Do you remember the 80’s? Most specifically, at home permenants?
For the rest of my life (which should be about forty years from now, hopefully), I’m going to have a reaction to home permenants the way men react when another guy takes a hard hit in the junk: I’m going to wince and bend over a bit, hyperventilating.
If you’ve read me for any period of time, you’re aware I was without the benefit of a good mother (which is a polite way for saying “What was the state of Pennsylvania thinking giving her a child???”). And this is not so much a retelling of my heartbreaking childhood or what I learned from it, so much as its just a recounting of how I came to loathe home permanents. And how I became the parent I am.
Picture it: 1984, 1985. The world was under the impression that big ass bangs, acid wash jeans, and blue eye shadow was fabulous. I have no idea what inspired my mother to believe it was a good idea to beging giving me home permanents. Maybe it was Dallas and Victoria Principal’s tight curly locks.
But Ms Principal had a team of highly professional stylists who had years of experience under their belts. My mother had a six year old who didn’t want curly hair, and no experience with anything hair related. Yet that didn’t stop her.
There’s nothing worse than being shoved into an uncomfortable wooden kitchen chair, and being told to hold still while your mom is yanking your hair and rolling it too tightly onto curlers. And then having your head drowned in toxic smelling chemicals, with a bonus of you can’t actually wash your hair for several days because it would cause the perm to fall out (just once I wish there would have been a freak rainstorm to save my poor hair.)
Every single time, without fail, my hair turned an unnatural shade of orange. Half of it broke off. The other half that survived? It was a frizzy mess, no where near the curls I’m sure my mom had invisioned. Ever see someone who uses bleach to go blonde at home? Yep, that was me, except with orange hair that was similar to a cheeto. It was so awful that our church organist, who was a hairdresser during the week, took one look at it and told my mother to never again let which ever hairdresser had wrecked my hair to touch it. My mother’s response was to get huffy and make us start going to another church.
I swore as a small child that if ever I became a mother to daughters, I’d allow them to choose their own hair.
Flash forward to 2011: Amethyst is now seven and asks to cut her waist length hair off. I panic and tell her she can cut it when she’s eight. On the afternoon of her eighth birthday, my oldest child comes into my room with my hair scissors and reminds me of the promise I’d made her.
“Are you sure?” I asked, hoping she’d say no.
“Yes,” she said, looking at me to see how I’d respond.
“How short?” I ask her, terrified of the answer.
“To above my shoulders.”
I parted her hair down the middle, secured it in two braids, took a deep breath and reminded myself of the promise I made when I was her age. And I cut. She was so excited and happy. “Go show your father,” I said. I then went into my bedroom, shut and locked the door, buried my face in a pillow and cried.
She didn’t know I was heartbroken until today, on her sister’s eighth birthday, when Autumn reminded me of the promise I’d made to her when she was six: “You can cut your hair short on your eighth birthday.”
“You cut mine on my eighth birthday and it was fine Mom,” Amethyst reminded me this morning when I was trying to convince Autumn she wanted her hair to remain long, with little luck.
“Yeah, and I cried like a baby after,” I respond.
“Then why’d you do it?” Amethyst asked, with the implied DUH loud and clear.
“Because you wanted it. And its your hair.” And my answer reminded me of the phrase Forest for the Trees.
It’s not my hair. It’s my daughter’s hair. And sooner rather than later, life’s going to present Autumn with a choice, and she’ll have to make it, no matter what my feelings are. And I’ll support her choices, even if I myself would not make the same choice, because she’s my daughter.
We want our children to have better than we ourselves had. I had a mother who never considered my wants and more often than not tried to force me into a box that I would never fit into. I had a mother who never learned to love and appreciate me as I was and as I became, and who hated me for anything that indicated I was not hers biologically, whether it was my green eyes, porceline skin, or creative personality.
I took Autumn to my hair dresser’s salon, and Sarah wrapped my daughters waist length blonde hair into two pony tail bands, and snipped.
I wanted to throw myself on the ground and tantrum. I wanted to curl up into a ball and cry hysterically. I considered asking Sarah to put extensions in, but didn’t want to be melodramatic. Instead, I looked at my second born and asked, “Are you happy?”
“Oh yes! I love it!” That’s all I needed to hear. And all I needed to see was her bouncing around the salon, patting her hair, feeling proud at having something she wanted for herself.
I didn’t want her to get her hair cut. But it’s not my hair. And in several years, I’m not going to like her boyfriend (let’s face it, he’s probably going to be a big ol’ jerk wad), what clothing she wants to wear, how much eyeliner she’s going to put on. I’m probably not going to agree with her post high school plans. She’s going to pick a career that I myself would never pick, and she’ll raise her kids with a parenting style different from my own. She’ll paint rooms in her house pink, she’ll probably purchase a minivan, and she’ll probably own khakis and dress like a prep, or worse, like a hipster.
But that’s okay. The choices she makes, the life she makes for herself? It’s a life she’s going to be living long after I’m gone. She has to live within the life she builds for herself. My job is to guide her, to teach her compassion, kindness, how to avoid jerk guys, how to respect herself and to hold her head up high. My job is to make certain she knows that she’s loved always and unconditionally, and that I’m behind her, even if I don’t always agree with her decisions. To be a better mother than I myself had.
Happy Birthday Baby Girl. I’m so thrilled you’re in the world and can’t wait to see who you become.