Celebrating Our Unique Powers: Calming Colors and Cotton Swabs by Angela Amman
Calming Colors and Cotton Swabs
My friend and I rode our bikes to the drugstore around the corner from her house, our meager allowances begging for the treasures young girls find in aisles bathed in fluorescent lighting and drugstore cosmetics. We carefully chose sticky, flavored lip glosses and eye shadow colors not found in makeup collections of anyone old enough to actually wear makeup out of the house.
Only the gloss saw the light of day during those years, and with the amount of times I pressed together my cherry-flavored lips, any shine or hint of color was gone by the time I left my own driveway. I dreamt of the days when I could legitimately wear makeup: my first experiments with it taking place with scented, peel-off nail polish and Tinker Bell-branded gloss long before my Bonnie Bell and Wet n Wild purchases.
When I finally had permission to tackle the makeup aisle, I was lost in a sea of colors and tools I didn’t understand.
Seventeen magazine and my friends were my resources. My mother, so supportive in so many ways, probably hadn’t worn makeup since her wedding day. She had no answers when I started asking questions about how to do my own.
My friends were taking mother-daughter trips to the Clinique counter for barely-there blush and Black Honey lip stain, and I was watching My So-Called Life and wondering why Angela Chase got so offended when her obviously makeup-savvy mom offered her a cotton swab for her zits. (They shared a moment, and a cotton swab, by the end of the episode, in the perfectly awkward way My So-Called Life had of making me feel like it really understood what life was like in the halls of public school.)
I wanted a mother who could teach me about cotton swabs and how to use an eyelash curler.
I have one who is more comfortable in a bookstore than a cosmetics counter, one who rattles off reading recommendations with ease but doesn’t know the difference between the fluffy, black brushes that turn palates into pretty washes of color.
Instead of giving me tips on makeup or hair or boys, or any of the things over which I floundered, so terribly, time and time again, she sat on the couch with me, books open on both of our laps.
She never complained when I devoured a Christmas gift novel in a single, marathon reading session, legs tucked under a blanket in a pose she mirrored across the room. We traded books and gifted each other books, and she bought me a typewriter long before computers made it easy to store the deluge of ideas tumbling from my thoughts.
I read Stephen King under her watch, even when the librarians might have disapproved. I fell in love with the formulaic works of Agatha Christie, loving the banter of Poirot and Hastings but wishing I could meet Miss Marple. She bought me each of the Harry Potter books when they arrived in stores — the hardcover versions I’ve begun reading with my own children.
And still, I longed for a mother who could help me stop picking my cuticles — not one who picked her own.
I love her, but her power hid itself from me for years.
She waited, quietly, sure in herself in a way I still strive to be.
My days are filled with noise, now. My children’s energy is loud and visceral and alive. They yell and sing and ask questions, climb on my lap and reach for my hand, grab my belt loops, and braid my hair. The harmony of their child song is bookended by the pounding thoughts of my own head — inner dialogue about what I need to accomplish, the things I long to achieve, the guilt that something always feels unfinished.
In my mother’s presence, her quiet crashes over me in waves. Her calm provides pillows in my head that dulls the chaos. Worries shrink into perspective, and I allow myself to steady my feet and walk back into my life with my own version of calmness.
Our attention is divided now, children clamoring for their piece of her quiet love. We no longer have the time to sit on the couch with books balanced on our blanketed legs — but one day we will again. And I will welcome having the kind of mother who never worried about finding the right colors to cover my skin with her love.
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