I saw that on a sign in a store I was visiting for the first time, a craft store.
I thought about buying the little sign to put near my bathroom mirror, but decided it was too expensive. Instead, I decided to write about it.
Growing up with a house full of sisters, I witnessed a lot of primping in the name of beauty.Even though we were all taught about ‘beauty on the inside’ – every unwanted task ‘built character,’ according to Mother – I think, like most girls, we all strove for outward beauty, too, to some point.As the youngest, I wanted to emulate my older sisters, but I never liked dresses or pantyhose, and I was no good at the hair and makeup routine.In spite of my sister Missy’s best efforts, I was still a tomboy at heart and was most comfortable bare-faced, wearing jeans and a ponytail. Missy would fix my hair and do my makeup for special occasions, but if left to my own devices, I would scrub it all off and tie my hair back.
Besides — Mother didn’t have pierced ears, and she didn’t wear makeup save for a touch of lipstick on special occasions.Was my mother beautiful?Oh, yes.She had lovely skin, thick, wavy hair, and shapely legs.She had a twinkle in her blue eyes and a warm smile accented with her trademark gap.
My sisters eschewed elaborate makeup and lengthy hair rituals.It was just not important to them (or to me).My sisters who did use makeup and did spend time with curlers and Aqua-Net looked lovely but never overly ‘done.’Less is more, Mother would say.And it didn’t matter what else you wore, as long as you were wearing a smile.My sisters all wore lovely smiles, with clear eyes and kind words.My sisters are all beautiful, makeup or no.
I think that helped me feel confident in my choices.I could throw on some blusher and lip gloss when I had to, but I wasn’t about to get up at 5 a.m. and spend the next two hours putting on my face and wielding a curling iron.
In the awkward years of adolescence, I tried to find myself in the magazines and department stores.I borrowed my sister’s clothes to try to look more stylish and more like her.I tried to talk my mom into buying me a pair of Sperry Topsiders, the loafers I saw in Seventeen magazine.I was convinced that if I had those, I could surely pull off that Phoebe Cates back-to-school look.No go.At various times I tried to update my look to the Farrah Fawcett feathered ‘do, the poodle perm and the Dorothy Hamill wedge cut.Um, no.None of them worked for me.I figured I was doomed to be utterly plain and style-free.
In my twenties, with a little more confidence, I dressed up a little more and wore makeup more often, under my sister’s tutelage, of course.Mostly it was because Missy wouldn’t go out with me unless I did.It was a fun time, and I always marveled at how she could look so put together, even in a pair of jeans.It never rubbed off on me, though – she was Missy, and I was not.I couldn’t borrow someone else’s look.I had to find my own.
Let’s be clear – I don’t consider myself beautiful.As far as looks go, I think I’m pretty solidly in the middle between ‘Eek!’ and ‘Wowza!’I never had much of a figure; I’m built more like a tree trunk than an hourglass.I’m content to hide my legs and cankles under jeans most of the time.My butt is flat, which led me to live in nothing but Levi’s 501 jeans for a while.They fit me better than girls’ jeans ever did.I don’t have an eye for fashion, so I stick with what I know, which is jeans and sweatshirts.As Mother would say, “All my taste is in my mouth.”
My best feature is probably my eyes, but they’ve been behind glasses since I was 7.(Of course, that is what all fat chicks get complimented on, anyway.)I like my hair, too. It has always been thick and full (less so now as I age), but it does have a mind of its own.A wave here, a cowlick there, and it was just too stubborn to do what I wanted it to.So short hair or ponytails have been my go-to styles.
I have rarely worn makeup.I rationalized that if you didn’t like my face the way God made it, you didn’t have to look at me.(I still feel that way.)I married a man who has never been crazy about makeup on women.‘What are they trying to hide?’ he says.He says makeup is best when you can’t see it.So if I don’t wear it, he can’t see it – perfect, eh?And he still thinks I’m beautiful. Confession: I recently replaced the 20-something year old makeup in my bag with a few new, fresh items.I don’t need much, but a touch of lip tint is nice.
So – honestly – I love the BeYouTiful sentiment.
I came to terms with my face a long time ago. (Still working on the body part.) I am no beauty queen, but I am me, and I can still be a strong, beautiful me.I want to smile with confidence, hold my head up, and look the world in the eye.I want to wear bold colors and stand up straight instead of shrinking back and trying to hide.I want to stop holding back and hesitating.I want to speak my mind.I want to love my life and who I am and where I’m going.
