Mom. The word calls to mind a variety of images: a woman with her hands full, an out-of-date closet, cleaning products, a minivan, bandaids, yelling in public, a ponytail, stretchmarks, one-piece swimsuits with little skirts on them, pearl earrings—it’s often somewhere on the scale of a 1950s vacuuming perfection to a disheveled figure on the brink of a mental breakdown. And no matter what, it is not sexy. More than likely a lot of negative connotations come to mind as a result of commercial marketing attempting to pinpoint the problems of motherhood that need their products as solutions for the overtired, always cleaning, always driving, never satisfied mother. Saturday Night Live said it best in the incredible Mom Jeans skit: “I’m not a woman anymore; I’m a mom.”
Most magazines geared toward women’s interests (or men’s, for that matter) display a barrage of boyishly skinny women—adoration of the prepubescent body. We clutch onto the smoke of our fleeting youth, and paralyzed, we fear that the only way to grow is old. In the midst of this, mothers are tattooed with stretch marks, marks of their traversing into the abyss of adulthood to never look back. All the others know is that when their day comes, they swear not to let themselves go, not to stop listening to good music, to never ever wear jeans with pleats on the front.
And then one day, in a flurry of fear and wonder, she holds that positive pregnancy test and absolutely nothing prepares her for the oh-my-god-there’s-a-human-inside-me or the how-will-we-do-this or the sickness or the labor or the waa of the baby. Inside that hospital room or wherever it is that one births, a mother is born. She doesn’t feel different, but she holds in her arms the catalyst for the greatest growth in all her life. The secret of what happened to all those moms who were once so hip and now wear vests with embroidered teddy bears on them is revealed with its tiny red mouth and soft cheeks. This little baby is the undoing of her.
Perhaps womanhood is something some women only find after this moment. The moment when something infinitely more important rips your attention away from whether jeans are supposed to be up high near your belly button or down by your hips, what song is being overplayed on the radio, or how many carbs you ate today. You care more about the content of your arms than the content of your makeup bag. The truth of it is that there is something distinctly childlike about being limited to only seeing yourself. That’s not to say that a mom who manages to dress well is selfish, just that she is a talented multitasker. And that it is not the fashion that makes her womanly, but that womanhood is found in the selflessness—in the being still when you want to move, moving when you were being still, waking when you wished to sleep, sleep training, potty training, removing training wheels, training up in truth and grace. That these things might just be the sexiest attributes a mother can have. The rest is just frosting.