“Mom! They’re here!” I heard, sound waves traveling from the front window, up the stairwell, to the bathroom where I stood with clothes strewn, empty makeup tubes in hand, and socks with holes that did not match my outfit.
This is my life as a person who does not dress up nor go out very often. But my friend had invited me to join her and a group of her friends (read: new people who don’t quite know that I normally have to scrape mud off of every pair of shoes that I own) out for a grown-up meal one Friday evening. I asked how dressed up they were planning on being, and she replied “not too fancy. I’m wearing casual pants.”
Casual pants, in my mind, mean a pair of jeans without holes, paint, or dirt. This could be a problem.
As someone who spends part of her life educating children on nature and animal adaptations, I love to hold up two specimens of cardinals. Everyone knows these birds—the male is our state bird. He is bright red and majestic. The female, however, is completely blah, boring, and brown. Designed to be camouflaged, there’s nothing jazzy or stylish about her feathers and certainly she would have been standing there in my bathroom with me that evening wondering if the stain on my semi-nice shirt would be visible in dim restaurant lighting.
When I hold up these birds and teach in so many words what sexual dimorphism is all about, I dance around a bit with the male cardinal. “Look at me! I’m handsome! I’m awesome! I want a girlfriend!” I sing. And then I hold up the female and duck down and say, “You can’t see me. I’m hiding because I love my babies.” In the non-human animal world, this is how things work. But it seems people didn’t get the memo.
I have been a mother for more than 14 years and in those years, I’ve learned that there are plenty of women who have gone on to include grown up things in their lives like dressy clothes, purses that match, and shoes without mud. I am not one of those women. My fashion sense is that of a female cardinal and being blinged up is not on my radar.
So when it came time to be seen in public and meet new people, I could only help but think of my feathered friends, of which might be proud of me and the mother I had become. My shirt was almost clean. My holy socks were covered by boots that didn’t have much mud. I channeled the male cardinal and even put on lipstick.
“Hurry up!” my kids yelled. And as soon as I gave up on the idea of finding a grown up purse, I flew down the steps and out the door to hang with other birds of a feather who flocked together.
Originally written 1.17.16