I am the first person to admit that I am vain. I try to keep my hair style current and flattering to my face, to wear clothes that are stylish and bright, to sport attractive jewelry, to keep my fingernails and toenails polished – preferably glittery and shiny, and to color my hair.
I have always been privy to the ministrations of cosmetological wizards. My mother and mother-in-law, and currently my daughter, Adrienne, all chose that career. I first started coloring my hair when I was as young as 14. Or rather, my mother first started coloring it. She often used me as her more-than-willing guinea pig. My natural hair color was a rather underachieving brown, so Mom highlighted my tresses with sun-kissed streaks of blonde to perk them up a bit. But when I started college, I decided I wanted to be a redhead, and I began coloring my hair a fetching shade of auburn. The color was striking, with my fair skin and dark eyes, and I kept it that color for decades. Around the time I turned 40, though, I thought my faintly graying roots looked hideous growing out, so I switched to highlights once again to blend a bit better when the roots began to sprout, but I
never once considered going natural. I can accept that through the years my once-copious locks have thinned dramatically, but I hate gray hair! To me, graying hair is the most discernible element of the aging process. You can hide the sags and bags for a good long time, but the gray shouts out, “Observe! I’m getting old, ladies and gentlemen.” (The recent trend, young people deliberately going gray, to me seems insane. Why not just tattoo wrinkles on your face while you’re at it?)
It was a just a couple of years ago I observed that the new hair growth around my face was almost completely white. In fact, I knew my coloring was disguising a good deal of white hair, because the golden-brown “lowlights” my stylist daughter used to offset the blonde highlights, always faded into a very light blonde. So off to my stylist I regularly flew like clockwork, confidant her chemical wizardry would return my tresses to their golden beige glory. However, because of interfering events in the last few months that precluded my timely visits to Adrienne, the time between colorings stretched so far that my natural color grew out a couple of inches, and the contrast between the yellow and silver was not conducive to the balance I sought in my overall appearance. I told Adrienne, “This is it! I give. I’m going au naturale. Git ‘er done before I change my mind,” all the while gritting my teeth and pinching my eyelids shut. Coming straight from the shampoo bowl to the mirror, my misgivings were confirmed. Dirty wet cotton. Ugh. But as she dried and fluffed it out, I began to see the light – literally. The hair around my face had turned a silvery white, and the back sort of cascaded into an ombre white to silver to gray. I loved it!!
People who know me are probably asking, “What’s the big deal?” In fact, I know most people probably don’t even notice the difference between the light blonde and the silver. But going silver, to me, has a much bigger connotation that just a visit to the salon for a refresh. It means admitting that I’m 71 years old. It means letting go a bit while being dragged into a new room in my psychic house. I’m protesting vociferously, holding tightly onto the door frame while I shake my head in refusal. But I’m losing my grip; the reminders are too obvious to deny. Like my body aching head to toe for days after painting a room; I had to admit that I probably should spread that task over a few days instead of one, and maybe I shouldn’t be climbing a ladder either. Like the overflowing pill box and the ever-present bottles of Tylenol and Advil on my bathroom counter remind me that I need a little outside pharmaceutical assistance to make my body work like it did 30 years ago. Like conceding there’s a limit to my physical strength and energy. I think back to when my kids were little, and I used to clean my entire house, top to bottom, on Fridays and then settle onto the couch at 5 pm with an ice-cold beer. Now, with my deteriorating spine gradually curving into the telltale widow’s hump, I’m forced to take an overdose of ibuprofen just to get through half the house in two days. I recently revealed to my best friend, “It really pisses me off that I can’t do all do the things I used to do! I’m really mad at my body for letting me down like it has.”
But occasionally I force myself to step back and put things in perspective. I recall my high school journalism class, a very unique group of scholars, with many of whom I remain connected today. There were 26 of us in that class; five of us are now gone, and a few more are in precarious health. I think of my own husband, who is trying to stave off amputation and is limited to walking very short distances – who can no longer putter in his beloved garden or mow our massive yard. I think about my friends who must use assistive devices to walk, and others whose “maintenance” visits to doctors far outnumber mine. I think about retirement – the perennial symbol that you are “over the hill.” Yet, how incredibly freeing it is. I recalibrate. I recall how drained I was by the end of the day when I balanced a full time job and a demanding house full of kids who needed me 24 hours a day. How constantly worried I was about all the things left undone. It would have been just as exhausting back then to paint that room, because I was perpetually tired and stressed and worried about the everyday tasks that were being neglected. Since I’ve retired, I’ve been able to do things I never thought I’d do for lack of time. I’ve written for a newspaper. I’ve published a book. I’ve taught in college. I’ve developed a website and a blog. I can take trips when I want to take them, not just summer vacation. I can go to the grocery store when the checkout lines are nonexistent, and the aisles are empty. I can see a movie in the afternoon and laugh and cry and crunch popcorn with abandon, because I’m the only one there.
I have to remind my impatient self frequently that on life’s road map, you’ll not always be able to do 100 mph as you sail down the interstate rolling across the smooth west Texas plains. Occasionally you’ll hit a pothole that will screw up your alignment, and eventually you’ll turn off permanently on a dirt road that will slow you down to 30 mph. But you’ll have to keep going. The alternative is to stop in the middle of nowhere, with nowhere else to go…to just give up.
So, I’ll embrace my silver. It’s beautiful. Now, if I could just force myself to embrace my waggling wattle...