It’s not uncommon for me to shop for a particular food online. I found myself on amazon last night after our trip to Jason’s Deli because I really love that chocolate sauce. As in, forget the soft serve even though it’s also great, but it’s really just an excuse for the sauce. I was invited to select a charity to benefit from the proceeds of my amazon shopping, which can be substantial in a year. You think 10% isn’t that much, but then the first two years of your daughter’s life, you buy diapers [and all the things] at Costco and get that back as in-store credit, and you are excited at first and then realize that means you spent 10x that… Anyway a 30 minute analysis ensued. Of all the things that cause me heartburn, what do I care about the most? Human? Animal? Political? Global? The choices are dizzying. I polled the audience. Joel’s answer, while inspiring, didn’t stir me to action. I mean, I care about protecting America from becoming a totalitarian city-state, but Neil Degrasse Tyson has me thinking even bigger. What is going to keep humanity from the likes of Idiocracy (where I think we’re headed) and change the course toward a more progressive and sustainable future (of which I hope, but only on really good days, we’re capable)? Besides, he’s on it, so his cause already has a champion of sorts. No, I would need something else, and all this has really distracted me from my original goal of purchasing an item that is NOT on my most recent attempt at a healthy diet. Zoe usually has good ideas, so I ask her: What is the greatest problem facing our world today?
Her answer? “My hair.”
I. Have. Failed.
And I would say this separately from the scene just prior to our dinner. But in conjunction with the following, I say it emphatically.
En route to the restaurant, Zoe breaks down. She’s sobbing. What started as a mild protest to leaving the house at all, fueled in part by my request that she trade out a tutu for a skirt that covered her undies, escalated to a foul mood while corralling her hair into a neater ponytail. Large tears began while walking to the car, and by the time we pulled out of the garage, she was wailing. “I hate my bangs! They’re in my face and they’re really BOTHERING ME!” Her bangs, which had just grown past her chin, were recently butchered by her own hand over a week ago. Despite near daily conversations, usually as I pinned back the bangs in some way, about how we just have to give it time, that they will, eventually, be even with the rest of her hair, and every hair trim, revisiting the issue of whether she wants bangs or not, and her vehemently denying ever wanting bangs again, she impulsively chopped the very front chunk of her bangs to less than one inch long with school scissors during a story time in class. The curls came home to us in a baggie, utterly useless other than as relics of a less frustrating time.
The following day, we visited my favorite salon for professional help. There was, of course, nothing to be done about the bangs but to attempt a cover up with a thick set of longer bangs. It is passable at some angles, but then she moves. I know in two or three weeks, this will be a non-issue. But she does not. And actually, the thing she’s most upset about, and the thing she may recall as the first time I’ve ruined her life (because she doesn’t remember that incident at 9 months involving an elevator door – her hand is fine – or countless other times I’ve screwed up), is that in addition to a bang repair which necessitated more bangs, I had the GALL to get the rest of her hair cut. Her Dad and I reassure her that she is beautiful with whatever hair she has, and the recent trim has done it nicely. She doesn’t hear any of this. “Every time someone says it looks good, it makes me feel worse! My hair is SHORT!” It’s not, though, Zoe, it’s past your should- “BARELY!” It looks healthier and will be easier to maintain with all the swimming this summer, and besides, it will grow back quickly. “Not quickly enough! I’m going to have to look like this ALL SUMMER!” She’s seven, you guys. Double her age, and I would expect her to care that much about her hair. But I had no idea we were in for this so early. Then I remember my puff bangs. A school photo flashes across my mind, and it’s all coming back to me now. Curling iron, can of hair spray, more than a few incidents involving me on the floor in tears over a few misplaced strands of hair… I’m not proud, but it adds up.
“I WAS OKAY WITH A TRIM! THIS MUCH!” – she barely has her thumb and first finger separated – “BUT YOU LET HIM CUT THIS MUCH!” – her hand is at her shoulder – “AND NOW I LOOK RIDICULOUS!” I’m no longer furious with her for being so short-sighted and cutting the offending swaths of hair. She is facing a universal problem in civilized society: the post-salon remorse. The powerlessness of putting your appearance in someone else’s hands and feeling violated when the outcome is not what you agreed upon at the start. And she’s the girl with the long beautiful waves (work with me – we do our best – the raw material is sheer perfection, but we don’t always have the time or she the patience to maximize its potential), so I truly understand her devastation. And I, as her mother, who should protect her and advocate for her, agreed with the stylist to “take off a couple of inches to get it healthy”. We’ve all been there. That means losing at least twice what you intended, and the initial freedom quickly becomes oppressive and you feel naked. I did the exact same thing last June and have second-guessed it almost every day. I feel her pain. So I try to comfort her by focusing on what’s important, as I try to do with myself.
“At least you have hair. It’s beautiful and healthy and your own. It WILL grow back. We have the freedom to display our hair, to fix it however we want. There are people who can’t, who are forced to keep it covered or wear it a certain way, or who have no hair at all. I was bald.” I did; I played the cancer card. “And my hair came back and now it’s just not as important.” She seemed to understand and was quiet. I reminded her of the recent Locks of Love drive at her school and how people choose to cut off more than 10 inches of their hair so other can have some, and how her own Cap’n shaved his head so I wouldn’t be alone in my hairlessness. She was impressed. We even laughed about how her Aunt Ft nicely threatens her stylists if they take more than the small fraction she requests, and how this is a good example of how we must be firm and explicit about our desires and make sure we have done what we can to ensure the other person hears us.
I felt good. I felt like she heard me. We went on to have an uneventful dinner and rest of the evening. But somehow, her hair is still the greatest problem the world faces.