Thursday, July 23, 2009
The Closet Monster
"There's a monster in my closet!" My poor parents probably heard that come out of my childhood mouth a million times, most often between the hours of 10pm and 6am. That's when shifty shadows and creepy noises seemed to radiate from that most frightful corner of the room, the hours when that flimsy door seemed to offer little protection between me and the creature that surely lurked within. Fortunately, my son shows no signs of having inherited my closet-o-phobia; it's actually one of his favorite places to hide (particularly when it's time to get dressed, take a bath, go downstairs, or do basically anything aside from play). But unfortunately, I'm yet to outgrow my own fears. In fact, at age 36 I've discovered a whole new monster in my closet, a terrifying beast that taunts me not just at night, but round the clock. It's a monster called "Identity Crisis."
It's not hard to spot my monster. A quick peek inside my closet and you'll find an entire rack of dry clean only tailored suits, dozens of crisp blazers, 16 pairs of brightly colored running shorts and one lonely, ill-fitting, slightly frumpy pair of blue jeans. Sure, there are a few knit shirts, some half-hearted attempts at khaki, but overall the mood does not exactly scream "Casual Friday," much less "stay at home mom." And neither do I.
Even as a child, I didn't really "do" casual. I guess you can blame it on my mom, an Egyptian immigrant and university professor with one elegant shoe firmly planted in the Old World. She believed strongly that little girls should look the part and provided a full wardrobe of frilly dresses, skirts in appropriate lengths, matching hair bows and barrettes. I don't think she's ever owned anything denim and certainly did not provide any for her little girl. Today I no longer wear pigtails or knee socks, but I have to admit my mother's approach to getting dressed is one I haven't completely thrown in the wash.
I also inherited her Type A personality, and started working full-time before graduating from Northwestern at age 20. My first "real" job was at Chicago's O'Hare Airport working as a customer service representative for Air France, and I'll never forget the feeling of leaving my college sweatshirt behind, and slipping into a pair of high heeled shoes, a straight black skirt and a freshly pressed white shirt. Strange as it may sound, I had found my comfort zone. The professional world was where I belonged, both in dress and in mind. And it's where I've happily spent the better part of the past two decades... until now.
With my baby girl just four weeks old it's not surprising those suits don't fit right now, but that's not what really worries me. Assuming I do eventually step away from the ice cream carton, I'm relatively certain my waistline will one day make a reappearance (Ben, Jerry and I have a really good thing going, and I'm not quite ready to call things off). But will they ever fit my life again? Will my life ever fit them? After my first child was born there was no question- I knew I would return to work and I did just that, 12 weeks later. But now with two it's a much harder decision. Between the cost of daycare, the struggle of getting two kids out of the house, the double guilt of leaving them all day, and the decidedly un-family-friendly career I chose, I can feel my former life slipping farther and farther away. As I sit here with unwashed hair and a t-shirt that apparently double as a burp cloth I find it hard to even remember the stylish news reporter with TV-ready makeup who once occupied this space. Is she gone forever, or just on hiatus? It's not a question I can answer right now, and until I can I think it's time to try and push the monster onto a back shelf and do some shopping. Identity Crisis is bad enough- I don't need to add Fashion Disaster to my closet as well.