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Sit a bit and hear some observational stories I’ve been steeping.

Gray Matter (White Hair)

George shot a Oct 2014

Very few things in my long history have caused as much of a ruckus as my hair has.  Not my weight, not my clothing, not my relationship status.  While people may have whispered behind my back about those last three things, they confront me (with no qualms) to my face and follicles about their opinion of the condition of my hair.  In speaking with others, I find I am not alone in this.

When I was about 28 years old, the front of my hair started to turn completely white.  Now, for thousands of years most people have believed that STRESS is to blame for the gray and/or white hairs that pop up on a worried head, but scientists pooh-pooh that theory.  But push those same folks in lab coats up against a wall and even they cannot give you exact reasons for why hair turns salt & pepper, silver, pewter, charcoal – whatever you want to call it.  They’ll give you all the fancy terminology about how “color-producing cells stop producing pigment” (so says dermatologist Jeffrey Benabio, MD of Kaiser Permanente of San Diego) – but they can’t pinpoint WHY it happens.  Blah, blah, blah.  I can, without a doubt, pinpoint the DAY my hair squealed aloud, retreated and shut down the color-producing cells: it was 1990 after discovering that my spousal unit had a substance abuse problem.  My brain froze from shock and the snow started to build up on the roof.  I had two distinctive streaks on either side of my widow’s peak that showed signs of dying trust and possibly thousands of brain cells directly attached to emotion and trust.

I first dyed those white hairs that showed up near the beginning of 1993, shortly after the birth of my eldest child (a couple of years after her father had entered into a 12 step program and, for a minute, became a stand-up human being) and I chose to go with a copper-penny red to resonate with what I felt was going on internally with me.  “Private Benjamin” had been one of my favorite movies more than a decade earlier and the idea of the sassy head of hair that Goldie Hawn sported (even if mine was cut in the “mom bob” at the time) appealed to me.  It said, “Oh, I might be the mother of a mewling infant, but let my hair be the warning to you, that… I will surprise you, when you least expect it.”  That red hair made me feel less frumpy and sleep-deprived, even though I was most definitely both of those things – in an incredibly nuclear fashion, on both accounts.

My Maternal Unit was the first to comment.  “Oh, I don’t like your hair at all.  Why did you go and do… THAT?!”  I explained that I needed something to combat the awful-awful Frump & Schluf of taking care of the wee life-form that was only letting me sleep in 20 minute increments since she first arrived.  In response, I received a roll of the eyes, a dismissive wave of the hand and a derisive comment about how ridiculous she believed the color to be on me.  Funny, but I didn’t feel ridiculous.  I felt strangely empowered by the hair on my head that glowed and practically sparked, while the rest of me didn’t.

Over the next couple of decades I flirted with over-the-counter hair dye and salon colorists and I’m ashamed to tell you that I cheated on both of them.  When money was scarce, I trolled the aisle of the local drug store looking for the color du jour:  Carmel, Amber, Toffee, Butterscotch, Auburn, Cinnamon, Brown Sugar, Ash Brown, Cocoa Bean and more.  When the bank account was a bit fatter, I gave myself permission to enter into the oh-so-right-for-you match.com world of a shampoo bowl and blow out that semi high-end salons allowed.  I was the Trollop of Tinting, I was.  I was that woman, never committing for very long to any hue.  It was shameful, really.

Then, somewhere in my 40th decade of existence I decided to let Mother Nature determine what color my hair really was (since I hadn’t a clue what color my hair was since before the Clinton Administration).  Turns out, more than 1/3 of my hair had turned white by the time my mother-in-law had come to live and ultimately pass away in our home; my husband discovered, by accident (at the age 47) that he was an adopted child; my son had been diagnosed with autism; and some other strange and life-altering stuff had happened.  To be fair, it had been a rough couple of decades.  So, my hair had turned white and I bore that head of hair like a badge of courage, which it most certainly was.

Then one morning, apropos of absolutely nothing, my son walked into my office and boldly announced, “I don’t like your hair.”  While not my usual response (but those curt words just smacked too much of my Maternal Unit’s response at one point), I believe the words “Bite me.” fell out of my face first.  Not my proudest Mommy Moment – but, there it was.

I explained to my youngest that he was not allowed to just pop in and verbalize such a hostile statement without some kind of justification.  I demanded that he come up with a reason, if that was his position on the matter.  His bottom lip quivered as he said, “Well, old people have white hair and sometimes… they die.”  Tears sprung from his big, brown eyes as he sputtered, “And I don’t want you to die!”

Hugging my boy tightly with one hand I swiftly dialed my wildly talented stylist with the other.  “Hello, Suzy?  You have GOT to color my hair.  Quickly!”  The next day, I returned home with the hair of a younger (less close to death, apparently) version of me.  Extra fee for highlights and all.  In less that an hour, my hair had been transformed into that of a woman just beginning to contemplate grad school or perhaps a serious boyfriend.  The honey-caramel colors made my son happy.  [Or, less concerned about planning my imminent funeral, at any rate.]  I might have been a mature mother and wife with loads of experience under my belt, but the top of my head looked like not much life had been witnessed.

A few months ago, time constraints and the simple act of “just not feeling too hot” got in the way of my regularly scheduled coloring appointments.  Before long, the white hairs started to sprout again, and I have to be honest, I was more than happy to see them.  Strangely, my white hair has come to symbolize a lot of things for me, not the least of which are strength, wisdom and a very happy, bright heart.  So, I decided to give in to what nature has apparently decreed and allow my snowy white hair to grown in, without any kind of intervention.

Right away, the comments started to pour in:

“Why aren’t you tending to your roots?”

“Did you know your gray hairs are showing?”

“Oh, my — you NEED to see your stylist.”

“Aren’t you afraid of looking old?!”

“I could never do what you’re doing.”

“It’s sort of sad, how… you‘re letting yourself go.”

Ouch.  People can be harsh (well, certainly harsher than the chemicals used to cover one’s roots).

Still, I do not care what comments fall out of people’s mouths about my white hair.  There is a set of song lyrics that says, “…sooner or later you sleep in your own space, either way it’s okay you wake up with yourself.”  Well, that’s me (even if there is a handsome Viking whose name I now share).  I get up, stumble into the bathroom to brush my teeth and face my reflection – and do so with a smile on my face.  You know what?  I have to tell you, it’s okay.  I like who I am and I like what I see.  I see someone who is strong.  I see an older, wiser (at least, a lot wiser than I was) woman.  And I definitely see the owner of a very happy, bright heart.  You know what?  I’m okay with that.

It is said that the bible (Proverbs 16:31) decrees that “White hair is a crown of glory, if it is found in the way of righteousness.”  I don’t know about that, but I can tell you it feels right to look in the mirror and see what my complicated, often stressful, life hath wrought.  I have to say, white hair makes me happy and there is nothing wrong with that (no matter what other people have to say about it).  I can’t stress (and add more white hairs) about it.

xo – t.

“…don’t change the color of your hair.  I could not love you any better, I love you just the way you are.” – Billy Joel

I saw your curly hair, brown hair, black hair, blonde hair, short hair – and I promise to be here to see your white hair.” – Unknown

Gray hair is god’s graffiti.” – Bill Cosby

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