“I need a haircut.” I announced to no one in particular. “My hair is looking scraggly around the edges, plus it’s lying too flat, which means I need to trim it up. Tonight, maybe, before I get in the shower.”
Mother looked up and rolled her eyes at me. She and I rarely agree over my hair. But, that’s nothing new, in fact, that disagreement goes back five decades.
Back to when I was thirteen and got my first glasses. As I walked home from the Doctor’s office wearing my new glasses, I was so excited that I could actually see. The individual leaves on the trees; the colors and shapes of flowers across the street and the street signs. Had our house always been that bright a pink? That day, I ran inside and headed directly for the bathroom and the mirror.
“Let me see your glasses.” Mother called from the kitchen. I closed the bathroom door. Finally. I would be able to really see myself. What I saw horrified me. I was thirteen, not ten years old, and I didn’t sing and dance, so why did I have Shirley Temple curls?
I had no idea that Mother had bobby pinned curls into place along the top of my head. There were long curls that hung down to frame my face and more curls that went all around the back of my head.
How could she have done this to me? There was a pimple on my chin. Why hadn’t she told me or done something about it? How could she treat me like a little girl?
I had been betrayed by the one person who was supposed to be on my side; the one who was supposed to prepare me for life out in the world. I stood there in shock. Never again would I trust her with my hair.
I found her in the kitchen fixing dinner. The smell of pinto beans that had been simmering all day mingled with the heat of hot cornbread and made my stomach growl.
“Set the table.” She said. “Dinner’s nearly ready.”
I moved around her to get to the silverware drawer. Her brown hair was combed into brushed out curls that framed her head and ended just below her ears. She was thirty-six and slim and trim in a sleeveless shirt and petal pushers. Her skin was tanned from spending afternoons in the vegetable garden out back. She had the record player on and “The Girl From Ipanema” fit the moment perfectly.
“Tall and tan and young and lovely, the girl from Ipanema goes walking.”
Why hadn’t she seen how ridiculous I looked? Wasn’t it part of her job to get me ready to be the girl from Ipanema? Instead I felt ugly and hopeless.
I had to take charge of my looks. And, I had to tread softly because her feelings were fragile. Plus, Daddy was her biggest supporter, so this had to be handled carefully.
“I’m going to do my own hair tonight.” I said. She turned to look at me, her face flushed from the heat that poured off the brewed tea she was pouring into the pitcher to make sweetened tea.
“Really?” She looked at me and at my hair critically. “You brushed out your curls.”
“Mother. I’m thirteen. Don’t you think I should start doing my own hair?”
She looked a little taken back by that but frazzled enough with getting dinner on the table that she didn’t argue. The back door slammed and the light green kitchen and dining room with their cream and brown colored vinyl floors were filled with my Dad, my sister and my two brothers.
“Got your glasses, didn’t you, Sugar?” Daddy smiled at me through his glasses, the look of total love and support in his eyes. I was still his little girl, but somehow that was different. I smiled back at him and moved on to the table and laid out the silverware. It was noisy with all the bustling around, hands were washed, food was put on the table and finally, everyone took a seat. The subject of hair didn’t come up. I breathed a sigh of relief.
Four years after the Shirley Temple curls, Mother had been asking me the same question for months, “Why don’t we put a perm in your hair?” My straight, fine hair took a lot of coaxing, teasing and spraying every day to get it to look like the First Lady, Jackie’s, hair. Mother was sure a home perm was the answer. I must have forgotten my pledge to never trust her with my hair, because I finally agreed.
“Oh, honey. I’m sorry.” She said as she unwound the rollers. My stomach was in knots as I made my way to bathroom mirror. She had done it to me again. Ruined me for public life. “Serves you right,” I whispered to myself in the mirror, “you shouldn’t have listened to her.” The last of my Afro (ten years before that style was popular) was trimmed off a full year later.
Then during summer vacation in my college years, I came home and the first thing Mother said to me was, “We need to do something with your hair, honey.” She fussed and worried about my hair all that summer. Had she forgotten the perm? I hadn’t. Nor had I forgotten those Shirley Temple curls.
“No, thank you. I’m fine, Mother. I’ll take care of my own hair.” Through the years, she was always ready with a solution. I stayed on the offensive. She never touched my hair again. I wasn’t happy that I couldn’t trust her. It made me tired to always be on the offensive. I didn’t want to be the adult to my own Mother. It would be so nice for someone to take care of me, to let me give up the burden of doing it all myself. I didn’t see that I had any choice, though, so I stayed strong in my resolve to take care of my own hair and little by little I learned to like who I was, even with my fine, limp hair.
Now, I leave the bathroom, fresh from a shower, my hair trimmed up. In the dining room Mother sits dozing in her spot at the dining room table. At 85 years old, she’s wrapped in a sweater and a lap blanket to help keep her warm, even in the heat of summer.
She looks up at me, groggy, and says, “You cut your hair again? It was just starting to look nice.”
There was a time when I argued with her or tried to make her understand my choices, but I like me and I’ve finally learned we won’t ever agree on this subject. I smile and don’t even feel irritated.
“Yes, Mother, I just cut it and I like it.”