Emily Parnell — Life lessons can be found everywhere, even in a makeup bag

08/06/2013 5:51 PM

08/06/2013 5:51 PM

“Oh my GOSH, mom. Why are you so obsessed with putting on makeup?” My son lounged on my bed, just outside the bathroom door, watching me rummage for lip gloss. I was getting ready to work on-site for a client, and he was anxious to get to his grandma’s.

“I’ll be just a minute, be patient,” I said.

“But this is taking forever,” he moaned.

Don’t feel sorry for him, I’m a speed-makeuper, and can usually go from bare face to made up in a minute-thirty, flat. I opt for sparse, and try not to overemphasize appearances — for myself or for my kids.

“Shhh,” I heard my 7-year-old daughter tell him quietly. “You don’t want to hurt her feelings. She’s putting on makeup so nobody will notice she has gray hair.”

“What??” he gasped, his voice rising in volume. “How old is mom? Is she like, 60 or something?” For some reason, he was shocked by this revelation about the true color of my hair. Even at that moment, silvery strands could be glimpsed at my part line. He’s had plenty of opportunity to observe them.

“No,” said my daughter in a hushed whisper. “She’s only 20. Sometimes people get gray hair when they’re 20. Like mom. And grandma.”

“MOM!” my son exclaimed. “Are you like 90 years old?”

“I’m 41,” I said.

“You look very pretty, mom,” my daughter said. Her tone was meant to be complimentary, I’m sure, but borderlined on patronizing. “Nobody will know your hair is gray.”

She’s quite interested in the color of my hair. She likes to contrast its natural color to the box color I choose to wear. When it’s time to recolor, she digs in my hair to examine my current silver against my close-to-original medium brown that I now dye it. She takes note of whether there’s more gray this time and reports her findings.

“Why don’t you just let your hair be gray?” my kids asked me.“Is it because you don’t want to look old?” Then they added, “And why do you always put on makeup?”

Their questions are valid, and these are formative years. I suspect my answers are important. And when I stop to think, it’s hard to pinpoint my answer. It’s complicated, don’t you think? The answer is a complex mix of conforming to society, denying my age, trying to please myself and others, and unwillingness to adapt to change. And none of these sound like very good lessons to be teaching my kids, do they? Yet I hardly think it’s horrible for me to throw on some lip liner and mascara before I go out. There’s a balance in there, somewhere.

“Oh, it’s fun sometimes,” I tell them. And that’s true.

“So, why doesn’t daddy wear makeup? Or color his hair?” This question would complicate my answer even further. Now, we’d have to weave gender into the explanation.

I have yet to answer them. For days, I’ve mulled it all over and have most certainly reached the point of over-thinking.

Maybe it requires no explanation. Maybe the conclusions that they’ve drawn on their own are accurate — and fine. Perhaps it’s just a reminder that they’re watching — and drawing their own conclusions — and that everything I do is a lesson for them, but sometimes the lesson comes as an observation

because of me, not from me.

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