It’s almost eleven at night and my three teens are awake and acting as though the school schedule is only relevant to other teen humanoids. We watch Jimmy Fallon and laugh so hard I am compelled to pee immediately or face the soggy, smelly consequences.
“Uh…Itty Bitty?” I’m dancing like a jumping bean outside the bathroom door. “Mama needs to pee! Urgently!”
“Ok!” My daughter calls out. “Wait until I say it’s o.k. To come in!” She unlocks the door and gives me the all-clear signal.
I open the door and a blinding wall of steam sweeps past me and out into the hallway. I feel my way to the latrine. Like Han Solo slipping through a bare crack of an opening, I make it to my destination sans wetting myself. I sigh in relief.
“Thanks, Itty. This old mama’s bladder just wasn’t going to have it anymore.”
“Mom, you’re not old. You’re middle-aged.” This affirmation comes from the wise sixteen-year-old on the other side of the shower curtain. She cannot bear the thought that there will come a time in her life when I will be old. The word ‘old’ triggers her inner, anxious philosopher.
I’m just trying not to wet myself. I’m not complaining. Jimmy Fallon is worth it. I like hanging out with my kids. Especially in a karmic twist where I am the one banging on the outside of the bathroom door and they are the ones trying to get some peace for once.
“Middle-age isn’t old, mama. It’s just…middle.”
I let that simple truth sink in as I watch all my excuses for a midlife crisis go up in vapors to the noisy, humming ceiling fan, and into the void.
“It just so happens that my bladder is middle-aged, too. That was a lot of fuss for little output.” What I thought would be a quart of urine turned out to be a few tablespoons. Having four children park their cabooses on my bladder caused said bladder to lose all sense of proportion and patience.
“What will you say to me when I finally am old?”
She thinks for a beat and then replies. “Then you’ll be old. We’ll deal with it when the time comes.”
This deep fount of teenage wisdom overwhelms me. “You’re a philosopher, Itty Bitty.”
“Mmhmm…” she falls silent. Then with deep thoughtfulness, she says, “I really like your new bangs. They make you look younger.”
“Thanks, sweetie. It was either shake up the bangs or have a mid-life crisis.”
“Mmhmm…” she is relaxing under the hot water and not as concerned about half her life having passed her by like a dream. Sixteen-year-olds can be like that sometimes.
I wash my hands. Out of mercy for the ceiling fan venting out my midlife crisis, I open the bathroom door and release ten pounds of steam pressure into the hallway. All this without feeling compelled to sneak a peek at the stranger that is me living beneath my newly cut bangs. The mirror is fogged up, but it doesn’t matter. I have no inclination to look at myself in the mirror to look for self-acceptance. I cut myself loose from that compulsion two weeks earlier when I cut my bangs.
Ah, bangs. When done right they are the section of hair that can hide the forty-four years of worry lines and shave off not just years but the drama of death, widowhood, single motherhood, remarriage, abuse, divorce, remarriage again, a chronically ill husband, my health challenges, and four premature babies and twenty-three years of motherhood.
Them some powerful bangs, y’all.
Like many middle-aged women, I wore my bangs long, down to the chin, then swept aside to create a partially opened curtain of seductive mystery. I hid behind the curtain for years. I was the Great and Powerful Oz who knew I was hiding my truth behind fashion fads and fears of perceived facial flaws.
No offense to Jennifer Aniston, but late one night, after watching an interview of her and watching her (to my irritation) constantly sweeping her side-swept bangs out of her face, I realized that I have been doing that for twenty years. It was clear to me that twenty years of sweeping bangs away from my eyes over and over again was an exercise in futility. I imagined the satisfaction with myself had I applied such persistence to my goals!
Enough was enough. It’s agitating to watch someone constantly managing their bangs. It is sad to see middle-aged women, beautiful in their own right, engaging in self-conscious habits because they are not able to see themselves as beautiful. Long bangs or any other face-concealing styles, habits, or practices are like fog on a mirror. They obstruct our view of ourselves.
Back to the a-ha moment during the Aniston interview.
My moment of truth had arrived. I realized I deserved to embrace graceful aging, and finally see the world around me without the frame of fashionably long bangs tickling my cheeks and causing near-misses on the freeway when I change lanes.
I was finally o.k. with looking alert than just looking alluring. My sex appeal to my husband had little-to-nothing to do with my bangs and everything to do with my confidence, kindness, and dedication to our intimacy. It’s a practical but effective approach to passion that women of a certain age and their men understand that young women do not. That may sound a bit salty, but it’s hard-earned confidence, and I don’t apologize for it. Forty-four-year-old women can sometimes be like that.
Back to where I left you hanging in suspense…my moment of truth.
With great resolve, I stood up, turned off the rerun of Entertainment Tonight and Googled “how to cut bangs”. I steeled myself against the voices in my head telling me that my “full” and rounded face needed long, side-swept bangs to look beautiful. Those voices sounded an awful lot like my own, but whatever. They’re now in the landfill with my long bangs.
Through the wonder of YouTube and a pair of barber’s scissors, I chopped off five inches of bangs and watched as they and years of insecurity dropped into the garbage. I did that fringy thing you do to make them look less blunt and wiry at the ends. This may sound like an anti-climactic end to the story, but that was the end of it. I now look ten years younger, and I discovered my eyes are blue! Imagine that! This whole time I thought I was a perimenopausal, blonde Wookie from my forehead to my chin!
Since that late-night awakening a few weeks ago, I have been told daily how much younger and better I look. This is ironic since my whole goal was to embrace my aging process and just be more practical. My husband Tex loves them. He thinks they’re sexy and make me look perky. At forty-four, anything that looks perky is darn-near a miracle.
Now, moving on from perky things in the bedroom back to the bathroom conversation with Itty Bitty. It’s a wide swing, but such is a mom’s life.
As I leave the bathroom I notice the absence of a towel on the towel rack.
“Itty Bitty, you don’t have a towel to dry off. I’ll go get you one.”
“Shoot! Thanks, mama! I always forget that.” The years-long mystery of the soggy hand towels is now solved.
I smile, “Join the middle-aged club.”
“Mmhmm…” she’s not having any of that reality-based talk. The time has not yet come.
“Thanks for letting me use the bathroom, Itty. I shall remember your wisdom and mercy.”
“Mmhmm…,” she purrs sleepily as she shuts off the water.
I sneak out to grab a towel and finish the typical ritual of herding my litter of reluctant cats in the direction of bedtime.
This time I’m not batting hair away from my eyes, and I can see their protesting faces. Wouldn’t you know it! Their eyes are brown!