Still Me

By Jill Hudson Neal
Special to
Thursday, September 21, 2006; 8:01 AM

Confession time: I'm not all that cool. I'm not slick and I can't pretend to be a hipster, even though I wear a lot of black and have an obsession for really great shoes. Like most mothers, I'm too busy and too tired to worry about being perfect. With two small boys, a cute husband (he's hovering and asked me to write that), a demanding job, a house in the suburbs and a parent who's ill, I don't have the luxury of worrying about how much mojo I've lost over the last 10 years.

But, as the Design Editor of the Washington Post Magazine, I've got a very cool job that allows me to come in regular contact with a fair number of pretty hip people: interior designers, photographers, artists and scores of other creative types. I also meet a lot of regular people who express a similar lament: with so many important things clamoring for their attention, keeping up with what's new, nevermind what's next, often slides to the stove's back burner.

The idea for this column came earlier this year, a few weeks prior to my 37th birthday. While picking up my kids from pre-school, I caught sight of myself in the reflection of a car window. Staring back was a sleepy woman in a Mommy Uniform: nerdy glasses, no makeup, paint-splattered nurse clogs, saggy jeans and messy hair ("paging Clairol -- stat!"). But the ensemble was only a symptom of the real problem. I realized that I hadn't read a newspaper -- my own newspaper, the one that pays my mortgage -- or watched the TV news in over a week. I could, however, quote entire pages of dialogue from Disney's "The Incredibles" and sing the theme songs of every single show appearing between 8 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. on the Noggin cable network.

Of course, many mothers, especially those with small children, have similar stories. So I thought I would take what I've learned from living in this fascinating, vibrant city and create a primer of sorts for moms who want a little bit of what they had before their kids arrived on the scene. You know, back before you were sleep-deprived, harried, over-committed and generally hyper-anxious about how to fit it all in.

I called Miriam Arond, editor-in-chief of Child magazine, to talk about how moms can put a bit of hipness back into their lives. But before discussing the how, Arond says, we should look into the "why."

"For so many moms, there's a really strong need to hold onto who they were before they had kids," explains Arond. "They feel like they can be much better parents to their kids if they feel good about themselves. It helps with their mindset."

Arond says she's seen a real shift in the last six to 10 years in how modern women value their mental, physical and social well-being vis-à-vis motherhood. "Parents years ago felt like they were being selfish if they focused on themselves as much as their kids," she adds. "Now you see that moms are much more open about the fact that they start resenting their kids, their husbands, their work, if they don't take time out for themselves.

"There's a stronger feeling of not wanting to give up that part of themselves that they knew before they became moms," she says.

The good news is that the generation gap between mothers and their kids is much smaller today than say, 20 years ago, says Arond, who has two daughters, ages 18 and 20. And that's making it easier for women to retain some of their edge.

"We see it more and more. Moms are dressing in hip ways, even when -- especially when -- they're pregnant. They're listening to the same music and using the same technology that their kids are using.

"And kids enjoy that you're part of their trends," Arond notes. "Parents set the mood for their kids when they take a little bit of extra time out for themselves."'

And that's what this column will aim to do. I'm not trying to be the Dr. Phil of hip. I don't see this space as a place to scold you for not being cool enough or wag my finger in judgment. I see it more as a place to have a conversation, reflect on my own experiences and share what my access is teaching me about how to retain a bit of sexy edge.

Please send me e-mails with your own stories and advice. Nominate moms you know who are hip enough to teach us all a thing or two. Whose name would be on the "Hip Mom Hall of Fame" and why? Do you have opinions on which topics we should tackle in this column? Let me know.

So if being a cool mom is all about being a little better informed, then the "Still Me" column should be a place where we can get our learn on. We'll be talking about a range of topics, from music and fashion, books and music, pop culture trends and even politics. Help me out, people. And, as the Black Eyed Peas would say, let's get it started in here!

© 2006 The Washington Post Company