My mother was a war bride; not in the foreign-born sense, but in the sense that she married a soldier headed overseas. It was February 26, 1944; she was just shy of 17 and her man was 21, looking sharp in his Army uniform. There were quite a few new brides in her high school; sadly, some would become new widows, as well. Mother always told me she never doubted that the man she loved would return to her, and maybe her faith and his determination helped make it happen. I don’t know, but I’m just thankful it did.
My father had a rough time returning to normal life after the war; in fact, nightmares plagued him for the rest of his life. In the first few months, he drank too much, trying to escape the horror show in his head. He didn’t sleep well for a long time; Mother recounted night after night of playing pinochle with him into the wee hours. Eventually the worst of it subsided, and they became a normal, post-war family.
Both of my parents loved children and wanted lots of them. Curious people would see their little ones and ask if our family was Catholic, and my mother would say with a wink and a smile, “Not Catholic – passionate Protestant.” By the time I came along in 1964, they had been married 20 years and already had six children. And as it turned out, seven was enough. The house my dad built had already been pushed out more than once from its original floor plan to accommodate more bedrooms.
Raised during the Great Depression, Mother and Dad had learned the hard lessons of doing without, and with a house full of children on one income, they lived it daily. As the youngest, I don’t remember the hard times that my siblings do, but I do know that in my family, emphasis was never on material goods. We just didn’t live that way; we were happy with what we had, and those things that were important to us were love and family and character. I knew as a child that I didn’t have all the fancy stuff that my classmates did, but it didn’t really matter. I suppose we could have been considered poor, but by whose standards? We were loved.
Speaking of my classmates – I remember several of them had divorced parents and spent weekends alternating between their moms’ and dads’ houses, juggling stepparents and new siblings and the related upheaval. I have always been grateful that my parents never split up; I could see how divorce had a painful effect on my friends. Even when I was secretly jealous that my friend’s dad bought her a new stereo, I still felt sorry for her because she didn’t have both parents all the time, like I did. I don’t think I ever worried that my own parents would divorce – even though they argued, my parents genuinely loved one another and were committed to their marriage and our family.
Growing up in a big family taught us to share and to be patient; we learned to help each other, and we learned to work as a team. We were taught the Depression-era axiom, ‘Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.’ Hand-me-downs were common; toys and books passed from one child to the next; and bedrooms were shared. While Mother taught me where babies come from, growing up with sisters taught me about puberty and panty hose. In fact, it was my sister Wendy who taught me how to use a razor to shave my legs and underarms. I loved my big family.
My father was terribly outnumbered at home; after my brother moved out on his own, Dad was the only male. I often wonder how he kept his sanity back then surrounded by so many girls, but then I recall how much time he spent in his workshop and basement. Dad was a strict, but loving, father, but he saw the humor in his situation. One summer day, on a family vacation with just three of us girls, Dad was enjoying a cold beer outside our tent trailer, while inside the trailer was all kinds of commotion. Hearing it, a man from the neighboring campsite came over to see what was going on; Dad swung his beer hand in the direction of the trailer and explained with a wry smile, “I’ve got female problems.”
Some of my fondest memories growing up featured my parents showing their affection for one another. Many times I would see Dad take Mother’s hand and lead her gallantly through a few dance steps, whether there was music or not; I loved the smile on her face when he did that. Mother drew his baths, and she would go in to wash his back; when he came out, she would attend to his tired feet. They held hands, kissed, and hugged all the years they were married. They were demonstrative in their affection, and that’s how they raised us. All of us knew that our parents loved one another deeply, without reservation. That was how it was supposed to be, right?
Pa used to joke that his first wife was a Sasquatch. He joked about many things – how he’d spent time in the Swiss Navy and the Underground Balloon Corps, and that he was once a member of the Mess Kit Repair Battalion. He joked with the kids in the neighborhood that the sidewalk he was pouring was actually a baby elephant walk, and that the air compressor on wheels was a newfangled go-kart. But he took his role as husband and father very seriously. We girls grew from wanting to marry Daddy to wanting to marry someone just like him.
Mother was devoted to Dad; she first met him as her best friend’s big brother, and was instantly attracted to the handsome, quiet young man. She set out to spoil him, and she did. She learned to cook his favorite foods, and she treated him like a king. She appreciated that he worked hard to support the family and that he was a knowledgeable handyman who took care of the homestead. I asked her once about why we were having liver and onions for dinner when nobody liked it but Dad, and she looked me square in the eye and said, “Because your father likes it, and I cook for him. He gets up every morning at 5 o’clock to go to work, and he deserves to get what he likes for dinner. Now run along.” What a gal.
