My (Graying) Roots

There are roughly 32,863,021 essays that have been written about the bodies we get stuck with after we have kids. Mine isn’t going to be any better and I’m likely not going to say anything that sheds light on the subject of why I think that as a mom I have to look a certain way, but I am going to talk about where I am right now as I hang out in a body that is mine when I like it and not mine when I don’t. Hang tight.

When we lived in Chicago, B and I worked in the afternoons and evenings so we would hit the gym first thing in the morning. I would start my workouts by getting on the treadmill, setting it to the steepest incline, and watching Oprah on the gym TVs. I don’t remember anything Oprah ever said*, but I do remember these Suave commercials that would come on. They showed a series of images of a woman getting married, being pregnant, having a baby, and then holding a screaming two-year-old. By the end, the woman looked rundown and haggard. But fret not! Suave then enters her life and she is once again as exuberant and beaming as she was on her wedding day. Because that’s reasonable.

*This is probably good because then I’d feel bad that I don’t remember the opening prologue to the Canterbury Tales but I do remember something vapid and empty a talk show host said. I am an equal-opportunity forgetter.

I buy that stuff and eat it up. I don’t blame Suave for creating some ridiculous image of the merits of their shampoo. That shiz is cheap. It only costs like a dollar and some cents, so if you’re really disappointed when it doesn’t deliver, then you need to take a second and look at the price tag and realize that nothing that inexpensive is going to revamp your entire image. But I can pay $1.72 for an idea. Cheap me will fork it over. I buy it and convince myself that I’m treating myself and recreating the pre-baby me because the lady in the commercial was shiny.

I spotted my first gray hair when I was 26 and since then, word has spread on my scalp that gray has a home there. For awhile I was just plucking the thick wiry strands out with tweezers, but that eventually became as ridiculous as it sounds. So now, in addition to my lux Suave regimen, I also dye my roots every six weeks with a box of Garnier. Every time my husband sees that I have brought home another kit, he looks at me and tells me with a great deal of sincerity that I’m perfect as I am and I do not need it. I believe his sincerity and know that his words are true to him, but I still feel like I should be doing something. We don’t own our home, but I will occasionally call maintenance and have them fix something small. I can call maintenance on my hair too. I should probably take a bit more ownership of myself, as I’m not an apartment. I’m stuck with me.

I use the Garnier and the Suave because it’s inexpensive and it helps me fix myself up. The real issue is my weight. I put on fifty pounds during my pregnancy and have still not gotten rid of all of it. I’ve gone down two sizes since I had Cee, and I’m glad for it, but still my bod is not the same. I’ve heard a bajillion times from women who have gotten back to their pre-baby weight that even with that magic number reappearing on the scale, everything has shifted. Their bodies are like continents; they still contain the same amount of land mass, but instead of everything being spread out nicely, they are more like a Pangaea where everything’s all clustered up together and awkward. I’m not deluded into believing that I’ll ever be 20 again; you can’t grow a human inside of you and expect to be the same husk of a person that you were before. This is neither good nor bad. It’s just the way it is.

But I still hang onto that frustration that I’m aging. I’m not frustrated that I have fewer years left in my lifespan or that my hair is only as good as the last afterhours dye job I performed. I’m not frustrated that I’ve drunk so much coffee since Cee was born that I bought a box of Whitestrips, even though my teeth were never that white to begin with. These things don’t bother me. They are what they are, and if anything it’s nice to have another excuse to go to Target and buy things that make me feel like I fit in with some extrapolated version of Momhood.

What I am frustrated with is that I often look at my body through a before and after lens. I don’t trust my inclination to blame my less-than-stellar physique and hair on the fact that I’m now a mom. Those of you who have been around for awhile may remember that before Wee Cee was born, I was so afraid of this blog becoming a so-called “mommy blog”. This is basically because I viewed things touched by kids and parenting as less-than. It seemed too easy to just write about the kid all the time at the exclusion of everything else. And at the time, I wasn’t a mom, so there really was no way that I could have sincerely chronicled the trials of being a parent. But as I became a mom, this blog became a place where those issues became my issues. Imagine that: it took me becoming a parent to be able to write about parenthood.

