High Heels and Lipstick

Rachel O’Leary, Cambridge, UK

Clickety-clack, clickety-clack. Must be ten o’clock. There goes Carol from up the road in her high heels, lipstick bright, hair neat, covers on the pram spotless.  I twitch the curtain so she can’t see me—still in my dressing-gown, hair all over the place, house covered in laundry—and sit on the stairs to feed the baby… again.

How does she do it? Why can’t I be like that—organized? Am I “coping”? Doesn’t feel like it. Sometimes it’s blissful, when the baby relaxes in my arms and falls asleep at the breast. Often it’s stressful—when she screams and I can’t understand why and don’t know what to do about it…

Somehow, we got through those days, and nights, and sometimes I even made it out of the front door—to a La Leche League meeting on good days! (I was always late, but they didn’t seem to mind).

Years later I met Carol at work, when our children were teenagers. With a wry smile, I told her how I’d been so impressed by her, all those years ago. She chuckled and said, ‘That’s the only way I could stay halfway sane! I was falling to bits at home, I just had to get out of the door, and the high heels and lipstick were to make me feel as if I was “coping” when I wasn’t at all!’

I wished I’d known; we could have had a laugh about it when we needed to. I wish I hadn’t assumed I was the only one drowning in isolation. I wish I’d got to know her better, and allowed her to know me with all my failings. I wish women could help each other more and compete less.

First published for LLLI in January 2015.
Originally published in Musings on Mothering edited by Teika Bellamy, Mother’s Milk Books, 2012.