With another birthday fast approaching, I thought I’d share this old post written way back in 2011.
THE HISTORY OF LIPSTICK – CHAPTER ONE
I wore lipstick on Easter Sunday, 1963. I was twelve.
In 1963, twelve was young for lipstick. None of my classmates were allowed. Only the grown-up girls. The eighth graders.
But that was the point. I had older sisters. I needed to be a teenager long before I was one.
My lipstick was pink. “Pink Cameo”, I think, from Cutex.
This was Jackie Kennedy’s shade, or so I had read.
I bought it at McClelland’s Five and Ten for 39 cents. My first makeup purchase.
The makeup aisle at McClelland’s did not have all the makeup hanging from hooks, like stores today. Instead were long tables, with cubes holding the different products and brands: Maybelline, Cutex, Helen Rubenstein.
From the time I was nine, I had visited that table weekly, transfixed. How I coveted all those little tubes and compacts. I waited for the day when I could spend my allowance here, rather than at the candy counter.
I didn’t buy Pink Cameo on the sly. I had my mother’s permission. My mother was, and still is, wise. She knew I was heartbroken that my sisters were teenagers. And lipstick was a small consolation.
My mother didn’t worry. I looked like this:
Sort of a vacuous Anne Frank, with stupider hair. Pink Cameo wouldn’t make the older boys start hanging around my front yard.
And so I wore lipstick on Easter Sunday, 1963. I sang in the church choir. “Alleluia” – a skinny flat-chested daydreamer with bright pink lips.
Ten months later I turned into a teenager. The Beatles sang on the Ed Sullivan Show on February 9, 1964 – my thirteenth birthday.
I still love The Beatles. I still love lipstick.
Last week I learned that there is a very fine line between resonating with folks and touching a nerve.
My essay about judging your kids caused quite an uproar.
Interesting to me was the difference in reaction depending on the source of the reader.
The people who read my blog on The Huffington Post were overwhelmingly negative. It seems that The HuffPost reader is a tad sensitive on whether I have the right to judge their kids (and their parenting) – without children of my own. Which actually was the whole point. I don’t think it’s fair to exclude me from commenting on how your children behave – when they are behaving in my presence. Or to say that I know nothing about parenting since I do not have children of my own.
No, I don’t have children. I am sorry that I don’t. I wish I did. You don’t always get everything you want in life. So I have to make do with enjoying and loving your children.
And I do.
But I also think that many kids could benefit from a more strenuous instruction in and enforcement of good manners.
But that doesn’t mean I hate kids. Or expect them to be perfect. For the last 40 years, I’ve had nieces and nephews and grandnieces and grandnephews, and I’ve seen my friends’ children grow up and have children of their own.
I know that all kids can be both little angels and little demons – often within the same minute. I also know that it’s difficult to be a good parent, and most folks are just doing the best they can. My sister-in-law commented that during the kindergarten years she wasn’t too concerned about whether her kids were hitting their classmates – she was just happy they weren’t biting their classmates.
I didn’t think I was nasty in my essay. I thought I was rather understanding. But hundreds of folks over at the Huffington Post thought I was an evil, rotten monster-bitch to even suggest that, overall, kids should behave. One even found my Facebook Author Page and called me some vile names. Now HuffPost is an open forum, and people can say whatever they wish. But my Facebook page is MY page. I require civility.
On the upside, the response may have been overwhelmingly negative, but then again, it was also just plain overwhelming. People read what I wrote. I’m a writer. I got read. Doesn’t get much better than that.
But actually, it does.
Because you amazing people who read my blog were overwhelmingly positive.
I believe the difference between your reaction and the Huffington reaction is that you KNOW me. You’ve read a few of my essays; you see that I am not a mean person. I’m a kind person. I look for the best in human beings. And I find it. Always.
Some people (including the special one I live with) tell me that I am naive. That I can be oblivious to the awful people and the horrible dangers that constantly surround me.