When I met my husband, I was happy to learn that his parents were also a long-married couple. Sadly, it seems surprising anymore. Because of this simple fact, our backgrounds were very similar, and we had much in common. We both hoped to find lasting love like our parents had, and we believed in the sacred commitment of marriage. He fit in well with my goofy family, and they embraced him; likewise, his family opened their hearts to me.
At my wedding shower, the ladies wrote marriage advice on note cards to give me. My mother’s said, Just remember – YOU are not perfect, either. Those words have sustained me through these married years when my frustration level rises. She also told me that men and women are different animals who speak different languages. She predicted that someday I would find myself in a heated argument with my husband, and suddenly recognize that we were actually on the same side. She was absolutely right, and it’s happened more than once. She was a smart one, my ma.
Over the years, after the kids had all grown up and had kids of their own, my folks settled into a routine of loving togetherness. When Dad’s eyes were bad, Mother read books aloud to him so they could enjoy them together. They helped one another with the chores and the cooking. They would linger at the table after a meal, enjoying their coffee and conversation. They took walks together each day to get a little exercise. Sometimes one of my sisters would join them, sometimes bringing her children along. It was a slower life, well earned by their earlier lives of hard work. One of my poetry-loving mother’s favorite verses was the first few lines of Rabbi Ben Ezraby Robert Browning: “Grow old along with me/the best is yet to be/the end of life, for which the first is made.” That was truly how they saw their twilight years.
My parents died tragically one night in a train crash fifteen years ago. They were on a cross-country trip to visit one of my sisters, and, just weeks before, had celebrated their 55th wedding anniversary. My sister Wendy died with them, as did her best friend. It’s a tremendous understatement to say how that tore the fabric of our lives apart; Mother and Dad were the hub of our family, and losing them changed everything we knew. But what they left us is everlasting: love, family, and character. Work hard; love God; be honest and kind; be grateful; and above all, cherish each other.
When I was a kid, one of my favorite pastimes was dressing up in the treasures I found in the Costume Box. The Costume Box was a large cardboard box, about half as tall as I was, stuffed with dress-up clothes and the remnants and makings of past years’ costumes. There was a little bit of everything in that box.
Digging through the Costume Box was a lot like shopping at the thrift store; the clothing even had that same musty smell. There were rips and stains, broken zippers, missing buttons, and worn-out elastic. But that didn’t matter, because inside that box lay nearly infinite potential. Inside that box were dancers and witches and hobos and ghosts and loggers and eccentric old aunties; monsters and princesses and soldiers and cowboys and even the Devil himself. The only limit was our imagination.
One of my favorite finds in that box was an itchy crinoline slip with a torn seam. In their younger years, my parents had been members of a square dancing club, and my brother and eldest sister also danced. This was way before my time, but I’d seen photos of them in their finery, and I loved the look of the stand-out slips under the full skirts. I would shimmy into that crinoline and spin around until I was dizzy. It made me feel like a princess.
When my middle school gym teacher announced that we would be learning to square dance, I begged Mother to make me a square dance skirt. I pictured myself in a fancy skirt that swished as I swung through a do-si-do. I just knew I would be the best dancer in the whole class, because I would have the best outfit.
Mother made me a lovely circle skirt of blue gingham check. When I tried it on with the crinoline I was so happy! It was gorgeous, and I couldn’t wait to dance in it. I would have slept in it, if Mother had let me.
The day we were to begin square dancing in gym class, I proudly donned the skirt and crinoline and a white, peasant-style blouse. Mind you, I was probably eleven years old and not fully acquainted with what was ‘cool’ and what was not. (I’m still like that.) By the time I arrived at school, the kids on the bus had conveyed to me in no uncertain terms that my beautiful skirt and itchy slip were most definitely not cool. I tried to ignore their laughter, but they weren’t the only ones; many other kids were happy to inform me, as well.
I arrived in class with my spirit dampened and my enthusiasm trampled, but I still looked forward to dancing. My teacher, bless her heart, complimented me on my outfit, encouraging me to stand and twirl to show it off. She then had me demonstrate some of the moves we would be learning, which effectively silenced my critics and allowed me to salvage some tatters of my pride.
I never wore that skirt to school again. The memory of the ridicule still stings a little. Before long I outgrew it, and it was forgotten with the other clothes that were now too small for my awkward, adolescent body. I like to think the skirt made its way to the Costume Box to join the crinoline, but I don’t know for sure.
