October 15, 2014

Hair We Are, it's Picture Day!

Gorgeous face, uneven bangs.
Who cares? I might.
My stomach does a flip when I see that white and blue envelope in our kids’ cubby:
Picture day is right around the corner!
Kindergarten picture day was today.
At this point in the year, the bad haircuts the boys, who are still in preschool, got in late August haven’t grown in quite enough to get their hair re-cut by someone who actually knows how to cut kids’ hair (adorably and professionally--not perfunctorily while chewing a wad of gum and snipping mindlessly away while telling my kid, who’s squirming on my lap, to “sit tight or mommy won’t give you a lolly”).

At this point in the year, we’re between seasons, and so there are a few long-sleeved, new, fall shirts stacked in with the almost-too-small t-shirts that the kids have managed to outgrow during the summer.

See this face? Not happy. But clean! Also,
his hair had to be matted down,
probably with paste, or lots of teacher tongue-
to-hand grooming.

The photographer prefers your child wear a solid color without a pattern as this will photograph better.

There are two solid colors from which to choose: the white (with stains) polo that we can hardly pull over the toddler’s head, or the blue, button-down oxford we’re hoping stays somewhat nice so that he has something to go to temple in for the rest of the year (if this goes to school on picture day, it will come home with blobs of food, paint, or dirt—great, but not for this shirt).

Or, as in my daughter’s drawer, there’s slim pickings for shirts without pattern (or text). We’re fans of polka dots, stripes, and an occasional logo adornment. The shirts without pattern are too hot—it’s nearly 80 degrees, of course, on picture day here in the North East—and the plain, summery shirts are tank tops, unsuitable for school.

But what really worries me is the hair.

My boys? Their hair can’t be tamed. The toddler boasts a shock of blond hair with cowlicks at every angle; the middle, our 4-year-old, has that sort of thick, gorgeous hair that I can’t help touching, that bedhead that looks somehow coiffed, even when he’s sweaty and desperately needing a bath.
Last year's (pre-) school pic,
which I love because it captures her
playful deviousness.
And because she looks clean.

Our girl, our Kindergartner: this will be her first official school picture. Naturally I hope to her contagious smile and sweet disposition are reflected in the wallet-sized photos that I will undoubtedly tape to the fridge and place near my desk at work, the one that we’ll look at eleven years from now when she’s on the verge of leaving high school, the one that we’ll point to and say, “Remember when…?” What she wears for her picture she decided upon last night, and then, I’m sure, changed her mind when she woke up today, and changed back again—I’m sure--after I’ve left.

I’m a teacher. I leave the house before 7:00 each workday morning, and rare are the days when our daughter wakes up early enough that I can tame her dirty blonde, long locks. (There is much brushing, screaming, screeching, fighting through knots, and lots—lots—of detangler.) For a time, she wouldn’t let me so much as craft a simple ponytail. Hair maintenance had to be quick and as painless as possible, which meant a day with hair in the face, hair in knots and tangles by noon. Now, we get through the hairbrushing with less resistance, but let’s be real: there’s still plenty of damning screams (OWWW!)and useless whimpering. (My husband does a passable job because he doesn’t deal with the knots under near her neck).

Today, I woke up early and plugged in a curling iron. I whispered, then, a few minutes later (between getting the toddler and the middle dressed) asked, then, later (after doling out the cheese sticks to the boys, their preferred breakfast) demanded that our girl wake up so that I could “do” her hair before I left.
What I’m hoping to avoid here is a picture of a sweet girl with a head of hair that looks neglected.
What I’m hoping to avoid here is a picture of a child that looks neglected.
A judgment on me as a working mom who hardly has time to do her daughter’s hair, poor baby.
Because on any given day, our girl will come home from school or camp--or maybe she hasn't gone much of anywhere at all--looking exactly like she SHOULD look: unkempt, disheveled, a smidgen of lunch condiment on her shirt (and face, and maybe shoes), some paint, some dirt. I love when she comes home looking like she HAD FUN. But that's not what we're used to seeing in school pictures. We dress up. We groom. (We stress a little too much.)

She got out of bed, lazily, still dreamy and warm with sleepiness, shuffled to the bathroom. I was in a hurry, so I didn’t remind her immediately to go potty (though normally I would). The hair took precedence. She was happy that mommy was “doing” her hair, curling sections of it like I do my own, sometimes. She was smiley. I asked her what sort of style she wanted for picture day.

I thought I’d just wear it down. Or maybe a headband. And that’s what I want, so please no ponytails.