But I’m not naive. I understand that not everyone is benevolent.
But most people are.
Good people are everywhere. And if I concentrate on good people, it helps me be a good person too.
I believe I am a happier person than those who look for the worst in humanity. And why wouldn’t I want to be happy?
Thank you, good friends, for understanding me.
Years ago, I became friends with a co-worker whose life was very unlike my Ozzie and Harriet existence.
Especially in the boyfriend arena. I had no boyfriend of record. Karen had a boyfriend with a record.
And I don’t mean he was churning out hits like Ozzie’s son Ricky.
No. He was an ex-con.
Jeff had been in and out of prison a couple of times. Mostly drug charges and larceny. Can I say that this criminal was at heart a gentle soul? He seemed so to me.
Karen and I worked in a small office, upstairs from a liquor store (which was very convenient for everyone). Given that we were a small nonprofit agency, there wasn’t a lot of money for things like cleaning services, so Karen boosted her income by cleaning the office twice a week.
But most of the time, it wasn’t Karen who was doing the cleaning. She sent her boyfriend, Jeff, who almost always owed her money, and so he would do her maintenance job to pay her off.
I was an up-and-coming young executive, by which I mean I was a kid who was working my ass off hoping someone would notice and pay me more than minimum wage. So I often worked evenings.
Mostly I was alone in the evening. And although there was a lot of traffic going in and out of the liquor store, few people knew there was even an office up there, so it seemed safe to me, working in the quiet solitude.
On Tuesday and Thursday nights, Jeff would show up. He’d clean the restrooms and take out the trash and vacuum. We’d chat while he went about his chores. Mostly about music. I think at one time he was a decent musician.
Once when Jeff was finishing up for the night, and I was still balancing reports, he said that I shouldn’t be working there all alone. It was dangerous, he said.
How Strange, I thought. Most people would think it more dangerous to be there with him.
Jeff talked a little bit about his troubles with the law.
“Sometimes when I think about stealing something,” he said, “I think about the chances I could get caught. Whether it would be worth taking the risk that I could go back to jail. And you know… sometimes it is.”
I was astounded, but tried not to show it. I’m sure I looked like a kitten being confronted by a python.
“No shit,” Jeff said. “Prison isn’t that bad. I’m not so good at doing the right thing -getting up and going to work, or eating right, or cleaning up after myself. In prison, you don’t have to even think about anything. You do what they tell you and you work and eat and sleep and it’s okay.”
There’s a lot of truth there.
When I think about my childhood, it’s one of the things I miss most: NOT making decisions.
Life was so much easier when I didn’t have to choose. I just did what Mom and Dad said, and there was a meal on the table and clothes in the closet and gas in the car and heat and electricity and sometimes even a vacation.
Now I am faced with so many decisions, and I don’t find it agreeable at all.
Little ones, like today, when I had to decide whether to stay home sick or go to work sick. Infect everyone? Or look like a shirker?
And our old reliable SUV needs a major, expensive repair. Do we pay the exorbitant sum to fix it and hope it stays reliable? Or do we trade it in, and add another car payment to our monthly expenses? And if we do trade it in, what do we buy? New? Used? Do we lease?
On top of that, my retirement is now fast-approaching. My soon-to-be-diminished income isn’t helped by either a big car repair or a big car payment. And even more critical, where do we even want to live? Do we head south, where costs are lower and the weather suits our temperament, or do we stay north,where our friends and family provide the warmth?
I just can’t decide.
I want someone to decide for me.
I need someone to decide for me.
Except my husband, of course.
I resent that.
I have no kids.
Looking back on it, I see that my childlessness resulted from a combination of circumstances and nature – but also some unfortunate decisions on my part. Or rather, the lack of decision. Sometime inaction turns into a decision in itself.
Last year I published an essay that I had written fourteen years earlier, “Not Having Children.” It resonated with many women, and I was lucky enough to have The Huffington Post translate it into French and Spanish, and so I was able to share my experience with more women than I had ever imagined.
