Last night, my daughter was staring at me as tears gathered in the impossibly long eyelashes that shield her green eyes. This beauty was about to burst into tears, and not because her brothers teased her. She was not upset that she couldn’t watch another episode of Odd Squad. And she was not disappointed in the dinner options.
She was devastated because my husband held barber’s clippers in his hands, prepared to shave my head.
I had my first round of chemo two weeks ago, and according to the calendar my doctors provided my hair should fall out this week. They estimated the date I would start to find clumps of hair on my pillow, but it actually started a day early. My head became sore a few mornings after the chemo, and I have sensed my hair follicles giving since then. It’s one of the downsides to being mindful. You become very aware of what’s going on with your body down to the hairs on your head.
So we decided to shave it off. My sons were excited because I told them they could use the clippers, and they’ve been waiting to have this table turned since I started cutting their hair last year. But my daughter was not. She was disappointed when I cut my long hair into a bob last Spring, and crestfallen when I cut my bob into a pixie this Fall. But when I told her we decided to shave my head, she was devastated. We tried to make it fun and pretended my hair would grow back a different color (purple!), but she was not interested. We’ve talked to her about it in preparation, but when my husband turned on the clippers she just couldn’t take it.
And neither could I.
This scene never played out in real life. Yes, she was upset about the pending haircut. Yes, we planned on shaving my head last night. Yes, the boys were excited, and are still convinced my hair will grow back purple. But my hair looks the same as yesterday, aside from being a little thinner from all of the shedding strands.
What is it about little girls and conventional beauty? I am certain that part of her anxiety reflects the whole situation, but I promise you that she displayed similar behavior each time I cut inches off my hair over the past year. She has always insisted on buying the dolls with the longest hair, loves Rapunzel, grumbles when I trim her hair, and remains baffled by her grandmothers’ short styles. She’s the daughter of a sociologist, and I’ve handed her a healthy dose of theory. But I’ve said many times that her propensity for all things “girlie” has made even me rethink the nature vs. nurture argument.
I am admittedly biased, but my daughter is a beauty. (I can hear my grandmother replying “God bless her” to ward off the evil eye-obviously). To me, it’s less about her green eyes and more about how she radiates beauty when she’s comforting her brother or offering a hug to the babysitter. Sure, she’s pretty when she’s being sassy and cute when she’s fussing over her sneakers, but she’s remarkable when she’s making sure everyone at school gets a turn or telling her father he’s her favorite boy. I wish I could hold a mirror to these moments and show her how beauty shines. Because it’s not really about her hair (or mine).
And what is it about big girls and acceptance? I’ve had a life long struggle with my thick unruly waves/curly tresses, so in reality I shouldn’t be too disappointed to say goodbye. And if my hair grows back purple I think that would be sort of cool. But I’m not ready to see these locks go. Because then I have to accept that this is really happening.
Everything hit me when I was fighting post-chemo nausea, and even more so when the doctor was puncturing the catheter hole in my neck. But for this week, I’m back home in a somewhat normal pattern. I’m being forced to rest more than I ever have in my life, but I’m still Mommy. I sing the bedtime song, I make sure someone packs lunches, and I explain that it’s simply too cold for shorts. Shaving off my hair, rather than just letting it fall out, makes it all about the transplant again. My real life is as Mommy. My transplant life is as a patient, and that’s still hard for me to accept.
My hair will grow back, and my daughter will grow up. Maybe one day she’ll think about this time not just as when Mommy was sick, but as when she started to see beauty in all types of people with all lengths of hair. And that will be one more reason this whole thing is worth it.