Before I tell you my Official Hair Crisis Story, let me share a bit of background first.
Over the past eighteen months or so, I’ve found myself facing a number of crucial life changes. As many of you know, in early 2010 I was diagnosed with breast cancer and went through a bilateral mastectomy and subsequent reconstruction. That whole experience whipped up on my feminine self image just a tad and reminded me that I am not as young, hale or hearty as I once was. It didn’t help matters any that after going through the three surgeries last summer, my limited lung capacity (I have COPD) took yet another dip and has never recovered. As you can probably imagine, I ended that whole summer feeling just a wee bit worn around the edges.
Then a few months ago, I went in for my annual physical and was told that I have developed arthritis in my right hand; my little finger is crooked and I have fairly frequent discomfort and swelling in that hand. (Which for a computer gal and piano player is not a great thing.) I was also told that I am officially in menopause which seems to have happened to me a little earlier than normal (Oh, lucky me.) I was surprised at the feelings of grief I had at hearing that news; my years of bearing and rearing children were the happiest of my life and to know that that sweet season had unequivocally passed was sad for me.
Then, as you know, Nathan graduated from college earlier this year and got married two weeks ago. And still to come, over the course of the next six moths, Steve and I will celebrate our thirtieth wedding anniversary and I will turn fifty years old.
Now don’t get me wrong. Beautiful weddings, big anniversaries and landmark birthdays are wonderful and meaningful occasions but here’s the thing: they only happen to women who are of a certain age. And they’re happening to me.
Bottom line? I’m in the midst of a span of time when I see my youth becoming an ever tinier speck in the rearview mirror, even while the specter of middle age looms ever larger before me.
And you’re doubtless wondering: this ties into a hair crisis, how?
Well, here’s the thing. A few months ago, as I pondered all the changes that had come into my life as well as the changes that were yet to be, I decided to take a few steps that might help me feel more positive about myself as the inexorable aging process stalked me. The first thing I decided to do was to lose twenty-five pounds and I am happy to report that I have already managed to lose fifteen. That accomplishment has made me feel so much better--both health-wise and appearance-wise.
I also decided to make some small changes in my clothing and jewelry choices—not getting wildly radical but just challenging myself to maintain a contemporary, fresh look.
And lastly I decided that I wanted to grow my hair out because I’d been wearing it fairly short for a few years and I thought it would be fun to have a little change of pace. I figured my locks would be nicely grown to their longer length by my 50th birthday, which seemed like good timing for a quasi youthful reformation.
And then it was sort of an added bonus when Nathan and Meagan decided to get married in July because I realized that even by that point, my hair would be getting close to my new desired length and I was excited that an updated hairdo might help me feel lovely and youthful at their wedding—mastectomy and menopause notwithstanding.
Since I have spent most of my adult life fighting with my hair (which has a definite mind of my own), I was starting to get really excited when the whole growing out process started paying off; I was loving the longer look, I found it easy to style and I got a lot of nice compliments on it.
So hurray for all that.
However, unbeknownst to me, a Hair Crisis was looming.
Two weeks before Nathan and Meagan’s wedding, I got my hair trimmed by a capable hair stylist in a nearby town; although she always gives me a great cut, this time she cut my bangs a little differently than I was used to and I wanted to get just one small section of them trimmed a little to transform them back into “my” style. Since her salon is thirty minutes away, I figured I would just make an appointment at a place closer by that had been recommended by someone I know.
I went into this salon and very clearly told the stylist two things. I said, “I am getting near the end of a very long process of growing out my hair and also, my son is getting married in two weeks.” (I didn’t have to add that mothers of grooms--and brides--love to look their best on that big day. We women get that.)
I then I told her what I was needing—just a teensy little snip on the side of my bangs that wasn’t lining up properly with the other side. I was very impressed as she did the fix because she was careful and methodical, asking me as she went along, “Is that what you’re talking about? Is that you want me to do?”
When she was finished, my bangs had plenty of texture and were nice and even and I breathed a big ol' sigh of relief knowing that I could check hair appointments off my Pre-Wedding To Do list.
I thanked her for doing such a good job and was about to get up from the chair when she said, “I just wanted to mention that there is a piece of hair on your left side that seems a little bit clumpy compared to the hair around it. Would you like me to texturize it just a little so that it blends better?”
Actually, I had also noticed that particular issue and although it wasn’t a huge deal, I figured I’d have her straighten it out, since she had done a good job on my bangs.
So I said, “Sure, go ahead!”
Those were words I would regret.
My first indication that something was amiss came when the fixing of that one little strand took a very long time. My second indication came when she turned my chair away from the mirror. And my third indication came when she said, “Um. Now I’ll just even up the other side.”
Hello? Excuse me? The other side? Why does anything need to be evened up? There was never anything wrong with the other side.
I felt a chaotic churning in my stomach as the long minutes passed. And then—finally--the moment came when she turned the chair back around to the mirror and I saw a most terrible sight. I saw that my carefully grown out sides had been cut all the way near the tops of my ears. Over two inches of hair was inexorably missing.
I am not even kidding.
Now. I am firstly a Christian and secondly a pastor’s wife and neither of those identities do much to encourage the throwing of fits, the flailing of arms or the yelling of bad words. And of course I did none of that. I just sat quietly in the chair and said to myself, “What’s done is done and done things can’t be undone.” (Someone write that down.)