Perhaps it went to the Salvation Army so some other little girl could feel like a princess in an itchy crinoline and twirly skirt. I can only hope.
I started to write a post about how my life with hearing devices is going (and I was on a roll) when I looked something up online that pointed me in a slightly different, but more interesting, direction…
While researching a condition called Hyperacusis, where a sensitivity to certain sounds (also called a lowered Loudness Discomfort Level, or LDL) causes discomfort or pain, I discovered something: I have a set of symptoms that correspond to a recently discovered (well, around 2000 or so) neurological disorder called Misophonia, or Selective Sound Sensitivity Syndrome (4S). I’ve had these symptoms for many years – so long that I can no longer recall a time I didn’t experience them. When I hear certain sounds, I get an immediate, irrational, extreme fight-or-flight reaction: rage, panic, severe anxiety, hate, and disgust…over something as simple as someone whistling or clicking a pen. Sometimes even visual stimuli can cause the same reaction as auditory triggers.
While we all have certain sounds that bother us, this isn’t like that. This is a reflex; I can’t stop it from happening, nor can I control it. My stomach tightens, my heart pounds, I feel provoked to fist-shaking anger, and I cannot ignore the sound. It is so distracting to me that it becomes my sole focus. My best bet would be to avoid the stimuli (‘triggers’) that cause the problem, but that is not always possible; in fact, it is rarely possible, especially in a work or social environment.
Every day is an opportunity for trigger sounds, in every environment. I go to a meeting, and someone is absentmindedly clicking his pen. I go to the store, and the teenager in front of me in line is snapping her gum. I go to the movie theater, and the people behind me drive me crazy with the wrapper on their snacks. As much as I try to keep my emotion in check when it happens, I usually fail miserably and end up glaring at the person making the sound. Most of the time, the person doesn’t even realize they’re doing it and has no way of knowing how violently it affects me. I feel guilty and embarrassed to have such strong reactions to such innocuous noises, and I know that it makes me seem cranky or bitchy, but I can’t help it.
When I was young, my mother’s whistling spurred me to inexplicable anger every time I heard it – it was as if she had provoked me to fight. She couldn’t understand it, and I couldn’t explain it. Whistling was something my very musical mother truly enjoyed, and she did it without thinking. If I could, I’d go somewhere else, but that wasn’t always possible. She tried to comply when I’d ask (or angrily tell) her to stop, but it made no sense. To this day, I loathe the sound of whistling. Likewise, the sound of chewing gum, especially with ‘snapping’ or ‘cracking’ noises, sends me into orbit; for that reason, I have always told my kids that if they have gum, I don’t want to see it or hear it.
Through my (limited) online research, I discovered that I am not alone in this affliction. While it is not an official mental disorder, it is a defined set of symptoms and has been suggested for classification as a discrete psychiatric disorder in the Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) spectrum, for the purpose of official diagnoses and treatments as well as better recognition and research by the professional medical community. It was first identified in the research and treatment of tinnitus. It is neither a result nor factor in hearing loss; rather, it seems to relate to the limbic system, the structure of the brain that controls emotion and behavior. A small number of studies and reviews have been conducted, but research seems to suggest that misophonia may be a result of dysfunction in the same cortices of the brain where Tourette’s is also indicated. There is also data to suggest it might be a form of Synesthesia, a neurological condition where stimulus to one sense gets not only the correct response in that sense, but a simultaneous reaction in another sense; for example, some people ‘hear’ colors or ‘taste’ sounds.
I am thrilled that there is a name for what I have suffered with for most of my life. I don’t know where it came from or whether I will ever find relief, but it is good to know that my wildly disproportionate reaction to certain sounds is not a result of me being unreasonable and bitchy. It is not because I am in a bad mood. It is not because I am controlling, selfish, angry, judgmental, or annoying — although I might well be all of those, they are not the reasons why I might throw you out the window if you decide to chew ice or crack peanuts next to me.
I was thinking about how different this August is from last August. In June, I celebrated Number Young Son’s graduation from high school; but what he probably didn’t know is that I also celebrated the end of school clothes shopping. I hate clothes shopping. I have always hated clothes shopping. And I will hate clothes shopping as long as I live.
Yes, I said it.
Shopping and I have had a mutually antagonistic relationship from the start. School clothes shopping was by far the worst. For one thing, Mother was practical. She had to be, with seven children on one income. She tried very hard to be equitable for each child while maintaining her budget. So there was an allowed amount that would be spent on each of us; we would get shoes, a winter coat, undies and socks, and maybe a new outfit. Being the youngest, my wardrobe was supplemented with hand-me-downs, too, and Mother also sewed for us.
