October 4, 2013
By Ekta R. Garg
Last week the words “grandpa” and “grandma” showed up on Seven’s spelling list. On Wednesday she had to use one of the words in a sentence. So she drew from her personal experience and wrote, “My grandma lives in South Carolina. Every day she uses a special spray on her hair to make it look black.”
I laughed out loud at that one, relishing how Seven managed to make connections in her brain of the things she’s seen and heard.
Whenever we visit my parents in Myrtle Beach, the girls will often trail after their grandma when she’s primping in the morning. Those of us who suffer the affliction of the “curse of the curly hair” don’t bother with hairspray because it doesn’t really accomplish its purpose. The only styling product on my own bathroom counter, in fact, is leave-in conditioner that tames the frizz. So the kids love to watch their grandma use her hairspray. Because she has hair as straight as a board, it makes sense for her to do so. I didn’t think that Seven would mistake the hairspray for hair dye, though, but it makes sense. And since Seven and Five both know the Other Thing about their grandma, I realized how easy it was for Seven to make a connection—albeit a wrong one—on her own.
My mother has hair that stays jet black for most of the year. Seven and Five’s paternal grandfather, who lives with us, has more salt than pepper in his graying hair, so one day the girls had a short discussion about what it meant to be “old.” They pointed out that their grandfather here at home must be old because of his hair color.
Knowing my parents have no compunction about sharing this kind of personal information with those close to them, I informed the girls that their maternal grandparents were old too. They just used hair dye to hide it. And I had to laugh after I said it, because Five instantly went into an impression of an old woman hunched over and greeting us. She even had an imaginary cane to complete the picture. We often refer to her “old grammy” impression for a laugh or to talk about the future.
When I saw Seven’s paper last week, though, I laughed. And then I started thinking about my own hair. Since getting married 10 years ago, I’ve watched hairs on my crown turn white. I didn’t think anything about it at first; after all, what did a stray white hair mean? Didn’t it stand as a sign of wisdom?
Now the strays aren’t so stray—in other words I’ve seen more appear throughout the years. Occasionally the kids would point to my hair and laugh. I told them I got the white hair because of them. And I kind of even meant it.
I remember asking my parents once if they thought I should dye my hair, and both of them gave me an emphatic “No.” Once I started I would have to keep doing it, and in their opinion 34 was way too early to start coloring my curly locks. Never mind the somewhat contradictory statement they’re making by dyeing their own hair, but I guess because they’re my parents and older than me I can’t really make the argument about contradictory statements.
So I try to employ a characteristic they both use, especially my father: I turn the occasional mention of my white hair into a self-deprecatory statement. And that seems to work. My parents have learned to make light of these types of things. Because of that I knew they would be okay with what Seven wrote in her homework.
Still, her teacher would see this and might feel inclined to share it with other teachers. You have to admit, it’s one of those things that seem ripe for sharing. And while my parents feel okay sharing and laughing about these things with family and close friends, would they be equally okay with Seven’s teacher knowing these things?
After thinking about it for a little while, I asked Seven to change the sentence. When she turned it in to her teacher on Thursday morning, her homework read, “My grandma lives in South Carolina. Every day she uses a special spray on her hair to make it stay straight.”
I figure mentioning hairspray comes across as more benign. And if I ever do decide to start dyeing my own hair and Seven (or even Five) wants to write about it for homework, I can refer to this example and gently steer her in a different direction.