- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 4, 2006

Is it any wonder women of a certain age sometimes experience a lack of self-confidence when our children ask questions such as, “Did you start bleaching your teeth? They don’t look as yellow as they usually do.”

Realizing the gaffe, the child attempts to salve your wounded feelings: “They weren’t that yellow, really. I just noticed they look different. I mean, better.”

Never mind that mom is embarrassed, self-conscious and concerned that her smile formerly resembled George Washington’s.

I usually try to maintain a brave facade with my children when it comes to hurt feelings. I do this to model the wisdom of ignoring people who are insensitive.

Also, I do it because the whole process of becoming a mother leaves a woman with very little personal dignity, and I’m trying to preserve the meager portion I have left.

Stoicism aside, there comes a time when children need to know that moms have feelings, too.

Case in point: the day last fall when I had my hair done (“done” meaning cut, colored, styled and sprayed to the tune of $120). After two hours in the salon, I felt pampered and pretty.

I appeared freshly coifed at a high school cross-country meet where my two daughters would compete. Striding confidently to the area where the team was gathered, I waved to Betsy, then turned to see Katie in animated conversation with her fellow runners.

Just then Katie caught my eye, smiled and shouted her greeting for all to hear: “Hi, Mom. Did you get your hair colored? It looks darker.”

It would have been hard to miss that my hair looked darker. When I consulted my stylist that morning, I lifted my long locks, pointed to the brownest shade on my head and said, “Let’s make it all this color.”

Still, I would have preferred if the adults with whom I stood could have done the socially appropriate thing and pretended they didn’t notice the change.

Instead, Katie’s comment prompted a full-blown symposium among the parents about hair color, including the relative merits of going gray, why men look distinguished and women look haggard as we age, and the going rate for highlights.

I’ve been a mom long enough to know that children simply must blurt out what pops into their heads. They don’t yet have filters between the brain and the mouth to prohibit the odd question or comment whenever it occurs to them, even if the passing thought will compromise mom’s delicate sense of propriety.

This is why women everywhere must suffer while standing at the grocery store checkout when a child looks up at her and says, “What’s that big red thing on your chin?” (Or worse, “Eew, gross. There’s something hanging from your nose.”)

Dignity? Be serious.

I suppose it would be a genuinely self-possessed woman, if not an earthy one, who could respond, “It’s a pimple, honey. Women get them when our hormones surge or when we’re really stressed out. I spent 10 minutes this morning trying to hide it with concealer, but the makeup has worn off. I guess Mommy needs to touch it up, huh?”

I’m not that self-assured.

I respond like this: “Here’s a quarter. Go get a gum ball.” Then I prop my elbow on that little shelf meant for writing checks, sink my chin into my cupped hand and attempt to hide both the offending blemish and my embarrassment.

At some point — perhaps when one of my children conspicuously asked if I knew that my pants were too short — I realized I haven’t done an adequate job of conveying to them that mothers are, in fact, people with feelings.

This is an eye-opener for most children. They think of us as “bionic moms” — flesh on the outside, mechanical on the inside — maternal machines whose only emotional concerns are for the well-being and happiness of our offspring.

Revealing our true emotional selves is critical. Otherwise, how can we teach them that everyone has feelings that can be injured and that kindness and charity begin at home? They need to know that mothers are first and foremost grown women who deserve thoughtfulness and respect.

Without this life lesson, we could end up with a generation of self-absorbed, insensitive buffoons; children who “dis” their moms and everyone else they encounter.

Oh wait. We have that.

Let’s just say I’m doing my part to mitigate the cultural trend toward bluntness.

I don’t recall the comment that caused me to snap, but finally I did. We were in the van — a great place to snap if you must because your children are captive — and I let loose with a list of offenses I have endured, or at least a few that illustrated my point.

I confess I exaggerated my emotional distress to encourage genuine remorse, but you could hardly blame me.

By the time I was finished, I had conducted a guided tour on a guilt trip intended to raise the collective consciousness of my brood. I think I even yelled something like, “Come hell or high water, I’m going to teach you how to be nice” (all the more effective with the veins popping out of my neck).

I can’t say for sure if it worked, but the other day, I walked into the living room and one of my girls asked, “What’s that smell?”

Lucky for her, she liked my cologne.

Columnist Marybeth Hicks, a wife of 18 years and mother of four children, lives in the Midwest. She uses her column to share her perspective on issues and experiences that shape families nationwide. Visit her Web site (www.marybethhicks.com) or send e-mail to [email protected]comcast.net.

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