I have a happy life, though, and – except for that very big one – few regrets.
So this may be a rather serious post, but it is not a sad one.
It is irritating – and unfair – that because of my childlessness, I am also considered excluded from commenting on child-rearing. “Oh, you just don’t KNOW,” say Mothers everywhere when I venture an opinion on kids’ behavior.
But I DO know. Who better to see the good and not-so-good in children than someone who has had nothing but objective observation for decades? I have no vested interest. I am not comparing your little monsters to my little monsters. I am not sizing up your parenting skills against mine. I am not going to start a sentence with, “Back when I was raising my Joey….”
I see. I really see.
I see that a kid of four should no longer hit.
I see that a kid of five should be able to eat without extraordinary mess. There should be little food on floor or table. It can, however, still be on his plate, as I recognize all the fussy stages that kids go through.
By six, she should be able to wait maybe two minutes for anything, including you, before pulling out the cranky tears. If you run into me in the supermarket and want to chat, I know that your kid wants to get the show on the road. But two minutes of patience is not a bad thing to learn. And I am also aware that if we go over two minutes, all bets are off. This is a kid, not a saint.
Also by six, a kid should be able to lose a game once in a while. It is always fun to win, but to lose with good humor is a skill that will last her a lifetime.
A seven-year-old should know how to behave in public. I remember working in a kitchen shop years ago, and a tiny boy of maybe five came in with his mother. He walked over to me, past all the breakable dishes and glassware and announced: “I’m not touching anything. And I’m using my inside voice.” If a 5-year-old understands the rules, so should your 7-year-old.
And you should be able to take an eight-year-old to a restaurant. A kid-friendly restaurant is probably a wise choice, but once in a while, your kids should go someplace nice, and act nice. They should have some appropriate manners and conversation. This will help enormously in the future. Especially when you visit me. I like talking to and listening to your kids. I do not like yelling at them to stop jumping on the furniture or banging the piano. I’d rather discuss History and Kung Fu Panda – and so would they.
And while we are on the subject of food (and it seems that LOTS of kids’ behaviors revolve around food), I expect a nine-year-old to be polite about what he likes or doesn’t. Recently at a family gathering, a kid much older than nine called a certain dish, “disgusting.” I really don’t care whether it is my kid or not – or whether I am short of the correct parenting qualifications. I told that kid – pleasantly enough – that someone at that very table took the time and trouble to make that food as a gift for us. That he could eat it or not eat it. But that he was not allowed to call it disgusting.
My expectations are realistic. I know the difference between overtired and bratty. I have a tremendous amount of patience (and sympathy for you, by the way) for the kid who is having a meltdown because it’s already seven-thirty and you’re still running errands, and he hasn’t had dinner yet.
And I know that good behavior is far more plentiful than bad behavior – we just notice the bad stuff more.
One more comment: With regards to “overtired” – it seems there is a huge increase in kids who are over-extended and under-rested. So please, for the sake of their well-being and your sanity (and mine), give the kids a decent bedtime.
And give them a hug and kiss for me when you put them to bed.
Because down deep, I wish they were mine.
Ten weeks ago, my husband took my puppy for his first haircut.
I had to work. But I should have known better. I should have taken the day off. Dads cannot communicate what Moms want for their kids’ hairdos.
Theo is a Lagotto Romagnolo, an ancient Italian breed that is the ancestor to the Standard Poodle, the Portuguese and Spanish Water Dogs, and just about every water dog and retriever since the Middle Ages.
In fact, here’s a painting called “The Meeting” by Andrea Mantegna from 1474.
See the dog at the lower left?
He’s a Lagotto Romagnolo. From more than 500 years ago.
And check this guy out. It’s a painting from the 1600s by Il Guercino, which translates to “The Blinker,” so I am thinking that it is a self-portrait of the weird-eyed human on the right.
