About a week ago I was at Hannaford, a local supermarket, when my cart and I happened down the beauty aids aisle. That aisle is not on our normal route because it also contains disposable diapers and baby food and I am glad to be out of the diaper and baby food business. (Though I confess I’ve slurped down a jar or two of Earth’s Best apples blueberries while our infant sons napped.)
Beauty is on my mind these days: that is, the desire not so much to enhance beauty, but rather to diminish signs of aging.
Perhaps it’s that our twentieth wedding anniversary is coming up in less than a month and I wonder how that is possible. (Tune into the White Sox vs the Red Sox at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago on July 21 and look for us in the right field box just beyond first base.) Perhaps it’s that my formerly sweet-smelling boys have begun to need to use deodorant. Perhaps it was that I was recently playing with my digital camera and after taking a close up of myself was horrified by what appeared on the screen. I immediately thought If only I’d bought the camera with 6.3 megapixels instead of 5.0.
But whatever brought me to face the wall of facial moisturizers and cleansers doesn’t matter. There I stood, staring down my destiny.
The variety of supermarket products always astounds me. There is a scene from "Moscow on the Hudson" when Robin Williams, playing a defecting circus clown, is sent by the family he’s living with to buy coffee. He scans the coffee aisle and has a panic attack trying to decide which brand to buy. I felt a little like that. I knew I could go to the counter at Filene’s and get some feel-good, gratuitous advice from a 24 year-old with perfect skin who wears too much makeup, but that would be admitting something. Blithely tossing a hapless jar of face cream in a shopping cart with the eggs and grapes and orange juice somehow dilutes the compulsion that drives me.
I ended up with Age Defying Daily Renewal Cream with Beta Hydroxy. At least they didn’t spell it crème. I also chucked in a box of exfoliating cleansing towelettes by Oil of Olay. What the hell.
I’m okay until I have to check out. I put my two age-defying products on different areas of the conveyor belt so the cashier and the bagger won’t think I’m desperate. Otherwise, they might pity me and give knowing looks as the cashier slides the Daily Renewal Cream down to the bagger. Another one.
As I pushed my cart to the end of the check-out so the bagger can load it, I slid my debit card through and looked down to see my Cream and my cleansing towelettes side by side among the groceries. Busted. I glanced up to my young bagger and cashier and realized that they were talking about when each would take their evening break.
At home the boys were playing whiffleball in the yard. I ducked into the bathroom to wash my face with a towelette and dab on some Daily Renewal Cream. My in-laws were coming for dinner so I put on some lipstick. It makes my mother-in-law happy.
Over dinner my husband Scott explained to his parents how we’ve been asking our boys to remain the same age every year since they turned six.
"I would say to them, 'Would you please just stay ten for another few years?' And they would always say, 'Sorry, Dad, it just doesn't work that way.'"
This was too much for Martin who was sitting beside me at the table. "Dad, would you want to stay 44 forever?" he asked. My father-in-law who was about to turn 79, burst out laughing and he and Scott both sang immediately and emphatically, "Yes!"
This evening my boys and I went to a concert performed by our friend Jay. He was dedicating an organ for the new worship space at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church just up the road. I sat between Martin and Colin to keep an eye on them. Martin, my musician, was fine: calm, still, attentive. Colin, on the other hand, was fidgety. He had an inflamed bug bite high on his right thigh and kept scratching it from every vantage point.
"Would you please be still and quit scratching," I hissed several times. He would nod and nuzzle me like a puppy.
"Would you please leave me alone and listen." I warned him with narrowed eyes. "Listen to the music with your eyes closed," I said. "You’ll hear how complex it is."
Because the organ was behind us in the balcony many people in the audience had turned to face the rear. Some of them had their eyes closed, listening – screening out all the other sensory information. Many of them were older people: lovers of organ music, St. Pat’s parishioners, who’s to say what brought the audience there. Some were middle-aged, some were children.
And while they listened I watched the people in the audience, their faces turned way from the altar, and saw how beautiful they were as they listened to beautiful music. I turned my gaze from face to face. These faces, many worn and wrinkled and lived in, each with a million stories to tell, were full of beauty. I thought of my Age Defying Daily Renewal Cream with Beta Hydroxy and wondered what had I hoped to escape. And why.
Lately I’ve been gardening in bare feet and I’m afraid it shows. I’d worn my Tevas to the concert (this is Maine after all – Teva, Merrills, or Bean boots cover just about any footwear exigency) and realized that my toes hadn’t really been ready for public display. At home, after the concert, I was looking for some foot soak crystals in the bathroom when Martin walked in holding a plastic container.
"What are these?" he asked just as it occurred to him that maybe the answer might draw him into a sexuality conversation he’d prefer to overhear me having with this brother.
I looked up from the medicine cabinet. "Oh, those are Age Defying Cleansing Towelettes." I tried to say it with a straight face so he wouldn’t catch on that they were silly. Busted. He burst into manic laughter.
"Age defying. Good luck, Mom," he pounded his fist against the door with bottomless mirth. This turn in the conversation was more than he could have hoped for. "Colin," he called to his brother at the top of his voice, "You gotta see this. Mom’s trying to make herself look young."
I grabbed the box of towelettes, opened it and took a towelette. "Do you want me to read to you tonight?" This is the question I always ask when I mean business. We’ve just gotten an advance copy of a book they really want me to read to them and I knew that the no reading threat had some kick to it.
"Yes, we do," Martin said, beating a quick retreat into his bedroom.
When wet, the towelettes are lovely. One side is rough for exfoliating dead skin, the other is soft for gentle cleansing. I gave the towelette a little squeeze, wet a washcloth for rinsing and walked into Colin’s room where we always do our reading.
"What are you doing?" Colin asked from his bed.
"Washing my feet with an Age Defying Cleansing Towelette."
Sometimes mothers are so weird it doesn’t pay for an 11 year-old boy to ask questions.
"Does it feel nice?" he asked just as Martin came into the room, flopped on the floor and passed Colin a knowing look.
"Yes," I said, scrubbing my toes with the rough side. "It feels lovely. I think my feet are looking younger already, don’t you?"
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