This week we celebrated the birthday of my twenty-year old niece, Celine. Celine is accomplished and hardworking and kind. She is also intimidatingly glamorous. Perhaps she is channelling Coco Chanel through her French heritage or perhaps she secretly gets up before dawn to perfect her look. Either way, I can’t remember an event where she didn’t look great.
I, on the other hand, am more vagrant than Vogue. At best I can look “fine”. More often, I am mid-way through an event when I realise there’s bloody great hole in my jersey or a greasy stain down my front (actually that’s a lie – practically ALL my shirts have a greasy stain the down the front, but I usually realise that you can see it midway through the event). Once, during a meeting I rubbed at a tender patch on my thigh only to realise that the friction from my (ample) thighs had worn through the fabric of my “smart” pants. Last week, at a routine doctors appointment, I pointed to the lymph glands under my armpits only to have my thumb piece the threadbare fabric of my shirt. It hasn’t happened often but it’s happened.
One of the not-very-many good things about having a kid at death’s door is that it’s one of the few situations where you are expected to look terrible. I’d go as far as to suggest you might even be judged harshly if you were to look too good. Certainly, the Croc-clad nurses are unlikely to admire shoes for anything beyond comfort.
Now that Josh has enjoyed a few months of better health I realise that I should have been more appreciative of the sartorial break. As Joshua’s health has improved, so has the frequency with which I am invited to social events. No Oscar parties or anything like that; more like the odd cup of coffee or lunch at a local cafe.
I notice, in the subtle frowns of restaurant staff, that my food stained shirts, au-natural hair and ageing flip-flops don’t mark me out as their preferred class of customers. I look, I realise, more like the people they intend to donate the leftovers to. I’m left cringing and grumpy and defensive. I glare at them daring them to comment on my moth eaten cardigan.
My younger self would have loved the designation (but not, of course the reality) of starving artist but money isn’t the problem. These clothes are old friends. They’ve seen me through some dark times this year and they cover me from the sun (and the prying neighbours). I like them. They are most comfy minutes before the fabric disintegrates.
New clothes feel like strangers: starchy stiff and slightly shocked by my slap-dash approach. They never laugh at my jokes or good-naturedly roll their eyes as I slop soup down my front (again).
In my “before” days, I hired a stylist to choose my clothes. She made me take photos of clothes combinations so I didn’t have to recall whether the red dress with the peach scarf was awesome or just awful. I have a wardrobe filled with beautiful, well-fitting formal dresses. I looked, for a time, at least presentable. I fantasize about having her pick out new yoga pants and shirts for me. I feel certain that it must be possible to be both comfortable and presentable. But that would require work on my part and, I tell myself, my kid has cancer. I can’t be expected to shop.