I then took a deep breath, calmly paid the stylist and trudged out to the car thinking, “Surely this can’t be as bad as I think it is--not two weeks before Nathan’s wedding. Maybe I just imagined the fact that my sides have disappeared from my person altogether and everything will be okay.”
I drove home and very slowly walked up the stairs to my bathroom mirror. I scrunched my eyes closed thinking, “Maybe if I don’t look at it, there won’t be a problem.”
But there was. A. Problem. The problem was that I no longer had hair in the place where I should have had hair. Long lovely hair. All gone. And not only had the sides been cut super short, they weren’t the same length and they weren’t cut in the same style; one side was sort of blunt cut and the other was more feathered.
Yes, I cried. I cried on and off for the next three hours. I slept fitfully that night wondering if the style was redeemable or if my hairstyle at the wedding was going to resemble a not-so-magnificent mullet. I figured if that was the case, at least it would fit right in with all the other identifying “m’s” of my life: mastectomy, menopause, and mullet!
Long story short, I knew that there was no way (barring a miracle of the Multiplication of the Hair) that my style was going to recover before the wedding and so I sternly told myself to repeat over and over that sanity-conserving phrase, “Oh, well.” Which is basically translated to mean, “What’s done is done. Get over it.” And so I dried my eyes, took some deep breaths, and just “oh well-ed” myself through the next two weeks. (I also made an emergency run to a stylist friend who did what she could do even things up a tad so that the mullet look wasn’t quite as mullet-y.)
When the long awaited wedding week finally arrived, the three of us betook ourselves to Florida and spent a happy few days in preparation for the big day. On the morning of the wedding, Sarah and I were due to leave the hotel at 7:30 am to get to the Primping, Prettifying, and Changing room reserved at the church for the bride and her cohorts. I got up plenty early so that I would have plenty of time to try to talk my hair into behaving itself in a seemly manner on this most important of days.
After quite a while of wrestling various strands to the mat I finally whipped my traumatized tresses into a tolerable array. I wasn’t thrilled with the overall look by any means (all I could picture was the loveliness that used to be my hair) but at least the effect wasn’t completely awful.
Just as Sarah and I were about to leave the room, I grabbed a can in order to spray everything down and keep it all from moving for the next fourteen hours. However, in my hurry, I accidentally grabbed the wrong can and instead of hairspray, spritzed my just-labored-over hairdo with a layer of mousse.
Yes. Mousse. The stuff that is designed to be put on wet hair before styling.
All the spots where the mousse landed collapsed into a wet and goopy mess as I stared at myself in a dither of disbelief. Two weeks before the wedding, my hairstyle is botched? Two minutes before leaving for the church, I attack my mulleted hairdo with a shocking shellacking of mousse?
Well, I got so discombobulated over that whole crisis--in addition to the hectic gathering of my hair supplies so that I could work on my hair disaster some more at church--that I walked right out of the hotel room without my Nikon. Yes, folks. I, Rebecca Campbell Smith, went to my son’s wedding without my Serious Camera.
Once I realized my oversight I said (through slightly gritted teeth), “Oh well.”
And then I grabbed my trusty purse camera and started shooting some pre-ceremony pictures; however, twenty minutes before the wedding was to start, the batteries died. I always carry extra batteries with me and I grabbed them and stuck them in the camera. A few minutes later, they died, too.
Of course, at this point, Steve and I were also dealing with the whole “shoes falling off” dilemma, so between that and my crazy hair and my non working camera, I was just a wee bit stressed. Thankfully, Meagan’s brother-in-law was able to procure batteries for me at the very last moment and the camera crisis was averted.
Although the hair crisis lives on. A little.
Thankfully though, since it’s been about a month now since The Cut, the worst of the awfulness has receded and the hair is growing out enough so that when I brush the sides back, it looks more like a “real” style, rather than a desperate attempt to modify a mullet. (This picture was take at home two days ago—since I didn’t get a good picture at the wedding, I wanted to have a picture of the whole ensemble before giving the jewelry back to the owner.)
In closing . . .
As I’ve written the Hair Crisis Story and spent some time reliving the past chapter of my life, I have found myself viewing my challenges from a different perspective. I have come to realize that I am not just a crisis facer, I am a thankful and grateful crisis survivor.
I am a survivor of big things like breast cancer and COPD and a mastectomy. I am a survivor of medium things like arthritis and quasi-depressing menopause. And I am a survivor of small things, like hair trauma and failing camera batteries.
I have been reminded through writing this that life throws so much stuff at all of us—big, medium, small stuff; good, bad, and ugly stuff—and that on any given day, each of us faces all sorts of multi-sized challenges. Some of the challenges are huge and heartbreaking; some of the challenges are tough at the time but quickly forgotten. And other challenges (like using mousse instead of hairspray) are so frustratingly crazy that you just have to laugh at them because sometimes laughter is the only sane solution.
As I’ve looked back on this past season of life, I’ve also taken a second look at the woman in the picture above. I’ve noticed laugh lines, wrinkles, and a less than perfect body. But I’ve also noticed something that is quite beautiful, and that is that the woman in the picture is entering this new season of life at peace with herself.
Sure I’ve had to deal with a few things recently that aren’t so fun—mastectomy, menopause, and a mullet, anyone?—but that’s okay. It’s okay because it’s not just the happy times of life that shape us and make us, it’s the tough times, too. In fact, I truly believe that the tough times have done more to shape my life than the best pair of Spanx out there.
And while I haven’t always been glad for those tough times, I’ve been thankful for them. I am who I am because of them.
And me and my mullet? We’re good with that.