Like The Great British Bake Off and tarot cards, skin care seemed like a fun trend to investigate. And I tried, I really did. Lots of smart, cool women I know have gotten deeply into various creams and masks and serums and mists, and their enthusiasm is infectious. I have a lengthy email still saved from a particularly knowledgeable skin-care friend who wrote a detailed response to my half-baked questions about products, dispensing information that I was amazed by but soon forgot.
It’s not that I think I’m above skin care, or disinclined to spend the money, or skeptical of the products’ ability to have a discernible effect on my skin. It’s just that if you practice grooming the way we seem to in 2018, you must spend a decent amount of time looking at your face in the mirror. I don’t want to do that.
In January, my face and I turned 33. I was born with an underbite that was surgically corrected in the year 2000, but barring that, my face has been subject to nothing but the ordinary ravages of age and acne. Not much about my face surprises me anymore — I’d recognize her anywhere. For me, every glimpse in the mirror is a rerun, albeit one where the actors are allowed to age in real time, which is to say, almost imperceptibly. In other words, looking in the mirror is boring.
My son’s face was born in April of 2016. It has gone through a number of phases since then, all of which I’ve obsessively monitored, as parents tend to do. I spend a lot of time browsing my own Instagram, or caught in the backlogs of photos stored on my phone. His features were once so much smaller on his face, and his acne stage lasted much longer than it seemed at the time. Now, at 2, every smile glistens with a full mouth of teeth.
When he was younger, the spaces behind his ears became dry and flaky easily. We discovered that when you rubbed lotion over the spots his eyes would sometimes roll like those of a dog caught in the ecstasy of being scratched. Could there be anything better?
Those flaky patches began my love affair with caring for my toddler’s physical appearance, which I have decided is my personal version of 2018 skin care. I love the feeling of slathering a dry patch with Aquaphor, of marveling at how quickly the same product can clear up an angry-red diaper rash. I love to painstakingly clip his nails and wipe the sand off his face. My technique is nowhere near what I want it to be, but I hope to turn sunscreen application into an art form.
Truly, there is nothing more satisfying than caring for the small, perfect face of someone you love. While my own face trudges along steadily, my toddler’s face progresses with a gallop, looking ever more beautiful (to me) and in need of just a little bit of care. What’s wonderful about this is that the products are cheap and uncomplicated, and the results, quick and dependable.
That’s not to say that a toddler’s beauty routine is all sunshine and fragrance-free perfume. The other day my son and I spent a glorious morning at the playground, learning just how quickly we could slip down a concrete slide. I’d covered us both in sunscreen before leaving the house, of course, but it seems I needed to reapply. When he woke from a nap hours later, his cheeks were red with burn. That night, I yanked his pajamas over his head and the fabric slipping over his skin made him scream.
Aquaphor, my savoir, soothed his burn overnight, but I’ve yet to experience Aquaphor’s ability to do anything for hair. This is a current problem, perhaps one that whispers of a time to come when he’ll be tall enough to stare into the mirror and tend to his face in private. But right now his hair is too long and unruly. His curls droop into his face. Any hint of moisture in the air makes him look like a horrifying miniature vision of Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka. I tried to take matters into my own hands (how hard could it be?), but my son screeched and flung himself away once the scissors neared his neck. He has a haircut scheduled for this weekend. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so invested in a haircut in my life.
Of course, there’s going to be a time where my son’s looks are no longer in my care, when despite my enthusiasm (or because of it), his face might be something he doesn’t want to talk to me about. I’ll have to keep my admiration and my hands to myself, and maybe that’s when I’ll return to my own face. For now, I suspect my own haircut is bad, and I am positive my adult acne is at adult strength. I’m not sure if choosing to ignore those facts counts as denying or accepting my flaws, or neither, or both. I just know there’s only one face I want to stare at and care for, and that face does not belong to me, even if I wish it did.