The 1994 movie of Little Women was a favorite of mine as a teenager. My childhood best friend and I would watch it every Christmas and I affectionately called her mother “Marmee”. Though my memories are filled with Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy; I confess I didn’t actually read the book until my Children’s Literature class in college. Not being much of a reader, I read it once, completed the necessary paper and moved on.
Then Lucy confided her ambition to complete high school rather more quickly than the average student, and I was immediately required to create a plan of high school course work a good two and a half years before I had planned on it.
One such course is “American Literature.” I dusted off my old paperback copy from my college days and handed it off to my girl, with a mentor prompt to focus on the characters and character development in the novel. I also started reading it again so that my mind would be fresh with the stories and morals when the impromptu oral exams (aka conversations about the book) came up.
Little Women is very quickly becoming my favorite book. I cannot believe this gem has been sitting on my shelf, unread, for the last 15 years. And I cannot believe that I never followed my dear friend’s example as she devoured the selected works of Lousia May Alcott. What a treasure!
As is my custom, I ordered a copy for each of my girls to keep when they leave home and an Easton Press copy for myself and I started marking away and writing in the margins. I was copying some of my notes from my kindle into my hard copy this morning and came across this one:
Meg’s high-heeled slippers were very tight, and hurt her, though she would not own it, and Jo’s nineteen hairpins all seemed stuck straight into her head, which was not exactly comfortable; but dear me, let us be elegant or die! -Chapter 3
Jane Austen (in P&P) said, ““Vanity and pride are different things, though the words are often used synonymously. A person may be proud without being vain. Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves, vanity to what we would have others think of us.”
I couldn’t help but wonder my vanity “hurting” me? How is it holding me back from the life I truly want to live? For one I can fully admit that my desire for a clean home goes far beyond what is necessary or comfortable for myself and for my family. I want it spotless. Why? Because of the hypothetical visitor. I want it clean so that the unexpected person can see how I’ve got it all together (when I don’t at all) and can be impressed at how I can keep a house clean even with six kids under my feet all day long.
This is vanity run amok! I try so hard not to allow the mess to get to me and instead do what ever is right in the moment, but it the knowledge that I’m doing “the next right thing” doesn’t seem to quell the horror I feel when our violin teacher sees the apple core that has rolled under the couch. I see the fingerprints on the walls and trim and think “it looks so gross, I need to scrub and repaint that before my in-laws visit”.
This is hurting me. It’s hurting my relationship with my kids when I freak out. It hurts our potential for family fun when we can’t go do something fun because we have to spend the day cleaning. Sometimes it does need to happen (as it did yesterday) but I really need to be better at not letting my clean house vanity come in between me and my kids.
Another way that vanity hurts me is with my weight. I weigh far more than I would like (to the tune of 50 lbs). This hurts me not because it’s getting in the way of being able to be the mom I want (because it doesn’t, I can still chase them around, dance with them, and do all of the mom things I need to do) but my obsession with getting back into my skinny clothes (which were my fat clothes before I got pregnant with Alice) is stressing me out big time. I keep telling myself I’m not exercising enough, or I’m not eating the right things. I end up not eating enough or not a good balance and I get grumpy! Whole 30, counting calories, daily exercise… it’s too much! I can’t do it! And the only reason I care is because of what I think other people think of me. My husband doesn’t care if I’m still carting around an extra 20 after Alice (“she’s only six months old!” he says). And as he has mentioned to me on many occasions, he would rather have me happy than slim. That means a full belly, a bag of hugs, and a good run every few days.
I’m not quite able to do the “good run” part yet but I’m working on it. Until then, I decided to buy some clothes that fit me well and some pretty sweaters (to cover the c-section sag) so I don’t feel grotesque when I look in the mirror and then take a deep breath and give myself some more grace than I usually do.
Right now it’s more for “them” than anything else. When it becomes more for me than it is for them, I can rearrange my priorities again but right now life is difficult enough without having to meet the imaginary expectations of people whom I don’t know nor care about. Vanity is not one of the seven deadly sins, but it’s one of mine.