And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.
Eons ago, when I was a little girl, my mother hated my hair. She told me over and over that when she had a daughter, she expected her to be blonde with big fat curls. I’m not sure how she expected this – both she and my dad had dark brown hair, and though my dad’s did have a bit of a wave to it, my mother’s was stick straight. So is mine. And the red is manufactured…I have brown hair. Equally confounding was that she expected me to have blue eyes. My eyes are brown, of course.
She combatted my hair. Every Sunday, I had to sit while she rolled my hair up in really uncomfortable curlers and then try to sleep. I had to suffer through it for school picture day too. The result was really not so good.
On top of that, there was a disagreement between my parents as to the length of a young girl’s hair. My father wanted my hair long. My mother wanted it short. She had short permed hair all her life. So my hair was allowed to grow out during the school year, but when summer vacation came around, she would sneak me off to a hair salon or a barber within walking distance on a weekday when my father was at work – my mother didn’t drive at that time. She would have my hair cut into a pixie, despite my protests. And so for the first few weeks of summer, I had to put up with my father calling me his son. And my mother saying this wouldn’t happen if I was just blonde and curly-haired. Oh, and blue-eyed.
Around the sixth grade, my mother gave up – primarily, I think, because we lived in a subdivision in the middle of cornfields, and there was nothing within walking distance. I let my hair grow, and by my senior year, it hung to just behind my knees. A few weeks before I graduated, immersed in the Mary Lou Retton era, I went to a salon and had 3 feet of hair cut off. It looked great once – when I came home. Then I discovered my lack of depth perception (a fallout of eye surgeries) made it impossible for me to use a curling iron. I couldn’t tell where my forehead was. So instead of “feathers”, I sported burns. I grew my hair back out to shoulder-length, put up with a few years of perms, and eventually, cut it short.
Eventually, my life went through a sort of epiphany and I stepped into new situations. I left my first husband and married my second. I had Olivia. I began to teach in community and continuing education. I started the studio. I had a hair stylist for years named John, who, whenever he cut my hair, would punk it. I’d laugh, wear it home, and promptly comb the gel out of my hair. But I began to notice my red highlights. And John said, “You know, you’re a redhead at heart. You’re strong, you’re determined, and stubborn as hell.”
I considered this.
The summer before Olivia went into first grade, she spent mornings in summer school and I took myself one day to John. When I walked onto the playground later to pick her up, her jaw dropped. So did her teachers’. “Mama!” she said. “Is that you?” My hair was red. And it was punked. And I felt like maybe I was stepping into who I was. Maybe I was that stubborn redhead. Maybe. I knew for sure I wasn’t that quiet child who put up with the curlers and tried my best to maintain those curls for more than a few hours. I once seriously considered dying my hair blond, perming it, and wearing blue contact lenses. But now, here I was. A redhead, spiked, owning my own business, writing and publishing up a storm.
“Is that you?” Maybe.
Since turning 60 years old, I’ve been looking a lot at those school photographs. That little girl with brown hair. Level brown-eyed gaze. A ready smile. She was quiet and accepting, but she was also strong. Determined. I would exchange confident for stubborn, but stubborn isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes stubborn is what gets you through.
I’m getting my hair cut today. John passed away a few years ago. I’ve told my new stylist, Megan, that we are not coloring my hair. No more red. Just brown. Me.
“Mama! Is that you?”
Yes. I think so.
And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.
(And oh – I’m keeping the spikes.)