By Laura Simon

I bought some lipstick at Target last week. That might not seem like anything special, but I haven’t owned lipstick in at least three years. Maybe longer. The last tube I remember having was one of those free samples you get from Clinique, and I haven’t bought Clinique in over a decade.

I brought my novel purchase home and tried it. It was shockingly dark, so I blotted it a little and headed downstairs to make some lunch. That’s when I noticed my 8-year-old staring at me. He cocked his head and came closer. His brow furrowed, and he came closer still.

“Um, mom? Your, um, your mouth. What’s wrong with it? Your lips are so dark. Are you sick? Are you OK? Should we call the doctor?”

So there you have it. I put on lipstick after years without it, and my kid thought I was sick. Maybe dying. I’m pretty sure he was thinking of calling “the 911” as he calls it. Apparently that’s what I get for trying.

And in case you think it was an isolated incident, my five-year-old repeated the process the next day, when I put the lipstick on (again) for church. I have had a ghostly, pale, lip-less face for so long that my children are terrified by anything different.

Once they got over the shock, however, both kids did an about-face and declared it “pretty.” Then the five-year old asked if she could try it, too. (Nope.) Now I feel like I need to lock my vanity, because I’m pretty sure she’s just waiting for her chance to smear it all over her face and clothes.

My lips aren’t the only things I lost during the years of parenting young children. I’m realizing that as I slowly emerge from the tunnel that is baby- and toddler-hood. My children can use the toilet on their own now. They can dress themselves, albeit with questionable fashion sense. They can make basic meals, if you consider plain bread and bananas to be a basic meal. I no longer have to devote every waking minute of my life to their essential needs.

Instead, I can have a phone conversation that’s only interrupted three times, instead of 300. I can read a whole fiction book that does not, in any way, shape, or form, relate to child development. I can shut my eyes for thirty seconds if they’re feeling dry. It’s….amazing.

This year, I joined a neighborhood book club. I painted my nails a few times. I bought a bra that fits. I went off the diving board, because I didn’t have to watch a toddler like a hawk.

That girl that I thought was gone forever? Turns out, she’s not. She was just patiently focused on things that needed doing.

I say all this because I wish I’d known, in those early, spit-up stained days of motherhood, that eventually the things I loved before kids would come back to me. Maybe not with the same frequency as before, but that just makes me savor them all the more.

Plus, my kids are beginning to see a whole new side to me. They recently found my high school yearbook, and they were floored to discover I had a life outside them. In fact, I was once YOUNG. I think that’s a good discovery for all of us.

The tunnel really does have a light at the end, and you don’t have to rush toward it. Every faltering, wobbly step gets you closer to being a person you recognize again.

Just be sure to wear shoes, because the tunnel is littered with Legos and Matchbox cars. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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