Everywhere we go, everyone who hasn’t seen Stella in the last few months coos, "Oooh, her hair is getting so long.”
I struggle with my answer. Do I say with pride and good posture, "Thank you. It's amazing what happens when working Moms don’t make time to take their kid to the hairdresser."
I don’t know.
I get it. When we're waiting on something or I'm loitering behind her I absentmindedly collect her hair in my hands and pull it off her face. Smooth it, collect it in a loose ponytail and drop it to lightly cascade back down onto her shoulders like the bottom of a curtain. It's eminently touchable and soft.
She knows its worth too. Recently I watched her calmly look around for a napkin at a birthday party then casually wipe both hands through her hair to dispose of the pizza grease. Easy.
The problem is I don't deeply give a shit about her hair, or my own.
Girls are supposed to love their hair. (Or have curly hair and pretend to hate it.) It's an inherently feminine tool, to toss our hair around and tie it up and curl it and pin it and fuss with it and shake it out of a bun before manhandling dinks.
I just don't have an emotional relationship with my hair. I try and play nice. Okay fine, I normally try for 6 minutes, look like Scrooge McDuck and then dramatically give up. Kick the hair dryer off the deck and smoke 47 cigarettes furiously. Like, if I can't learn a new skill in under 5 minutes, I want a fucking refund.
It wasn't always like this. When I was newly a girl, like 7 years old, I was obsessed with hair. Namely long hair.
One year for Halloween my Mom made me a Pocahontas costume (oh, white people). For the costume portion a chunk of fabric that was fringed and itchy and heavily animal-scented was draped over me but it didn’t matter. The accompanying wig was marvellous and I wore that clump of heavy yarn on my head for days and days. When the good candy had dried up and only molasses toffee and hard black boogers of glosette raisins were left, I wore that wig.
Through Christmas and spring, I wore that wig.
Imagine, a summer day. A child in short red shorts with blue piping that looks like cake icing trim, and a t-shirt with a large smiling tabby cat on a surfboard, with pink-rimmed glasses that couldn't have been sweeter if you licked the rims and dredged them through sugar.
Sitting crookedly on her head, a frayed and dirty brown wool wig with two thick-as-logs braids stuck to her back like leeches. Sweat pooling in her lower back and creating small swimming pools in her underwear elastic band.
I did not care a lick. I had long hair. The dream was alive.
I eventually gave up ridiculous things and instead wore my Mom's Safeway brand taupe pantyhose (the #1 hosiery choice for all women who worked in 80s medical offices) pulled tight on my scalp, almost over my ears. Each leg was eventually sharply and satisfyingly sliced into three long soft pieces so that I could braid them.
The year after that I demanded a rat tail. Just like my Dad. Short all over but one long lank of hair creeping down my back. Yes, a matching haircut with my Dad. A father and his daughter walking side-by-side with the same fucking haircut. Has that ever been a good idea?
In high school I dyed my hair jet black and ruined 76 good towels.
I then grew tired of having grey hands for days so I had my Mom use dog clippers to shave my hair short and then I could dye and re-dye my hair into all the Manic Panic colours of the rainbow.
I feel like those five years of high school are the crucial stages of my deficiency.
I believe, based on magazine ads and teen movies, that those are the years where I was supposed to be playing and experimenting with my hair. Learning how to hold a hair dryer without plowing it into the back of my head and drawing blood repeatedly. Learning how to separate my head into various partitions of hair so that I could flat iron all the strands and achieve that ethereal effect of hair that hangs like silky fresh pasta. Learning how to use a curling iron without singeing deep gouges out of my forehead and forearms.
Instead I tried to mount wobbly skateboards, ate 7-11 candy for most of my meals and stood shoulder to shoulder in community centres with other Value Village outfitted teenagers, imperceptibly moving while we watched bands freak the fuck out on stage.
After much thought and work with hairspray and bobby pins and aching arms, I came up with this deluxe styling project for my Grad photo.
My Mom didn't order a single print.
Now, as an adult, I choose short haircuts that are of a style so specific that each hair is assigned a manner in which to lie on my head so I don’t have to do a goddamn thing. Or I grow it long like it is now and despite the creepy way I intently watch my hairdresser dry and style my hair at the finale of a fresh cut, this is how I style my hair daily:
In the early hours of the morning when I am the only stirring body in the apartment, I slick it back into a ponytail with my eyes closed and tuck my whole head into a shower cap that is white with pink polka dots and ringed with ruffles because if you’re going to wear a shower cap, you go full Blanche.
I shower and let the heat create a creepy sauna in my scalp.
I take the shower cap off and "let my hair rest" while I apply a very full face of makeup with assorted brushes of various sizes and usages. Then two things get squirted on my face and blended to appear as if they are not there, so basically I pay money for invisible things because I like to buy small things that promise things.
On my eyes alone there is extreme focus and attention on colour, texture, shading, sparkling, lengthening and mutilation. (There's NO WAY the old "put eyeliner IN YOUR LOWER EYE SOCKET" technique has been long-term tested and FDA approved. I like a smokey eye as much as the next girl but I also really love the way life isn't hard as fuck because I can SEE.)
If you tallied the amount of money spent on the bite-sized objects in my makeup bag, all straight men would stop smiling and look around with that "who farted?" confused glaze on their face.
Then I go wake up my kid and use every molecule of patience and kindness I can fucking muster before coffee to shepherd her through all the morning motions as she whines and stalls. It helps that I daydream about taking off alone, tires pealing, my purse on the roof of the car.
Then I have time to do my hair, which is no time at all. That steamed hair bun, that's my public hairdo. With bangs. Bangs that trap heat in my forehead pores, instigating red and ugly pore explosions. But then bangs exist to cover those very same zits from the world. So, it's like "Fuck you, thank you." BANGS!
What I'm saying here is that there are acres of effort between my head and my face.
Continents of caring differentials.
My face is acceptable for public consumption. My hair is not.
In the Hair Bible, my style is "fire alarm." Or "let a drunk kid play with her hair."
If my best friend was a kangaroo and I handed it a teasing comb and spray volumizer, it would create a more polished look than I can pull off.
When I have a fancy event to attend, spotty but they happen, a ponytail with an elastic band not stolen from my kid is my hair answer. (I do a double smokey eye so that you won't even notice my hair. You'll just be wondering why the whites of my eyes are bleeding.)
The only time in the last 10 years where I genuinely loved my hair style was my wedding and I had nothing to do with it. I grunted, pointed at a picture of Katie Holmes in a magazine and then shoved a pile of cash over a counter.
So when people get all verklempt about Stella's hair, I'm just going to pull her close to me, tucked in like a secret, her tiny chicken bone shoulders squared off just under my hip bones.
With a light rustle of her hair, I'll look them square in the eye with a shadow of a smile behind my eyes, "Thank you. I hope she gets it caught in an escalator because I have no fucking idea what to do with it."