Every child’s school picture contains an imprint of parenthood—at least, that’s what we (their parents) look for in their picture. Are they well-fed? Nicely clothed? Well cared for? Happy? “Bad” school pictures make us feel badly because a pout or a dirty face translates to a problem (for some people). Or we don’t have good wallet photos to send out to family, which is just a kick in the pants, and then we have 20 wallet photos that don’t really look like our kid, or don’t project what we want to project to other people about our kids. Or ourselves.

Can we agree not to let school pictures define our perceptions of each other as parents?

One day, our girl may spend lots of time on her own hair. Hopefully, she won’t—hopefully, she’ll embrace her natural beauty instead of trying to curl what’s straight, darken what’s blonde, or highlight what’s dark. But while she’s still little, and while I still can, I hope that I can help her to understand that looking presentable means taking care of your one and only body, and that grooming doesn’t have to be a sport, but is a means of self-love and self-respect.

And one day, I’m going to get it together and figure out how to get everyone’s hair cut at the right time in summer, and to start eyeing back-to-school sales for prospective, non-stripey, non-logo-y shirts.

Maybe one day, I’ll just let go and embrace the cowlicks.



September 30, 2014

The 10th Anniversary Post!

Ten years ago, just around now, I was getting ready for a trip across the planet. I left my job for a year, packed up more than a decade of Boston living, loaded a truck, drove home, unloaded a truck, locked up a storage unit, packed a hiking backpack, and started practicing walking around my old neighborhood with it, in case I'd need to know what walking many miles with an extremely heavy pack  felt like. I packed carefully. I got all my shots. I made sure I had extra meds, field soap, clothes that could be washed by hand and dry quickly. I read travel guides and travel stories. I was ready to go and not look back.

And then, just a week before I boarded a plane to India, I met a guy.  In a bar.

We talked, and he was sweet, and funny, and handsome. We made plans to have dinner at a restaurant that existed for exactly four weeks. And we had a great time. Then some days passed, and he hadn't called, and I repacked my bag several times to make sure I knew how to access anything I needed in a pinch.

And the night before I boarded a plane to India, he called. 

We went for coffee. (We stayed out late.) 

We were smitten.

This wasn't supposed to happen. I was supposed to travel and land in a new spot--not the spot I'd left as a teenager, bound for college. And yet. 

We emailed for the month I was away, and then I came home, and we dated. Then, before I left for Peru, this amazing man sent me off with some chocolate and a mosquito head-net, just in case. And a love note in my back pack that I only saw on my first night in Lima.

In no time, we knew. And in less than a year, we got married. 

Ten years ago, I started a blog for the people who wanted to keep in touch while I was traveling. I love writing, I love exploring, and a keeping a blog seemed like a perfect journaling exercise to both reach out and look inward.

I blogged about travel and adventures at home. Somehow, life took over:  getting married, landing a new teaching job, buying a home, losing my father, losing a pregnancy, dealing with infertility are all, in and of themselves, worthy subjects of blogs, but I'd lost sight of my own writing. Until, miraculously, we had ourselves a beautiful baby girl, and I was at home, finally. In one place. Nowhere to go, and lots of time to think. 

I know. This Red Sox Nation gal
can't help it. It's a mixed marriage.
And so: this blog. Between The Open Road, and Aprons and Blazers, I've been writing publicly for a solid ten years. And since that baby girl? A baby boy. And another baby boy. A new house. A friggin' minivan.  

And with me, all the way, this amazing man who I just happened to meet in a bar. Our adventures together--on foreign soil and our own--continue to surprise and fortify me. There's just no place on earth I'd rather be than with him.

Here's to all the joys and surprises and adventures that the next ten years will bring, to the revelations and connections that writing inspires. Shanah tovah to all those who celebrate the New Year, and Happy Fall to all.

September 15, 2014

The H word

I hate the word 'hate.' I don't even like looking at the word. In our house, it's like a curse word. (Well, it gets the same reaction as a curse word would--if my kids cursed. Which may be imminent, seeing as how I can't seem to handle the flat iron lately.)

So when I wrote this piece a few weeks back, it was published with a title that included the H word. I love my editors, but couldn't bring myself to title the article with the H word myself. I'm glad they could do it for me.

So here it is. 

Soon, I'll write my annual September post on my New Year's resolutions, but we're just getting the hang of how to get three kids + one mommy off to school on time + a daddy to work on time (all before 8 a.m.!)… stay tuned!