Thursday, January 11, 2018

Going Grey

A couple months ago, without much forethought and quite on the spur of the moment, I made an executive decision. I am going to let myself go grey.

It all came from a photograph. Usually the decision is the other way. You see a photo of yourself that showcases your cellulite or your wrinkles or your aging locks and decide that you have to do something, anything, to ward of the sands of time.

But this time I saw a photo of myself with my husband, Matt. He, with his salt-and-pepper, still mostly pepper, hair and his saltier beard and he looked so distinguished. So natural. So much like home. And there I was next to him. My hair with that unnatural for me hint of, mixed with a mousy brown and it looked so unnatural. And I wanted to match. I wanted us to be a set.

I never dreamed I would be one to dye my hair in the first place. I had always looked younger than I was and, being the youngest of four children, longed to catch up with everybody else. Then I married Matt, who looked like a mere babe himself. We were a pathetic set. We appeared to be teenagers playing house. We couldn't be taken seriously in stores. Waited on, even. Several times door-to-door salesemen came to the door of the home we owned and ask to see one of our parents. It was irritating. I should have cherished it.

Around the time we turned 30 that changed. Matt grew a beard and I had our third child and then our fourth and the stress of being so over my head in parenthood took its toll and nobody ever mistook us again for teenagers playing grownup. Sigh. I missed the good ol' days.

But still, hair dye was not on my radar. I'm not a hair dye kind of person. Or a makeup kind of person, really, beyond anything I can apply in 7.2 seconds. I don't even wear jewelry beyond my wedding band and a pair of earrings. To me, the hair dye was left for the bleach blondes and the "fancy" ladies who wanted to pull the wool over everybody else's eyes and pretend to be somebody they weren't.

Then it happened. I was 39 and a friend of mine a handful of years younger was in labor. I got the call in the middle of the night and went to the hospital to provide some moral support. As I was walking into her hospital room the nurse stopped and asked me, "Are you her mother?"

Crestfallen: dejected, discouraged, disappointed, disconsolate, downcast, despondent, woebegone, forlorn, humiliated. I felt all of them. And then I went out and bought a box of hair dye.

Fast forward fifteen years. Fifteen years of fighting off the inevitable. Fifteen years of longing for somebody to say, "I never dreamed you were that old!" "You don't look old enough to be a grandmother!" "Can I see your ID please?" (OK, that's a bit of a stretch.) But you get the picture. I wanted to not only not look older than I was. I didn't even want to look my age.

But that isn't me. I am nothing if not honest. Sometimes painstakingly so. I am so much of a what-you-see-is-what-you-get kind of person. And I wish the world was like that, too. No games. No putting on masks. No pretending. If I've spent most of the past 10 years living one great experiment in vulnerability then why on earth am I covering up who I am? Who set the arbitrary ideal that grey is old and grey is bad and old is bad?

In the book Going Gray (why can't we decide how to spell it?) by Anne Kreamer, she chronicles her own journey from decades of dying her hair to embracing her grey. In it she says that, by the age of 50, fifty percent of women are at least fifty percent grey. That's a fascinating thought. How many of us cover the grey because we think we are the only ones? How many of us know women who continue to color their hair well into their really old years and it looks downright creepy? Why did so many of us drink the Kool-aid?

Anyway, I've decided. I am what I am and my hair will be what it will be. Yes, it's a bit scary. I'm terrified of the day I get offered the senior discount. Or when I am mistaken for my older sister's older sister. Or when it is ever so obvious that I really am my granddaughter's grandmother, and not just a mother on the older side. I am sure all those days are coming. Some have already come.

With only about 2-3 inches of grey coming in, my granddaughter has taken to calling me an "old lady." Last night, a gentleman asked what our relationship was with the 2 young women a few yards away. Matt answered that they are our daughters, and this man said back to him... to my husband...not to me...but to my husband, you know, the one with the GREY beard, "But YOU look too young to have daughters that age!" Translation: but this haggard old thing here, the one resembling Granny Clampett or Old Mother Hubbard, she's washed up and hung to dry. It was disquieting, to say the least. But, strangely enough, it didn't deter me.

There comes a time and a place to put away some things. To step out. Or in the words of Theodore Roosevelt (and Brene Brown) to step out into the arena and dare greatly. No, this isn't a bull fight or a boxing match, but it does take courage. To take on society's values and turn them on their head. And to take on my own value of myself. And seeing my worth in my appearance. In my body. In the things that are aging, changing, mellowing...if you will.

For me it is time to throw away the endless pursuit of youth and physical beauty (at least by our screwed up society's standards anyway) and channel my energy into the things that really matter. Kindness, integrity, compassion, humor, authenticity, courage, mercy. Those things I can be no matter what color my hair is.

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