Compare the doggie above with my Theo’s mama, who has the un-mama name of Dada:
The breed hasn’t changed much in the last 400 years.
Lagottos (or Lagotti, not sure which is correct) are very popular in Italy and some other parts of Europe, because they are terrific truffle hunters.
In the U.S., they are still fairly rare – about 500 right now I think. And they were just recognized by the AKC, and so now compete in the big dog shows. Westminster, here we come.
Theo’s mom and dad are both Italian. Dada the Mama came to the U.S. already pregnant. So Theo is an anchor baby of the canine variety.
I am still waiting for him to find a truffle in our yard, so we can be rich.
But back to the haircut.
I was not pleased with Theo’s first haircut. Too short and with kind of a poodley pompadour at the top. And because he was shorn very close around his eyes (which of course he needs in order to see), the pompadour gave him a distinctly cro-magnon look. On top of that, I thought his ears were cut too short and too straight across. The total effect was kind of a cro-magnon-y Moe Fine.
So needless to say (which is an expression I should NEVER use, because if it was needless to say, I wouldn’t say it, but probably 87% of everything I say and write is needless, but my goal is to get down to 84% by the end of the year) – I accompanied Theo and my hubby on this week’s visit to the groomer.
I have a very hard time telling my own hairdresser exactly what I want. This is partially because I think she may actually know best what looks good on me, and partially because I’m never quite sure anyway of what I really want, and partially because I don’t want to upset her when she has scissors.
But I had no trouble telling the nice groomer what I wanted for my doggie’s hairdo.
The groomer spent two hours on Theo. I can have color, highlights, a trim, and a blow-dry in under two hours, but then again, my hairdresser only has to work with the top of my head, and not my feet and belly and private parts.
And of course, my hairdresser doesn’t deal with too much squirminess – in fact, she practically has to wake me up after her magic fingers shampoo technique.
Here’s Theo’s “before” shot:
Adorable, but lacking a certain quality – usually called “vision.”
Lisa the Groomer first combed out all his knots, of which he had quite a few, because we are not good parents.
Then it was time for the shampoo. Although this is my favorite part of my own trips to the hairdresser, it was not Theo’s favorite.
Then came the blow-dry. Theo was not overly fond of the noise, but he managed to keep it together, though his anxiety is evident.
Lisa gave him the full works on the blow-out – making him as fluffy as possible before the cut:
Time for the actual cut. I admit to getting a bit misty-eyed as the clippers mowed though all Theo’s beautiful fuzz. My husband and I had a bit of a disagreement on ear length, as my husband felt that my instructions left Theo’s ears too “girly” – whatever that means. So Lisa adjusted Theo’s ears to a more masculine ear – also whatever that means.
I borrowed my mother’s car this week, so my husband could work on our SUV. I’ve been driving the little convertible, but it’s winter, and Hubby doesn’t want to risk the convertible. It’s OK to risk my mother’s car.
She’s 92. She doesn’t drive much. She had my sister drive her to the DMV to renew her license. But she likes having that car in the driveway. She likes being an independent woman. She could drive if she WANTED to. That’s important – even when your hairdresser stops by and picks you up for your appointment. (I love my mother’s hairdresser.)
I don’t like to deny Mom that autonomy. Besides, it is embarrassing to have to borrow a car from your 92-year-old mother.
It’s also a little mortifying (can you be just a little mortified, or is it all or nothing?) to LIKE her car. I mentioned to a friend that I was a bit embarrassed, and she said, “Oh, your mom is in her nineties? Is it a Buick?”
And holy shit! It is!!!!
And I like it. A very smooth ride and steers with your pinkie finger.
But there are no seat-heaters.
I hate that.
Well, not to Mom, but on Facebook.
Facebook = The Complaint Department of the First World.
And a friend immediately wrote that she too had her parents’ car – they were in Florida for the winter and their car is better in the snow than hers. But with their car, she has to turn the headlights on and off. HERSELF.