In grade school, my mother would take me to the local stores for clothes and would choose several things for me to try on. I hated — no, loathed — trying on clothes. I was a chubby girl, and it was hard to find clothes that fit me right. She would come into the changing room with me, and after I dressed, I would have to stand before her, following her direction to turn, bend, squat, and raise my arms. She would tug on zippers and snaps, check snug waistbands, adjust crooked seam lines, and button my blouses clean up to the top, with running commentary about my posture (“Stand up straight!”), the fit of the clothes (“Now, why would anyone put bust darts in a child’s blouse?”), and their construction (“That wouldn’t see three washings before falling apart!”). Ugh. By the end of the day, Mother and I would be angry and frustrated with one another, and I would try to distance myself as far from her as possible, which was hard to do in the car. I grew up hating clothes shopping, and that has stayed with me all my life.
When I was a teenager, clothes shopping trips were a little better, only because Mother would load us up in the station wagon and drive 45 minutes to the only mall around. Plus, Mother no longer had to come into the changing room with me. It was one of the two times we would go there each year — once for school shopping and once for Christmas shopping. My sister and I would be chatting about all of the new fashions of the fall that we had seen in magazines and catalogs, and we were eager to make our pilgrimage to the department stores and mall shops.
I would follow my sister’s lead into the junior department, where she would find cute clothes at bargain prices. Missy was a great shopper — she had style and an eye for quality. She had extra cash from her babysitting jobs, so she often bought accessories to make her outfits more versatile. She enjoyed shopping, and her enthusiasm kinda rubbed off on me during those trips. Instead of getting frustrated with clothing that didn’t fit, like I did, she’d shrug it off and find something else. We’d hit a few stores that were having big sales, and eventually, we’d be done. Mother often put our items on layaway, which was more affordable, but that meant we couldn’t even bring our new treasures home yet. All that work and nothing to show for it — what a letdown.
The only part of school shopping I actually liked, rather than tolerated, was when we would buy school supplies. Now that was fun — new PeeChees, unchewed #2 pencils, hard pink erasers, and later, binders, compasses, and a TI-30 calculator. I loved the stiffness of the new folders, the perfect point on the freshly-sharpened pencil, and the clean, white pages of the new spiral notebooks. I would try to negotiate with Mother for the ‘cooler’ pens — Flair felt-tipped or a nice Bic 4-color retractable — and sometimes she gave in. When I got my own babysitting money, I spent it on a fountain pen with different-colored ink cartridges, finely perforated notebooks that wouldn’t leave the ragged edge that spirals do, and mechanical pencils with fine lead. In high school, I had pens of every color and style, stencils, stickers, fancy binders, and a better calculator. I still made paper-sack book covers, though. Didn’t everyone?
When my own children became school-aged, I had to step into my mother’s role and take my kids shopping. I had to endure their frustration with the changing room routine as I found myself doing the same things Mother did: tugging at zippers and snaps, checking snug waistbands, and commenting on the quality of the clothing and my children’s posture. It never failed that the size they wore at the beginning of summer was too small by fall. I budgeted a set amount for each child and broke it down to shoes and coats and pants and shirts. I hit all the sales in all the stores and tried to get it done before we were all tired and cranky from hunger. Still, for me, the best part of school shopping was done not at the mall, but in the stationery section of the department store. Binders. Composition books. Protractors. Crayons. Glue. Red pencils. Blue pencils. Index cards. Rulers. I was in heaven. My sons didn’t care at all about a certain type of pen, nor were they concerned about the lead thickness in their mechanical pencils, but I shopped my little heart out. It sorta made up for the other stuff. Sorta.
When my sons entered high school, clothes shopping got easier. I’d follow them around to the stores as they tried on what they liked, and I’d whip out my credit card and sign on the dotted line. That kind of shopping I can do. We didn’t have to spend a lot of time browsing and pawing through racks of clothing for just the right color or style; we didn’t have to try on 10 different outfits at each store. Get them some sneakers, some socks and underwear, some shorts and tee-shirts, and maybe a hoodie, and that was fine. It was a necessary fall ritual, and although I didn’t hate it with them as much as I did when I was young, it still wasn’t on my list of fun things to do. Sorry, guys. I love you, but I hate shopping — that’s just how I am.
College — that’s the new mindset. It’s a whole different ballgame, but at least they can do their own shopping. Thank goodness.