Things changed in my life, and because of those changes, I like writing about parenthood and I don’t feel bad if someone categorizes me as a mommy blogger. But while I’ll embrace the change in my writing that motherhood brought, I cannot nearly as readily embrace the body that motherhood brought or blame the concept of “motherhood” for making me look the way I do. That just seems too easy, for me at least. I’m very reluctant to admit that it’s not a coincidence that my appearance changed a lot over the year that I was pregnant. I can’t really explain that reluctance. Maybe it’s a control issue. After all, whenever someone points out a mistake I make, my go-to response is usually, “Oh that? Yeah, I TOTALLY meant to do that.” Yeah, I totally meant to gain a bunch of weight and go six months without a haircut.

I guess I just don’t want my body issues (which are as old as me) to be reduced to a progression of images in a Suave commercial. That lady got run down as a result of her kids, but I just want to believe that I’m better than A) having my motherhood define my body, and B) taking to heart a commercial I saw five years ago when I had no conception of the life I’d eventually have.

Writing one cathartic blog post is not going to resolve my body issues, but I guess it’s a start. I have already turned off the TV.

My Graying Roots

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54 comments

  1. Those without kids feel this way too, Emily! The aging thing is hitting me in the face these days (literally). The body shifting, the wrinkles, the “maintenance” are all a part of my life now. Like you, my concern is the constant comparison to my younger self or to the perfection we see in magazines and on tv. It’s dumb. And harmful.

    To me you look like Emily – writer, blogger, comedian, world traveler, wife, and MOM. (And Mom looks very good on you.)

    1. That is so sweet of you to say, Rachel. There is some ma-juh truth to the idea that we are not just one thing: we are not old us, young us, mom us, blogger us. We are composites of all these things, and none of them should wholly inform who we are or what we look like.

  2. I hear you sister, I am at the end of the Thirties and next birthday a new decade. I have a few grays but more age spots. Just like my mother and guess what my little sister has them too! Oh well the beauty of aging gracefully but one can hope to look like Jamie Lee Curtis. Have a fab day, Allie.

    1. And Jamie Lee certainly does look wonderful! And what’s more, she encourages us to not just be our bodies. There is some major virtue in that. Thanks, Allie!

      1. I know she is a great role model you don’t see that in Hollywood.

  3. Ah Emily – I was contemplating a post about how my hair was the first thing to ‘give out’ on me (regardless of having a baby), followed by my eyes. I’ve had grey hairs since 18 – so that never really made me feel like I’d aged (and I love dying my hair very unnatural colors – I hate when I find myself dying my hair a ‘reasonable color – as if people that saw me the day before will be fooled). When I had to get glasses when I was 26, it really hit me that my body was starting to decline even before I could spruce it up! I have always struggled with my weight but I have become more athletic as I’ve gotten older rather than less (it’s hard to get ‘less athletic’ when I was NEVER athletic) – so there’s HOPE! Once Wee Cee is a bit older, you can find more time to devote to doing something more ‘athletic’ – although, it’s much easier to run when they’re little and fit in a jogging stroller than when they’re 6 or 7 and too big for the stroller but not big enough keep up with their little legs. It will all come together.

    I felt that same about ‘mommy blogging’ – kind of a disdain for being reduced to a ‘mom’ (before having kids) and losing my other self…when in reality, being a ‘mom’ is now part of my identity and what my family is doing is a big part of my life. It’s tough being a woman, eh?

    1. Our old standby Graco stroller just gave out on us and decided not to fold up into the car (side note: grrrrrrrr), so I am contemplating replacing it with a jogging stroller now. I have a feeling that if I can make time for myself to get more active now, during a time when she is about as high-maintenance as she’s ever going to be (side note #2: totally have a post about that coming), it’s only going to be easier for me to exercise and take care of myself as she gets older. It’s all about habits. I need to be making some good ones.

      As far as hair coloring goes, I am so close to just copying Becca and going red. Then there’d be TWO unnatural redheads in this here blogosphere! Any suggestions?

      1. I’m a completely unnatural redhead. I love red and black hair (http://erickeys.files.wordpress.com/2013/07/red_hair_and_eyeborws.jpg) – but that was years ago. Now I’m faded black b/c my hair is suffering from a recent red dye job and too much swimming.