I mean, really.
Does Life have be so hard?
I’m having a rotten week.
Why just the other day, I went to take the twelve thousandth photo of my dog, and I got video instead.
And this was right after my TV remote wouldn’t work, and I had to change the batteries. And I had to FIND the batteries.
And I tore a contact lens while putting it in – which I NEVER do – and I now I have 77 days of lenses for my left eye and 76 days for my right eye.
And I went to the coffee bar and they gave me my Cappuccino in a paper cup, when I clearly wanted to drink it there.
And there was a sale on bananas, so my husband bought 3 bunches, and now they are getting black and I don’t feel like making bread.
And I paid $3.95 for a movie on Pay-Per-View, and the dog had to go peepee right in the middle, and I missed 7 minutes while he dicked around trying to find just the right spot.
And I wanted to wear my lavender penny loafers on Wednesday, but it was raining and they’re suede.
AND someone stood in MY spot at Zumba.
PS: If you’d like to read my novel, JUST WHAT I ALWAYS WANTED – you can download the Kindle version thru January 17th for just 99 Cents! That’s like 3/10ths of a cent per page. Or, since it took me three years to write the book, you are just paying me 33 cents a year! Well below minimum wage! Just click here: JUST WHAT I ALWAYS WANTED
I recently had a discussion about the “inner child” – the well-founded idea that there is a distinct part of us that is still the small child we used to be. In the concept of the inner child, our greatest joys and greatest fears arise from the child we used to be. What we loved then, we love even more now. What terrified us then still terrifies us.
I agree with this concept, except for the idea of “inner.” For me – and for most people I know – the child is right out there for everyone to see.
I am still that plain little girl vying for my share of attention – trying to find a bit of spotlight for myself in the shadow of an older sister who was clearly a genius and another older sister who was a talented – and funny – musician. Every time I write something or draw a little cartoon – I am the same little girl shouting, “See? I have skills! Look at me!”
And my husband is still the same asthmatic little boy who wants to be strong and healthy and independent. The boy who can fix a car and a furnace and anything else. The boy out chopping wood right now with a neighbor who is at least 20 years younger.
And then there’s my friend who is traveling by herself to the exotic places that she used to circle on maps in the family encyclopedia.
My cousin whose Christmas cards reflect the awe he found more than 50 years ago, when seeing the stars through his first telescope.
The coworker at my previous employment who became paralyzed at the thought of any decision-making – “What if I am wrong?”
No – most of us do not have to get in touch with our inner child. We are still the blatantly the children we have always been. It is the adult that we only see glimpses of now and then.
These moments of adulthood are often attached to milestone events – getting our driver’s license, becoming a parent, the first time you file your tax return. Oh dear, you think, I seem to be an adult.
But it doesn’t last. Soon you are back to the elation of setting off firecrackers and the misery of your boss’s (i.e., parent’s) wrath, and hoping your friends will still like you after than dumb thing you said.
Sometimes the glimpse of the inner adult happens with small events too.
I was nineteen the very first time I felt like an adult. I was commuting to college and still living at home, in my twin-bed bedroom with the bright green walls, my brother in the next room building model airplanes and my mother making dinner.
I needed a new bathrobe, and I went to the department store. There were tons of pink and aqua fuzzy bathrobes. There was chenille and there was flannel. There were big pom-pom buttons and head-to-knee zippers.
But there was one bathrobe that stood out. Black. It was a floor-length wrap-around velour robe. With a leopard print shawl collar. I put that bathrobe on over my bell-bottom jeans and love beads. And I was transformed. I was a woman.
I came downstairs to breakfast the next morning, fully expecting either reprimand or ridicule from my mother. She said nothing.
And I wore that bathrobe for the next thirteen years. I wish I had it now.
I could use just a bit of adulthood right at this moment.
Yes, that is the title of my novel.
But it’s also exactly how I feel about this little guy.
What more could I possibly want?
