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Closet of Dreams vs. the Reality of Parenting

Closet of dreams

"You look nice with makeup." She meant it well. She meant it as a compliment. I have no doubt my son's speech therapist didn't say that to me because she wanted to send me into a closet-cleaning, appearance-obsessing tailspin.

All she said was, "You look nice with makeup," but what I heard was something more like this: "Did somebody die, because, wow, you finally decided to clean yourself up!"

My son has visited this speech therapist one afternoon every week for a year now, and apparently she has never seen me wearing makeup. And if, as seems to be the case, I've made so little effort each day by the afternoon, I can only imagine what the moms at the bus stop think seeing me before I've even had my coffee.

But there I was in my closet one hour later, up to my kneecaps in maxi skirts, capri pants, blouses and sweaters, trying to determine if I've neglected my wardrobe as much as I've neglected my face. (Answer: Yes.)

As the discard bags began to bulge, I realized that not only were most of my clothes many years old, nearly everything had some sort of food stain on it. Coffee, wine and mustard -- you are not my friends.

First, I tossed out anything that made me look pregnant. Next came anything that was even the slightest bit too big. I don't need any excuses to backslide on my diet. Finally, I was down to all the clothes I like but haven't worn in years.

Are you with me, Must-Have Parents? These are the clothes for the life I either aspire to or kind of wish I still had. These clothes represent dreams. If I kept only the garments I wear all the time, my closet would consist solely of (stained) jeans, v-neck T-shirts, sports bras, running shorts and yoga pants.

And then what would I wear if I was, say, asked to fill in on lead guitar at a Ratt reunion concert, or some other occasion that might require selecting between two pairs of black leather pants? 

I also have three power suits. Why? I can't really say. Just in case, I suppose. Perhaps someone will one day cry out, "We've got an emergency! We need a journalist to interview the president! Who has a power suit?" And there I'll be, accessorized with one of the 47 scarves I never wear, breaking in that pair of perfectly unscuffed power suit heels, saying, "Don't worry! I have three briefcases, too!"

Also hard to get rid of? The strapless dress made from some sort of rubber that looked amazing on but made me sweat ridiculously the one time I wore it -- back when I was single and clubbing in South Beach. Ja Rule hit on me that night, and this was long enough ago that that was impressive. Into the giveaway bag the dress went. I've had three kids. My rubber dress days are over.

All of this is to say that, for me, the biggest challenge of being a majority parent is accepting that I've had to rule out several other life paths, or at least put them off for a while. By hanging onto things that represent those paths that don't fit with my current lifestyle, I've kept myself from embracing some new things, new hobbies and new styles.

This sort of physical and metaphorical closet cleaning is healthy. With the rubber dress and two of the power suits (and a ton of stained T-shirts) gone, I now have room for new things, both physical and metaphorical.

But I kept the leather pants. Both pairs. You just never know.

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Family and Spouse Rebekah Sanderlin

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Rebekah Sanderlin is an Army wife, a mother of three and a professional writer. Her work has been published numerous places, including The Washington Post, The New York Times, National Public Radio, CNN, and in Self and Maxim magazines. She currently serves on the advisory boards of the Military Family Advisory Network and Blue Star Families.

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