My son, who was in Kindergarten at the time, gestured excitedly at a chic-looking woman seated across the waiting room at the doctor’s office. “There is Jeffery’s Mom! She helps during reading time in class. Come on! Lets go say hi!”
I panicked. I was seated in a doctor’s waiting room with my three kids and we weren’t there to study the trendy décor. My toddler was dealing with a reoccurring bout of croup and I was trying to keep my house and family running while fighting my own battle with pneumonia and bronchitis.
To say that I looked less than stellar was an understatement.
Death warmed over was a more accurate description of my look and my greatest accomplishment that week had been brushing my teeth. The pockets of my hoodie were bulging with used Kleenex and my yoga pants had become a permanent attachment to my body, ensuring I could go from snuggling on the couch with my coughing little boy, to bed to school to car line to grocery store to doctor and to bed again with effortless ease. My voice was scratchy and hoarse, my nose was red and double its normal size, and I had a sneaking suspicion there was cereal in my ponytail. Top all that off with a mild fever and you have a slightly delirious, rather exhausted momma who was having trouble stringing two thoughts together.
In my head, I was chanting, please don’t come over here! Please don’t come over here. But she spotted my son, waving enthusiastically, and her face lit up as she recognized him. She set aside her magazine and stood.
Oh, crap. She’s coming over here. Maybe if I smooth my hair a bit…
I reached up to tuck unwashed, straggly flyaways behind my ears. I frantically tried to remember if I had any emergency make-up in my purse.
Drat. Just tinted lib balm.
I saw her eyes pass over me and she smiled a bit with what I can only assume was pity. I tried to sit up a bit straighter but started hacking up a lung instead. While I continued to cough and gasp, I heard her greet the boys.
I tried to clear my throat and catch my breath, all the while trying to telepathically ask the nurses to call us into the doctor’s office ASAP. Based on her shoes, which was all of her I could see at the moment due to being doubling over with a tissue pressed to my mouth, I was quite certain she was cleaner than I was. And she was wearing real clothes. And she smelled like some kind of beachy tropical flower while I smelled like vapor rub.
I instantly didn’t like her, based solely on the fact that I was a hot mess and she wasn’t. I was irritated with my son for putting me in this situation and irritated with myself for not AT LEAST putting on some mascara. I’m not much for make-up anyway, but I look infinitely better when I wear it. I could take on the world, if only I was wearing mascara!
I tried not to think about the phrase ‘You never have a second chance to make a first impression!’ and if my face hadn’t been red from coughing, it would have been flushed with embarrassment.
But then, all of the sudden, I just didn’t care anymore. I felt like a zombie and looked like a zombie. I wanted to lay down on a soft bed and sleep more than I wanted my next 5 minutes of air. I wanted my family healthy again and my brain was too fuzzy to keep any thoughts other than that in my head for very long. Impressing this lovely creature standing before me was not going to happen, and I ceased to feel guilty/inferior/embarrassed about my situation.
So I wiped my nose and raised my eyes to Jeffery’s Mom and offered her a weak smile.
Yes this woman was dressed nice, wearing cute shoes, and had her hair done, but what I had failed to see upon my brief glance in her direction earlier was that one of her eyes was bright red, swollen, and watering down her cheek. The other one didn’t look much better. She kinda looked like she had been in a bar fight and then cried about it. We continued to look at each other and then busted out laughing.
She grinned somewhat pathetically and shrugged. “Pink eye,” she offered. “I got it from my kids.”
I nodded sympathetically and gestured at my brood. “Croup and pneumonia.”
We introduced ourselves (without shaking hands) and exchanged a few more words. Silently we seemed to acknowledge the fact that neither of us were at our best, but that ultimately, it didn’t really matter. We were just moms trying to get all done. No judgement. No drama. When my kids and I were called back to the doctor, we walked down the long hall to be weighed and questioned and diagnosed.
I glanced back and nodded a farewell to Jeffery’s mom. We would meet again, I knew. Sometime when we were both healthy, showered, and able to see out of both eyes. Maybe my hair would be done, maybe it wouldn’t. I would like to think I would be wearing mascara.
Ultimately, I guess it wouldn’t really matter. We were all in the same boat, trying to navigate our way through the crazy days parenthood. And that was exactly where I wanted to be.