With love from Nancy & Theo
My novel, JUST WHAT I ALWAYS WANTED, is completely fiction.
In the book, Cynthia (the main character) listens to her sister Angela’s remembrance of one long-ago Christmas.
Out of 92,000 words, this little anecdote – less than 800 words – is the one little bit of truth. A not-so-fictionalized account of the Christmas when I was five. The parents are my own Mom and Dad, and I am the little girl who received a fabulous present.
“Is my life a waste if I am good at selling clothes? What if this is just what I always wanted?”
Angela smiled in that serene way that makes me want to kiss her on the top of her head. She leaned back in her lawn chair and said to the sky, “What was the best Christmas present that you ever got?”
“The Snow White doll. No question.”
“Do you remember the story of the Snow White doll?”
“Just vaguely,” I answered, although I knew the story like I knew my prayers. But, oh, to hear it again, especially Angela’s version.
“Well,” she began, “that was the year that Mary Ann and I both had whooping cough. Mom wouldn’t leave us, not for a minute. It was just before Christmas, and she couldn’t shop. She had to send Dad out to buy the presents. Dad, who was hard pressed to buy a birthday card for Mom. Remember the time she sent him out for more bows for the Christmas presents and he came back with Hanukkah bows? Mom was beside herself, but he said that they were very pretty and on sale too, and so the Christmas presents that year had red and green paper and blue and white bows…now that I think of it, it may have been the same year…
Anyway, she gave him our Christmas lists that we had written to Santa, and told him to do his best.
On Christmas Eve, it got to be quite late before Mom and Dad started putting our presents under the tree. Mary Ann got the right side, near the piano, and I was on the left, near the door, and your presents were right in the middle, right under the center of the tree. Mom counted every present and made sure we all got exactly the same number of gifts.
‘They’ll count,’ she said, and you know we always did. She actually put away one present for Mary Ann that she saved for her birthday, so it would all be even-steven. She put out books, and games, and lacy socks, and ribbons, and a little horse with hair you could comb for Mary Ann, and a pogo stick for me. Remember that pogo stick? That was my all-time favorite. After everything was laid out and looked so beautiful, Mom sat admiring it all. Then she saw what was missing.
‘Where’s Cynthia’s doll?’ Mom asked Dad.
‘What doll?’ he said. ‘Look at all this great stuff!’
But no, Mom said, ‘Cynthia has to have a doll. She just has to have a doll.’
Well, you were five years old. You had never had a Christmas or a birthday without a doll. And Mom made Dad go out again late Christmas Eve to find a doll. It wasn’t like now, where there’re huge stores all open twenty-four hours. No, everything was locked up tight, and Dad drove around the deserted town looking for any store that might be open. And he finally saw a light. It was Noveck’s Pharmacy, and they were open for ten more minutes. And he bought the Snow White doll.
And he came home with this doll, and Mom gave him cocoa. And took away your crinoline slip and gave it to you for your birthday, so it would all still be even.
The next morning was the best Christmas we have ever had. Dad had interpreted our lists very liberally, and so we got what we had asked for, but in very unexpected ways.
Mary Ann had wanted a Liberace record and a jigsaw puzzle, but she had written it on one line, and Dad actually found a jigsaw puzzle of Liberace. And I got real seashells, when I had asked for seashell barrettes. Oh, we were delighted!
And you! You saw that Snow White doll and it was full-blown love. And when you opened the box and took out the doll, you saw that the cardboard scene behind the doll lifted out. And guess what was behind the cardboard? Why it was all the seven dwarfs. Dad didn’t even know that he hadn’t bought one doll, he bought eight!”
“I’ll love those dolls till the day I die.”
“Do you remember what you said when you saw them? You said, ‘This is just what I always wanted.’”
“It was true.”
“But you had never seen those dolls before. How could they be just what you always wanted?”
“Because I didn’t know it until I saw them.”
“Exactly,” said Angela.