Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A Wild Hair

My mom was a busy lady.  Every morning she had to get herself, my sister and I ready for the day and into either her Oldsmobile or my dad's truck on schedule.  There were worksheets to gather, shoes to find and youngest daughters to coax out of bed.  There were dogs to feed, schedules to look at, graded papers to put into a faded 'Apple Computer' satchel and tap shoes to stuff into the bottom of a Holly Hobby backpack.

My father did his part before fleeing to his office by either throwing some Toaster Strudel into the toaster oven or microwaving some waffles and smearing them with Jif and Aunt Jemima, depending on how late we were and if we'd be able spare a couple of moments to use a fork.  My mom never had time for the gooey waffles and neither did he.  In fact, I grew up believing that all adults ate breakfast in an automobile of some sort, driving and lecturing their children while keeping a Pop-Tart or a pastry from Sam's Club from sliding off the console and onto the floorboards.  I also grew up with a deep appreciation for the importance of commuter coffee mugs.  The right one provided my parents with a steaming hot cup of tolerance for my sister and I and never leaked onto blouses or ties.  The wrong one could ruin your whole day and result in my dad yelling "God bless America!" (his answer to not cursing in front of us) in a terrifying voice that echoed around the cab of his pickup truck.

The most important part of the morning occurred in my mother's bathroom.  Whomever arrived first got to sit on the fancy little stool and have her hair done with my mom's full attention, meaning a cooler hairstyle.  The tardy girl could be sure she'd be rockin' a ponytail at best.  My sister and I both had long hair and we loved to experiment despite the fact we couldn't so much as comb our own hair without help.  You'd have been better off asking me to change the oil in your car than to fix my own hair in its signature pigtails.  Every morning we competed for an elaborate braid or the pretty ribbon barrettes from the basket on her vanity.  I usually won because I was bigger, faster and wasn't above throwing elbows.

One morning, though, I was slow.  I was sullen and sad and late.  I'd probably failed to receive a scratch n' sniff grape sticker on my homework or some such horror.  I knew I'd be eating a cherry Pop Tart in the car with my mother because it was soooo not shaping up to be a fork day.  By the time I got to my mother's bathroom, I was met with a stern look.  My sister was already done, her hair in a pretty curled ponytail and my mom was was busy turning off the little row of lights over the dressing area.  What could this mean?  She took one look at my rumpled tangles and said, "You're late.  You're going to school just like that."

Like that?  With no hairstyle?  With no Strawberry Shortcake barrettes or pink plastic headband?  No braids?  No Princess Leah buns or fuzzy red ribbon tying my hair back halfway?  No curling iron?  NO PIGTAILS?!!!

She might as well have told me I had to go to school bald.

I don't remember the aftermath of this day, such was the trauma to my spoiled little head.  I only know what my parents, laughing a little too hard, recollected for me years later.  Apparently I hid behind a bookcase and sobbed until a teacher found me and coaxed me out.  I was never late for my morning hair appointment again and even learned to do some things myself.  I learned french braids and dog ears and proper pony tail placement.  I practiced on my sister and my creepy Barbie head.  I was a hit at slumber parties.

By the time I got to late Elementary School, I had newfound hair bravery and I felt a need to differentiate myself from the other children.  I wanted to mark my individuality somehow; to let everyone know how cool and weird I was.  I'd always had long hair and at the beginning of 5th Grade, was unfortunately recognizable by everyone at school because of a local commercial I'd done for our town's sesquicentennial.  I rebelled.  I not only cut all of my hair off, I also had the stylist leave one long braid that hung down from the side of my head like a snake.  Not only would I not be as easily identified as the long-haired dork on television talking about planes, I'd look like a rock star!

My new look lasted three days.  After seventy-two hours of the type of mental pain only ten years olds know how to inflict, I had my precious rocker tail cut off.  What I was left with was pretty much a bowl cut that took years to grow out.  I looked like a little boy.  A goofy, sad little boy with a penchant for parachute pants.

The moral of this tale is that I learned my lesson and haven't done anything drastic to my hair since then, right?  Well, no.  I'll dye it blonde, then red, then black, then back to brown again.  I'll get highlights or lowlights.  I'll shave the back or have it permed straight (just that one time). And, every four years or so, I take a look at my head of long curly hair and I freak out.  It seems heavy and gross and old-fashioned.  It's weighing me down!  I look like someone's third wife!  I need it gone immediately!  I go to my stylist and request she cut it chin-length or shorter.  She tries to talk me out of it, I win and I go home feeling triumphant and satisfied for about a week.  Lighter.  Then I freak out and cry and begin growing it back out.  I resort to drastic measures.  I use shampoos made for horses or infomercial vitamins or I consume so much soy that it makes me break out in a rash just before having to wear a sleeveless bridesmaid's dress in my brother-in-law's wedding.  You know, sane stuff like that.

Right now I am in that in-between stage of growing out, which, because of my curls, means I resemble Fizgig from The Dark Crystal.  It will be months before my hair decides to grow down instead of straight out and I'll have to convince myself each and every morning to leave the house despite the curly helmet framing my face.  I will frequently have the urge to turn to the person behind me in line at Coffee Bean and say, "I don't really look like this.  I'm really much cuter."  I will avoid mirrors.  And cameras.  And ex-boyfriends.

Please be nice to me during this difficult time.  I haven't hid behind a bookshelf for many many years but  I can feel that bratty child inside, ready to throw a hissy fit over what is essentially just a bunch of dead cells attached to my head.  In a few months I know I'll be okay.  I will survive.  For at least four years anyway.