Parenthood is full of surprises and revelations that often make me shake my head and smile wryly to myself, remembering my naiveté in the pre-parent days.

In my life before kids, I used to take an hour to get ready in the morning. And I thought I was being efficient. A solitary hour in the bathroom, complete with a warm shower and plenty of time to apply makeup—including liner, evenly, to both eyes!—while listening to music or news on the radio. Sometimes I would even run overtime because I had been daydreaming, letting my thoughts stream along, uninterrupted. Laugh if you, will. I am, too (through my tears).

Since becoming a mom three years ago, the soundtrack of my mornings has been discordant circus music gradually increasing in speed, volume, and volatility until it is a deafening, cacophonous blur. Contrary to what you would think, it hasn’t gotten any easier. At least not yet. Rather, with each new advance my son makes in his growth and development, I seem to be able to tend to myself for less and less time. I’m now lucky to get five uninterrupted minutes to throw on clothes and maybe—maybe—wash my face before my son finds a new creative, messy, or potentially dangerous activity with which to amuse himself, invariably (and involuntarily) involving one or both of the family cats.

I’ve never even remotely aspired to be a glamour girl or fashionista, but I’ve always tried to maintain a put-together aesthetic in order to feel “presentable.”

Earlier this year after a particularly rushed morning on my way home from the store, I glanced in the rearview mirror and discovered that I had completely forgotten to put mascara on. Liner, yes, but not mascara. I was unfinished, like everything else seemed to be in my life—housework, projects, writing, you name it. I felt like I was dropping the ball, again; one more thing for this first-time mom to beat herself up over.

I couldn’t understand why my expectations—that my son could sit on the bed and quietly entertain himself while I got ready in the morning—weren’t meshing with reality: beds are for acrobatics and the bedding is much more fun on the floor. At the end of my rope, I reached out to parent friends on social media to find out how they dealt with the challenge of making themselves presentable in the morning while supervising their offspring.

Suggestions ranged from sarcasm (a velcro wall) to practical (getting ready while the kids are still asleep, puzzles, books) to last resorts (screen time, food). I tried them all, with the exception of the velcro wall, although I’ve been tempted. Nothing worked for long. Getting up earlier than my son seemed to be the best option, but I swear, he has some kind of telepathic sensor that alerts him when I wake up in the morning. It doesn’t matter how quiet I am; invariably, partway into my routine I will hear, “Mama?” on the monitor, and that’s the end of that.

Puzzles and books, or playing with his toys on our bed work once in a while, until they become new instruments of torture for Matilda the cat (who, if cats could be saints, would definitely make the cut).

Inviting my son to be in the bathroom with me under closer supervision seemed like a good idea, until it wasn’t. After picking up several dozen scattered tampons, re-boxing the bandaids, and lunging for Papa’s hair trimmer for the umpteenth time I tried to involve him in the action by letting him play with my blush brush. That worked for approximately two seconds before it turned into a toilet brush and, well, that will never be used as a blush brush again.

After working my way through all of my friends’ suggestions, it turned out that the most helpful advice I read wasn’t about solutions at all—it was about changing my expectations.

One friend quipped that she just didn’t make herself presentable anymore. To that, another friend shared that in the first couple of years of being a parent she had to redefine what “presentable” meant, and once she did, her routine became much quicker.

So, I’ve changed my expectations for both myself and my son. I’m accepting that he is not yet ready to constructively and independently entertain himself, not when there are so many boundaries that he needs to explore and test. It saves my sanity to acknowledge that this is a stage and I’ll just have to ride it out. It’s not fair to expect my son to meet expectations he is not yet capable of meeting, and it’s not fair to set unrealistic expectations for myself, either. I’ll save the whole discussion of society’s completely unrealistic expectations of women for another day—this is supposed to be humorous!

I’ve altered my definition of “presentable” from looking polished to at least not looking like something that just dragged herself out of a crypt. I have perfected the art of minimalist makeup application at blistering speed: cover the dark circles, powder, mascara, done! Most days I manage to get some eyeliner on, too. I shower at night and am now really, really, grateful for my curly hair that can be turned into an instant updo, disguising the fact that it hasn’t been washed quite as often as it used to be.

Once I accepted that the amount of time I spend on primping in front of the mirror correlates directly with the amount of time I will have to spend in clean-up/damage control, it was pretty easy to adopt the “natural look.” And for those days when I feel the need to look a little more polished, I’ll unabashedly embrace the phrase, “Paw Patrol to the rescue!”

Kelly McQuillan is a writer, musician, teacher, and fledgling mother living in Comox, BC. web link.