        I loved running when Dorian was a baby and toddler. We’d do a 3 mile run to the park and then the 3 mile walk home – it took up a good portion of the day and we had naps all around!

  4. Aging ain’t for sissies, but “maintenance” is something for vehicles and buildings and RVs. YOU are a work in progress – things change, things get better, things get worse. Each day is a new day and accepting the cloudy days as being just as wonderful as the sunny days is the best way to be happy. Your Wee Cee doesn’t see you as a faded image of your 20’s – she sees you as the best Mom she ever had. If gray hair is part of “Mom” – gray hair is great! When you look at truly OLD women, please notice that the most beautiful ones are not those who fought aging and did everything in their power trying to retain youthful features (think Joan Rivers) – the beauties are those who relaxed and loved and found joy in change and aged to ripe perfection exactly as they were meant to do (think Helen Mirren).

    1. I love the way you put that; I really needed to be reminded that Cee only wants me the way I am now and that she has no interest in having some college coed care for. I think the key point is that she would love me no matter what I look like, and I should be doing the same thing. Thanks, Ethel!

    2. YES!!! I love what you both said! The women who fight aging tooth and nail (and botox and face lifts) fool no one and don’t even look good trying to. The bodies we live in created our children and are enough for our children…and they should be enough for us. Granted, it is harder to feel this way during bathing suit season, but hey…it is what it is.

      Emily, I laughed when you talked about pulling out the gray hairs one by one, because I just plucked one the other day. So far too many haven’t invaded my head, but my biggest gripe with my hair is how dull it has gotten. Yet I am the WORST about “maintenance” (I would make a horrible Real Housewife of Orange County), so I only occasionally color my hair to brighten it. Whatever, it’s in a ponytail or bun half of the time anyway.

      And you are correct about the whole Pangaea thing. Regardless of finally losing all my baby weight, my stomach decided it just wanted to check out altogether. Two words: cottage cheese.

      You said it best: I just want to believe that I’m better than A) having my motherhood define my body, and B) taking to heart a commercial I saw five years ago when I had no conception of the life I’d eventually have.

      1. I am really bad about maintenance too. I mean, why would I want to blow dry my hair when I could be BLOGGING? Seriously, priorities! Thanks, Kels.

        1. So…I love that you just called me Kels. Let’s be BFF’s. And not maintain our hair together. Blog love fests make me all giddy.

  5. I think everyone can relate to this post, Emily. I’ve got the gray coming in, the body issues…I love the way you’ve expressed your thoughts today.
    One thing that I’ve noticed after having a baby is that I go a little easier on myself about how I look now. I’m getting older, my body is forever altered, but I know what it is capable of now. And I have this beautiful child next to me as a reminder of that when I’m tempted to reduce myself to my BMI or my ability to turn down cake with buttercream frosting (I don’t).
    Exercise has become more about having the stamina to keep up with her now. It’s about having arms strong enough to throw her and catch her. Or the speed and agility to sprint after her in Home Depot. Or to get her dressed in the morning!
    Being a mom is a life and body altering event, and I agree that it looks beautiful on you.
    Fantastic post.

    1. Isn’t it just crazy how right after giving birth, we are in such awe of what our bodies have created and nourished, but then after the initial awe has worn off, we’re just like, “Time to fix everything!”? I need to get back to that initial awe, especially now that Cee is SO HUGE that I am quite mighty for being able to held her around as much as I do! Thanks, Rachelle!

  6. luckymckoy · · Reply

    I can totally relate. Feels like everything is falling apart or falling out. You’re not alone, we’re all doing it! Let’s do it as gracefully and respectable as possible.

    1. Amen to that! There is so much virtue in aging gracefully! Thanks, McKoy!

  7. I think body issues are body issues no matter what the cause may be. I think it takes some time to appreciate the changes in your body whenever you experience them.

    It’ll be a year in October that I’ve lost and kept off 120lbs., and I’m still not used to how my body has changed. And sure I’m thinner now, but my body is FAR from perfect–it never will be. But I’m healthier, and I’m happy. That extra weight you have and gray hair is for a good cause: you got a beautiful little girl out of the deal. I say, enjoy being a mom without the pressure. You don’t need Suave.

    1. So much truth! I would imagine that losing that much weight is actually really similar to having a baby in that both make you feel so amazed at what your body is capable, but in the end both make you kind of go, “Now what?”

