put on your war paint.

My mother taught me about red lipstick.

Not in a tutorial type way, but strictly observational.

No matter what our house or family was going through, the mornings were always the same – my mother, sitting at the kitchen table with her coffee and toast and an open, blue glitter Caboodles make-up case in front of her. Specks of foundation and powder caked the corners of her mirror, framing her face in a thin halo of ivory-beige dust.

Some days she looked tired than others, thoughts weighing heavy on her mind, decisions on her shoulders. I would watch, either through my periphery when reading a book or from the brim of my own morning mug. There was calculation behind the art form, care put into every crease. When the blue case closed, she’d walk back into her room and come out moments later wearing a powerful suit – she was the boss and she knew it but she never flaunted. It exuded from her, an aura of subtle confidence sharpened by years of struggle.

The last thing she did was apply her lipstick. It was her way of kissing the morning and wishing it well. There were shades of blue-reds, brick reds, crimsons, and coral reds, some bright as a rose, others subdued even on her alabaster skin. In comparison, I never thought my olive pallor would work, even if I had tried. I couldn’t get away with something that fierce. My Cherry LipSmacker was the closest I came to daring. I tucked my books away into my bag and hung my head low, eyes quickly darting to the sidewalk, wondering if I could ever be that strong. It wasn’t until a couple a few years ago that I braved my first shade.

My mother suffered and overcame many things in life, all while working a demanding job with three kids, one of which had a learning disability. For the majority of our childhoods, she did this alone. We suffered too, but always had her to lean on. It wasn’t until I recently became a parent myself that I truly understand the weight of that. But everyday, without fail, she put on that red lipstick and strived to be the best that she could, not only for us, but for herself. In a way, we were her shoulders too. And in the close of the first Act of our lives, she sees our success as hers. She left everything behind – her home, her family, her friends – to start a life here, and while it wasn’t necessarily the life she expected, it was the one that she herself built.

There are many things that stand to her character – no small, pocket size object could every truly symbolize all that she is worth, but to me, that tube of crimson or coral or brick red always reminds me of strength, power, respect, kindness, laughter, confidence and overwhelming love. And so, I break out my small drawer of reds and long for the day that my daughter will watch me while I tell her stories – of what life and dreams can be like and the strength she holds to pursue them.

 

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“If you’re sad, add more lipstick and attack.” – Coco Chanel