My first job out of grad school was in a completely football-mad Southern state (is there any other kind??), and one of my colleagues at that job had actually played on the state university's national championship-winning football team a few decades earlier. He was in his mid-fifties to my mid-twenties at the time, and a true Southern gentleman. Ours was an interesting partnership: he despised electronic technology in all forms and had our office secretary print out all his emails for him so that he could respond to them by phone, so I handled most of our collective computer work. In return, he served as one of the best mentors I've ever had, patiently explaining how to calculate net present values and how to think about structuring deals. Over the year or so I worked there, we became very close: I think his regard for me was almost paternal because of the age difference.
At any rate, one day he told me that he'd asked his wife to sponsor me for membership in the Junior League. Anyone who knows anything about either this organization or the South will recognize that this is the highest possible honor that can be bestowed by people of a certain mindset and generation, especially when the recipient is a damned Yankee! From a man whose daughter had formally made her debut at the annual ball (gowned and white-gloved and properly escorted, of course) and whose wife was a leader in society, this was the most kind and generous and mindboggling of offers. As it happens, it was also terrifying and not at all well-directed, since I am NOT the Junior League sort, but the sentiment and compliment behind the offer did not go unappreciated. As it happened, Himself was recruited for his current job in another state very soon afterward, so I was able to respectfully decline the honor without hurting his feelings.
One day early on, the two of us were working on a deal together. Out of the clear blue sky, he asked me why I didn't take better care of my hands: i.e., why they weren't manicured. (See above regarding my not being Junior League material.) By the way, this was asked with legitimate curiosity, not in any inappropriate way whatsoever. To his way of thinking, it was odd that I didn't make the time for the salon, and since I understood his frame of reference by that point, I didn't take offense. Since I was used to my hands being banged up and washed repeatedly over the course of the days in lab, I just didn't consider it a priority at the time. The question stuck with me, though.
Fast forward a goodly number of years, most of which were hard on my hands--diapers and washing and cooking and dishes and the inevitable repeated bathings in Purell because of kid-germs. I'm on the other side of a lot of that stuff now, and starting to think again about me instead of just the kids all the time. I happened to look at my nails one day before Christmas, noted that they were on the raggedy side, and out of nowhere, I was suddenly back in that office.
I'm still not a society belle, and likely never will be. But the thought occurred to me that there's nothing wrong with taking a little time to do the best I can with what I have, not for anyone else, but for ME. Because I'm worth the time and effort, dammit, not because I care what anyone else thinks. The end result of that thought process (see, I'm finally getting to the point!) was the following two resolutions for 2014:
1) I will make an effort to keep my hands lotioned and polished, and
(for good measure)
2) I will figure out how to use a curling iron once and for all and do something with my wild wavy mane other than dragging all of it back into a knot on the back of my head every morning.
Ambitious and world-changing, right?? Ha. Very small potatoes even in the small picture, let alone the big picture. But when I look better, I feel better about myself, and this is a small start.
Oh, I have other goals as well. The usual ones: lose some weight to ease the pressure on my knees, develop better pushup form, be more patient and present with my kids, etc. I'll work on those as well, I promise. But 40 years into my life, I'm beginning to realize that I can be a priority too, and that there's no shame in taking the time to make myself look like something other than a dowdy mom every once in a while. So there. (The next makeover: the lingerie drawer!!!)
There is a new curling iron on my bathroom sink, and I raised a glass of wine at dinner with my sparkly red nails a-shining in a silent toast to my former mentor. Happy 2014 to me, and to all of you as well! May your wishes come true, be they big or small.