  8. It took me years to get the weight off. Part of the problem was that I quit smoking (2 packs a day) when I started trying to get pregnant. Lost a pregnancy and never lost that weight before getting pregnant. Least I’ve weighed is 106 on the day I got married. Most was 165 a couple of days before my son was born. Stayed at 135 for a long, long time. Dipped down to 114 for a couple of years. Then, I started running in 2010. I’ve been about 125 ever since.

    I have discovered that, rather than thinking I’m fat, my inner me is rather thin with a flat belly. When I see pictures of the outer me, I’m always a little surprised. Especially by the turkey neck, which my sister calls “The Gaggler.” (She has a gaggler, too.) Be glad you have no gaggler.

    1. I need to start running like you! I think I may have mentioned this before, but right before I got pregnant, I had just started a running regime for the first time in my life, but then I put it on hold when I found out I was expecting. Did I think the baby was going to fall out? I wouldn’t put it past me.

      1. We can be Internet running buddies. That is WAY better than actual running buddies, ’cause actual running buddies you’re supposed to try to keep up or try not to run ahead. Internet buddies? You can run as fast or as slow as you want. You can lie about how many walk breaks you took; you can tell the truth about how many walk breaks you took! And you always get a pat on the back.

        I wasn’t in a running habit until about four years ago, so didn’t run while pregnant. After you’ve had babies, you need to start worrying about other things coming out…like pee…or your uterus. Yeah. That’s fun. I sneered at women who wore running skirts; they are now my best friend. All kinds of embarrassment can hide behind a running skirt.

    2. So I am just going to slowly go through and comment on everyone else’s comments, if that’s okay with you. I almost screamed out YES in regards to the inner me having a flat belly. I always feel skinnier in my head than I really am. And aside from that maybe leading to the occasional poor outfit choice, it is kind of a great way to be. Because I usually FEEL okay about my body…if I’m not scrutinizing it in a mirror. And as long as I feel good about myself, that’s all that really matters. Right?

  9. This is so beautifully written. I totally understand, but I’m with Ben too–you’re perfect as you are. Having not been there myself, though, all I can do is tell you to go with what feels right. I get pretty stoked every time I buy myself bubble bath, so I can relate:) Also, oh my gosh, Cee’s long legs! And you look adorable in that picture too! Are you going to write about your beach trip? I hope so! Also, I miss you guys like whoa! We are out of town this week, and you are out of town next week. maybe you can skype me from my parents’ house for extra fun? :)

    1. That is a FANTASTIC idea! I am so glad we’ll be in Memphis for a little longer this time because then I won’t feel like we need to hurry hurry hurry to see them ;D

      Sadly, I am probably not going to blog about the beach trip because I don’t want to destroy what shred of dignity the Ramada Inn has left. We stayed at the absolute grossest, most run-down one ever, and I feel way sorry for it. Of course, C loved it. She is the Roach Whisperer.

  10. Ugh, for reals, girl – I feel you. I can’t say my body “snapped back” to what it looked like pre-2 kids. It’s different, sometimes I can say for the better, but mostly it’s just different. Things are lower, more trapezoidal, and not as smooth. Some days I can chalk it up to babies and other days I feel one more day older. It’s funny – I was going to write about this topic this week, but you said everything much more eloquently (AS USUAL). Feel good, babe. You’re beautiful!

    1. Trapezoidal is the best word to describe it! I feel like all the secondary shapes that you learn near the end of preschool (oval, parallelogram, star, etc.) do an excellent job of describing our post-baby bodies.

      Please write that post! I think we all have this post inside us. It’s really cathartic and good to get it out.

  11. Great post Em! I do the same thing–I’m so susceptible to advertisements. But I love it. As long as you are happy and Cee is happy, everything will fall into place. You’re beautiful because you’re a happy person and that shows. All the things we notice about ourselves, no one else really cares about or even sees. We’re so overly critical of ourselves these days. But I’m sure I’ll feel the same way once I have kids. I’m assuming it’s hard not to feel that way!

