I am many things- and all of them are vain. I say this with (little to) no hint of shame or embarrassment. I am a vain, vain woman.
Some evidence to prove my point:
Evidence A: When I was in preterm labor, for 27 hours, I was severely upset that I hadn’t taken the time to wash and blow dry my hair before we left for the hospital. I knew there were going to be hundreds of pictures taken; I also knew I was going to be forever irritated due to my dirty, frizzy hair and un-mascaraed eyes (if “un-mascared” is a new word, I totally claim copy right).
Evidence B: When we had parent- teacher conferences at my school, I completely reapplied my make up between the end of the school day and the start of conferences. Because, I don’t know, what if a parent saw me with less than perfect blush and therefore believed me to be a sub-par English teacher.
Evidence C: I used to pick out my son’s clothes to match mine so we’d look nice in pictures together. Not formal pictures- just every day pictures someone may take on their phone.
Evidence D: Yesterday, I took coffee to one of my dearest friends at her new job. I changed my clothes at least three times before I left the house because I didn’t want her co-workers to think I was sloppy (I don’t even know these people) .
So we all agree, I’m vain. I’m okay with it. It’s who I am .
Two weeks ago, I found gray hair. I was driving. Just minding my own very important business of singing along to “Cups” while simultaneously wondering if I could ever figure out the cup choreography to accompany myself. I looked into my visor mirror to check out my “Anna Kendrick cool girl” vibe (my visor mirror is always open for two reasons (1) to check in on my toddler in the back seat and (2) to check out my “Anna Kendrick cool girl” vibe, and (c) I’m vain) when , the sunlight streamed in on my scalp and I saw it-shimmery, light reflecting strands of GRAY hair. What the what? Gray hair is not Anna Kendrick cool! I can’t have gray hair; I’m only 33 years old. I closed the mirror and changed the radio station to gray haired news. As befitting my aged hair, I forgot about the silver strands shortly after I got out of the car.
News flash: gray hair multiples. The second time -I was in the car again. Driving again. Checking out my “Ingrid Michaelson indie hip” in the visor mirror. Not indie hip, not cool girl- nope, just a mom driving her kid to a well check. I glared at the sleeping toddler in the back seat-this is your fault, I thought/whispered ( I’m no dummy. You don’t wake up a sleeping toddler for righteous indignation).
Okay. so it’s gray hair. Why? Where did it come from? And then one night when I couldn’t sleep (understand this actually means, one night when I was pinning hair colors and styles on Pinterest…), I wondered if the gray hair could be connected to the parts of my brain that have been over-taxed with life. So I did some research (again, understand this actually means, I searched brain diagram on Pinterest…- which will also explain why I have no sources for my research. If any of my former students are reading, please understand that MLA format has a time and a place. And neither time nor place is in the blog post of a overreacting woman with gray hair.)
And it made sense. Here’s the diagram I researched (pinned) :
Most of my gray is in my front hemisphere. Deep analysis revealed the cause of my gray. For the good of science, and all silver foxes everywhere, I’d like to share my results:
Empathy and Emotion: The spot right above the eyes, adjacent to the temple. Most of my gray is streaked through here.
Toddlers, at least mine- I’m not an expert on your toddler ( most days, I’m not an expert on mine either), are simply emotion with skin wrapped around it.
When I taught high school, I taught three 8th grade writing classes, I had high school lunch duty, and try as they might- the whole group of those teenagers could not cover the vast expanses of emotion that my two year old goes through in one napless afternoon. I am amazed at the array of feelings that this boy has. Just today (which was for the record, napless), he was beside himself sad because he was “real, real hungry” and he wanted to eat potatoes. This actually worked out because it was dinner time, and we were eating potatoes- but I needed him to wash his hands before dinner. He was Lifetime movie sad; weeping and crying, whimpering “I want tatoes” over and over while wringing his hands. My husband and I just looked at each other. Two days ago, while we were at the zoo, he wanted to offer himself up for adoption because I wanted to buy us ice-cream and he wanted to go see the baby elephant statue that we had already spent twenty minutes with. Yesterday, he randomly jumped in my lap and offered the first, “I love you, mama” of his own volition which came wrapped up in a hug.
Toddlers are emotion. They can’t help it. And that is also why the empathy portion of my brain is gray. As you remember, you can’t successfully rationalize with a toddler. I could have told him that dinner was ready and he was going to be able to eat all the “tatoes” he wanted if he could just move his Tony winning performance into the bathroom and wring his hands under some soap and warm water. I could have explained that we were done with the baby elephant statue because the real elephants stunk and they were all the way in “Asia” and my feet hurt, and also- ice cream is amazing. But none of that would have worked. It wouldn’t have made either of us happier. It wouldn’t have solved the situation.
Instead, I try empathy…
I hugged him and told him I knew he was hungry but we had to get the germs off and I would help him wash his hands. I looked him in the eye and told him that I loved the baby elephant too, but now the baby elephant needed a break, so we were going to get ice cream ( Yes, I lied to my son. But seriously, if you have not yet learned that empathy sometimes involves faking it -aka lying- then I want to come live with you in your land of make believe. Just send your unicorn to pick me up). And yesterday, when he wrapped all 29 pounds of himself around me and oozed all the love in his little boy heart, yesterday all I did was hang on.
Of course I’m graying. I’ve spent the past 31 months trying to transform into the most complicated version of myself I have ever been. And I expect more gray to come. I’m realizing that I give this little guy a lot more grace than I give to the other, equally important, differently loved people in my life, and that’s not ok. I want to go gray with love for all my people- not just my son.
So, I will vainly go gray out of love.
But you won’t know it because I am going to color all that love out of my hair.