I never knew my mother with long hair. A peek into my childhood photo album proves this to be true. In all the photos, all the memories, my mother had carefully coiffed hair.
Her Thursday ritual was always the same: a 4:00 appointment at the Jon-Robert Beauty Salon (pronounced ‘jzon-ro-bear’, not because they were French, but because one only needed to meet these two men to know that they were a far cry from anyone who might pronounce their names “John” and “Robert”). Each Thursday, my mother would disappear for a few hours, leaving us in my father’s care. As kids, we loved Thursdays. We could tell what day of the week it was by what my mother was cooking for dinner. Sunday was always a formal dinner with a roast of some sort. Monday was meatloaf. If we were eating porkchops, it must be Tuesday. Wednesday was always spaghetti day. Etc. But Thursdays were special. Thursdays were Dad’s choice since he was cooking dinner in Mom’s absence. Most Thursdays we’d sit down to breakfast for dinner. Stacks of pancakes and bacon. Plates filled with french toast and bacon. Western omelets and bacon. Every once in a while, Dad had a craving for liver. It was not a craving that any of us shared. Even smothered in catsup, we couldn’t be enticed. Those nights we were given the option of a bowl of Frosted Flakes or Sugar Smacks which we gladly accepted. But this post isn’t about Thursdays, or liver, or my mother’s perfect hair. This is a post about listening to my mother. Or not listening to her as it turns out.
My mother despised my long hair. I recognized early on that I did not have custodial rights to my hair. This was made very clear to me one night when my mother was brushing the ‘rat’s nest’ out of the back of my hair. I refused to sit still as she tugged gobs of my golden locks from my scalp. Squirming and twisting with all my might to escape each dreaded brush stroke, I never saw the scissors coming. My mother cut off most my hair and proclaimed my new pixie cut ‘adorable’. I think my father actually cried, but was too afraid to actually step in to stop her. My mother spent the next few months trying to convince everyone that it was the cutest hair cut ever. I hated it of course and dreamt of the day when I had control of my own hair.
The dreaded Pixie cut.
Eventually my mother relinquished her custody of my hair. But still, she sought every opportunity to give me good reasons why I should maintain a shorter style. When the first baby came along, she suggested life would be much easier with shorter hair. New moms apparently didn’t have time to deal with long hair. The first time my son burped up half a bottle of formula in my hair, my mother smiled and said, “Maybe you should listen to your mother.” So I started wearing it in a ponytail 90% of the time.
When my second son was born, my first son constantly campaigned for attention. He had just learned how to blow bubbles with his Bazooka bubble gum. In a desperate attempt to distract me from his new brother, he blew an enormous bubble. The bubble was impressive until it popped in my hair. A newborn in my arm, a toddler screaming uncontrollably because my hair ‘stole his gum’, and my mother laughing on the other end of the phone, “Maybe you should listen to your mother.” I banished gum for years, but kept my long hair.
Over the span of the next 20 years, my mother’s words would ring in my ears from time to time. Soemtimes in person, sometimes via AT&T. ”When you hit 40, you should cut your hair. Long hair isn’t flattering on older women.” She obviously didn’t read the latest magazines during her weekly visits to Jon-Robert’s Beauty Salon. Forty + women have long hair. And they wear it well. At least some of them do! Through the years I managed to keep both my stand and my long hair.
In her final years, Mom suffered from severe macular degeneration. Her vision was minimal at best. Still she’d check in with me when I’d come to visit. ”Is your hair still long?” I suppose I could have lied and said no. I could have given her some small taste of victory. But the emotional trauma of that first unexpected pixie cut ran deep. I couldn’t lie any more than I could cut my hair. Which brings me to today. Today I was close to giving in to Mom.
I had shoulder surgery a few days ago so I’m sporting a sling for the next few weeks. This is my third shoulder surgery in a year and a half, so I know what to expect. I have figured out what I can and can’t do with the use of only one good arm. Putting my hair up in a ponytail is something that falls under the ‘can’t do’ category. The morning started off cool enough so there was no grave concern about asking my husband to put my hair up before leaving me stranded for the day. Then noon came around and the thermometer skyrocketed. I found myself weighed down with the oppressive heat and this damned long hair. I did a search on the internet to see if there was some magical trick to putting one’s hair up in a ponytail with only one arm. There were suggestions. Plenty of them. Some included having a residual arm to help or a special tool for one armed ponytail wearers. I had neither the residual arm nor the special tool. I looked at the dogs with their tongues drooping out of their mouths. They offered neither advice nor assistance. I tried everything I could and nothing worked. The more I failed at getting the hair off my neck, the more agitated I became. The more agitated I became, the hotter I got. I finally plopped down on the couch and my mother’s words came tumbling out of nowhere. ”Maybe you should listen to your mother.” Her words echoed in the stillness of the afternoon heat. Had there been a pair of scissors handy, I might have fallen victim to a self-inflicted pixie cut. Luckily, there were none to be seen. I was at a loss. I sensed defeat. During a much needed cooling down period, I found myself browsing through old photos and came across this one. I think I’m about 10 in the picture. (Black and white polaroid…I’m dating myself by posting this one.)
This was obviously taken during the period when I had custody of my hair. My mother NEVER would have let my hair look like that. Pigtails? Hadn’t even thought of that. After a few last sweaty attempts, I am 10 again and sporting a set of rather crude pigtails. Pigtails fall under the ‘can-do’ category apparently. I’ll listen to my mother another time. For now I’m keeping the long hair.
Not listening to my mother….yet.