    1. That is so true that the things we criticize ourselves for are the ones that only we can see. My husband and I went on this beach trip a few years ago and I felt like such a whale the entire time (and I’m fairly certain that it was because the hotel room had a set of mirrors that faced each other, thus allowing me ample room to see my back fat.) But I look back on the pictures from the trip and I’m like, “DUDE. What was your problem? There was NOTHING wrong with you.” It’s all perspective. And even if I was big at the time, who cares? I am not just a body.

  12. I have a grey skunk stripe that is slowly overtaking the center of my head. And we won’t talk about the floppy parts because there are too many of them. Who knew toes were never the same after pregnancy?

    1. I know! Our boobs get all the credit for being wonky after having kids but it’s ALL in the toes ;D

  13. I have slowly started to go gray. And I’m a weirdo, because I totally like it. I think my gray hairs are a sign of all the crap I’ve been through to make it this far, and I love each and every one of them. (Also, I dyed the hell out of my hair from ages 18-29, and I got so tired of the mess and stains and upkeep…so hi, grays! Welcome to my head!)

    (Also, and I had no idea before I got them, but my regular hair is very fine, with very little body, and will not hold a style to save its life. My grays are crazy and wild and when there are enough of them, I think I’ll actually finally have some sort of hairstyle! I’m waiting patiently!)

    You’re beautiful. BEE. YOU. TIH. FUL. Thin, heavier, shaped like a parsnip, 76 feet tall. I don’t even care. You just glow. You’re absolutely lovely. Suck it, body image, Emily doesn’t need to change! She’s perfect just like she is!

    This is a very long comment. What’s with all my words today? Sheesh.

    I think the mommy-blogger shame is just the meanest thing. Why are we shaming different types of blogging? First, you’re far from JUST a mommy blogger. You write about all types of things. But second – let’s say every single post you wrote WAS “mommy blogging.” You know what? Good. Who cares. Because you’re not a mommy blogger – you’re a writer. All of us with blogs are. And we shouldn’t be judging each other or ourselves based on categorization. It’s just another way of bringing high-school lunch-table segregation into the real world.

    Everyone can come sit at my table. It’s a very friendly lunch table. I’ll even share my Snack Pack.

    1. You are awesome. Can I just go ahead and hire you for my own personal cheerleader? Don’t worry; I’ll cheer for you too as repayment. We will basically have a cheerleading coop. Let’s also hire a bunch of hippies to work at our coop. I like hippies. I think they have a pretty good handle on life. Maybe not so much washing their hair, but life they get.

      Anyhoo. YES. I don’t like it either when people feel the need to divide themselves up into arbitrary little teams and hate on each other just because they need a common enemy. We all have it hard enough as it is and no one needs to be called out for writing/ blogging about what they perceive as their reality (unless it’s actually hurting someone, but I don’t think it’s hurting anyone for a mom to write 9,000 words on the incredible grossness of her kid’s poops). I may not like all mommy blogs per se, but no one is forcing me to read them and my life is not made any worse by the existence of the ones that don’t float my boat.

      1. Yes. A mutually beneficial cheering co-op staffed by hippies works BEAUTIFULLY for me!

        When did blogging get to be such a mean competition? I don’t remember this when I started. I need to get on my blog soapbox about this, don’t I? *ponders*

        1. PLEASE DO! I will be all over that! Honestly, I get pangs of blogging jealousy and competitiveness sometimes, but then I just remind myself that just because someone else is awesome doesn’t mean I can’t be awesome too. We can all be awesome (and we all are.)

          1. I’m hoping to have something for Friday. I’ve been mulling it over all day. Wish me luck!

  14. From about 27 until now (31), my goatee has become exponentially greyer and greyer. I have a few popping up up top…and…Anyway. The beard isn’t really that bad…just the hair on my chin. Everything is going to be okay though.

    1. I agree. If the worst problem we can come up with is that our hair is changing colors, then we have it pretty good.

  15. I have grays all over the place and have never dyed my hair. My body is definitely not the same as it was before I had kids. I’m happy for every year I’ve had, every gray hair my kids have given me, stretch mark, whatever. I feel like a survivor or something. This parenting stuff is rough. ;)

    Grow with the changes in your life. This is a very good time. Love it.

    1. It IS rough! But the good kind of rough. (Now I sound like a dog… ruff ruff ruff.)

  16. Mary Cargill · · Reply

    Emily, Ann Marie Wranovix and her husband Frank left this morning for two weeks in Ireland, during which they’ll have a four-day stay near London. Frank got groundling tickets at the Globe for Macbeth. I can’t wait to hear about their adventures.

