit and charm. As I crawled into my mom’s car with my hood up, fighting back tears, I solemnly vowed that I would never ever let anyone pressure me into a haircut like that again.
Fast-forward 18 years, I would be glad for someone to show enough interest in my hair to make a bad decision for me: pob me, Rachel me, for God’s sake I’ll even let you Britney me! I currently rock the “Mom of three” hair style. Often freshly washed, rarely dried before school drop-off, never styled, sometimes thrown up in a tie, other times looking like someone who has just thrown-up. In motherhood, making time for myself in the morning is often a choice between my youngest daughter wearing socks and my oldest son brushing his teeth. And sometimes even those things don’t happen. I don’t long for cool; I long for presentable, blending in, easy and something that doesn’t involve me putting another job on my to-fail list.
Clothes used to be a total minefield for me as a youngster. The thought of someone commenting on what I was wearing made me physically ill.
Now? Is it clean? Does it pass as clean? Does it suit the weather? Did I wear it yesterday? These are a few combinations of “style choice” questions I ask myself as I prep for school drop-off. Most of these are answered with the affirmative.
One of my New Year’s resolution is to be more organized and get my clothes out the night before. It still hasn’t happened. By the time Argument Hour (I mean family dinner) is over, I have to wind up to “I don’t need a bath,” closely followed by “I don’t want to get out of the bath.” And after my crowning and coronation as the Royal Un-Fairest Parent on Planet Earth, I rarely have the energy to lay everyone’s clothes out for the next day. If my kids are quietly settling down to sleep, not even an earthquake will force me to enter their bedrooms and disturb them.
I have no hesitation in wearing something my mother would wear. In fact, if my mom offered me her clean clothes, I would weep with joy and gladly throw them on before leaving the house. She’s always had a better sense of style than I do.
The advantage to this hurried, slovenly approach to fashion is that on the rare occasions when I do get dressed up, people will comment in the nicest manner about the effort I’ve made. And on those rare occasions, I’m doing it for me, not anyone else, and that feels fantastic.
I’m never going to be cool. I’m totally fine with that. One of the reasons I hope my children reach the same happy conclusion is because I can see, even in the earliest years of childhood, how much it stings to see my children change their behavior to fit in—pretending not to like their most treasured toys, just because a friend once denounced them as “babyish”—or see their hurt faces when someone comments on the character T-shirt they are allegedly “far too old” to love.
So, no to cool in this house. I want to bottle what’s left of carefree, keeping it stored safely on a shelf next to freedom, laughing until juice comes out of their noses and thinking that Daddy’s songs are the funniest thing they’ve ever heard. I want to save it for their teen years. Something tells me we’re going to need it.