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Yesterday I went grocery shopping, then to the library. Everywhere I go, I people watch. When I go to restaurants I not only people watch, I eavesdrop. I find people fascinating.

While we were out, we saw moms across three decades. I found myself wondering, are these same women found outside the Midwest, because they’re all over across it.

As I was waiting for my daughter’s ride on the pony to end, I watched people checking out at the self-checkout lanes. One particular woman caught my eye. Her hair was cut very short and was dyed dark brown. She wore dark plastic framed glasses and was moderately tanned. Her features were highlighted by the appropriate types of makeup. Her ears were pierced multiple times and she sported a green tank top that emphasized her small frame, flat tummy and muscular upper arms. Her haircut, a type of pixie,

Jamie Lee Curtis Rockin' the Pixie

was tousled on top and looked like a quick run through with some gel was all the morning prep required. And then she stepped from behind the lane. The tiny top half blossomed out into a fairly generous bottom half, the bottom half of a woman in her forties who’s struggling to keep the 50s spread at bay. That generous bottom was clad in expensive jeans with highly decorated pockets and a fancy leather belt and her feet were shod in the type of high platform leather sandals that were popular a few years ago and that show off toe rings to great effect.

There she was: the fit and fabulous 40s mom. Short hair, tanned, accessorized, workout-class fit, and covered in brand names. They’re all over town. Maybe they’re in your town, too. They dress sexy, they work hard to have fit bodies to fit into the sexy clothes, and they use all the weapons in the beauty industry arsenal to accent the features they have left to them after four decades of neglect.

When we went to the library, we encountered another archetypal woman in the children’s section. She wore a faded floral jumper with a white tee beneath. Her hair, too, was short, but not gelled or in any other way coiffed. It hung in limp surrender around her face, which was denuded of any makeup or tan. Whereas the fit and fabulous mom’s body moved easily around her space, the faded floral mom did not move. She stood and listened to woman nearly her twin talk about some committee full of other faded floral moms doing something wonderful for children if only the other women on the committee could work together and more efficiently. Faded floral 30s mom’s daughters also wore faded florals, but in shorts and tees rather than jumpers. All wore white ankle socks.

Is this why, I thought, fit and fabulous mom exists? Because, at some point, she looks through the family pictures from the decade of her 30s and realizes that, somewhere in those ten years she lost the joy of a little vanity? So off to the salon to dye the hair, cut it shorter and gel it up? To the tanner to eradicate the pasty white skin of her faded floral jumper persona? And to the gym to tighten and lift muscles left flabby by a decade of standing in place listening to other faded floral moms talk about raising children and provincial cultural events?

And what made faded floral mom give up and slide on the jumper and let her hair hang lank?

In the parking lot to the library we saw our last archetypal mom. A young woman wearing jeans too tight around her waist and thighs, the rise too low, thus highlighting the extra weight she hasn’t quite lost from the two babies she’s toting around, which sits around her middle known and is vulgarly known as the muffin top. Thong underwear peer out as she bends to pick up a small child, the cruelly-named whale-tail. Her feet sport flip flops and at least one toe a toe ring. Her nose is pierced, but her ears have only one set of holes. She wears a baby-tee that’s not quite long enough to cover the gap left by the low rise of her jeans, so the muffin top is left exposed. But she’s in her 20s, damn it, and she refuses to dress like an old woman or wear mommy jeans. If you’ve got it, flaunt it.

One day 20s tummy mom will see a picture of herself and want to hide the body she left so exposed when her children were little. Because her children are still small and require so much of her time, and because she’s become involved in so many committees, she won’t have time to actually lose that baby weight, but the jumper hides many sins. And so-and-so said that the chemicals they use in salons cause seven kinds of cancer and she can’t leave her young children motherless, and it’s so hard to get to the salon anyway, that she trims her own split ends, stops highlighting her hair, and barely notices when it begins to gray. And she’s too old to dress sexy, anyway. At least until she turns 40 and joins the local gym’s boot camp.