    Read your blog for the first time today. I have such confidence in you and your fresh take on life. You’re whole life is spread out before you, just waiting for your unique commentary–whether in blogdom or fiction.

    1. Thank you so much for reading my blog, Dr. Cargill! I rarely get comments from people who know me in real life so this means a lot to me. The world is an inspiring place indeed.

  17. Love Pangaea. Not the fact that it’s my body, but the metaphor. You said it, and said it beautifully, sister. Here’s my account of the whole hair dye biz: http://superherounderpants.com/2013/01/10/why-does-everyone-want-to-lowlight-me/

    1. Thank you, Betsy! Heading over to read ;D

  18. I was at the hairdressers the other day complaining that I had noticed some grey hairs appearing to which she replied “Don’t worry love, wait until you see them appear down there!”
    GREY PUBES – Please no!!!!!!

  19. […] thanks to Emily at The Waiting, whose blog is wonderful and whose post earlier in the week – and the conversation with her I had in the comments – helped bring this post, which was percolating at the time, to the page. Emily, you are […]

  20. I would have loved to have known other “mommy bloggers” when I was a new mom. Blogging wasn’t so big then, or at least my internet connection wasn’t. Of course you’ll blog about your kid – what the heck else do you get to do the majority of your time but take care of that little mess you produced with the body you now put down? I know I put my body down, and I hate it. Sure it’s been nine years now since the last kid, but we are more than our bodies.

    It’s a little scary getting older, though. Was that a wrinkle? When did my thighs get so big? When did my baby shoot up so tall and wearing a bra? How could she be 13? How could I be so far into my thirties? I swear I was 22 just the other day. Except that sometimes I feel like 1,000.

  21. For my money, this was the only essay worth reading in this genre.
    You kick ass even when discussing the ravages of time on the human body, Emily!

  22. Um. I had an operation two and a half years ago and I have a 10 inch scar down my front. Which gives me two little fat tummies, instead of one. Or, as I like to call it, my Bummock (bum-stomach). Did that, um, help, in any way, at all? Me sharing that with you? Did it help?

  23. It’s certainly all about perspective… the before and after is almost unavoidable, but a long, slippery slope. The gray strands (mostly white on my red head), the inches and pounds just accrue as I go back and forth in my self-assessment. As for being a mommy blogger, when I chose Tales From the Motherland, I knew that being a mother informs EVERY single thing I think and do now. Simple as that. Nice piece Emily… I think I just can’t go out of town anymore. It takes just as long to catch up on all the blogs I love, and give my peeps their just due. :-)

  24. I think having a sense of humor and remembering that you’re an elite member of the mommy club, helps quite a bit. I used to tell people, “Well, I just had a baby” when my kids were 5 and 8. Your appearance will ebb and flow. You’ll have good years and really scary years. (I took to sewing my own clothes for a while – what a mess I was!) You’ll have photographs to document the ever changing you, but you won’t have photographs that document your growing heart, incredible wisdom, selflessness and all around great person stuff. But it will be there along with the Walmart ensembles. And all of us who are mothers know it’s there. :)
    Be happy, pretty lady. Nothing you could look like could ever detract from the beautiful person I know you are. :) xoxoxo

  25. I love this post, and the blog! So happy to have stumbled upon it! I found my first gray at 18, and I’ve never dyed my hair (except for one very ill-fated attempt at home highlights when I was 19 . . . sorry world). I think it’s way more fun to complain about the escalating salt-and-pepper look than it would be to dye it. Also, I am very cheap. And maybe lazy.

    A corollary to this whole conversation: my parents and uncles and aunts have all told me to take lots and lots of pictures of not so much our son (now 2), but ourselves, because there’s nothing more fun than looking at pictures of your parents way back when. And in fifty years the gray and the extra poundage (mine is extensive) will be looking very good.

  26. I have recently embraced the grey. I initially let the colour grow out out of laziness but when I did, I found that the grey had increased so much that I now have quite a Mrs Robinson/Cruella Deville streak happening and it looks kind of cool! Maybe this is the post-mommy stage beginning?

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