Parenting In Crisis and a Haircut
"The pressure always seemed to mount and mama
About five years ago I grappled with A LOT. I still do as a parent but the list keeps shifting. Here's a taste of that year: impending possible homelessness, transitioning from one state to another to another, frantically searching for higher paying jobs while maintaining one full-time position and two part-time jobs, managing an on-going divorce case and somehow raising a child with only a few minor bumps and bruises. During that particular year I ran myself ragged tackling what felt like the pressure of a million obligations.
I'm tired reading that.
After a difficult month I resolved to get a haircut. So while the baby was off with my ex I drove to a nearby salon and ordered the stylist to “chop it.” She continued to ask me if I was sure throughout the shampooing process and again as she glided the comb through my thick strands. I nodded and quietly stated “Yes. Chop it.” With each attempt to invite me to conversation I mumbled answers with my eyes closed. I breathed deeply. I held back tears. I didn’t cry at the loss of hair length… I wept out of the sheer comfort of the cut. Someone was touching me. Comforting me. Relaxing me. A stranger patiently combed through my matted hair and let me quietly mourn while she flitted away with the scissors.
She asked me if I wanted some extra styling.
“Yes. But how much does it cost?”
“Don’t worry about it.”
More product swept through my hair. She asked if it was short enough. “Go shorter.” She snipped the ends carefully watching my face for reaction as my hair was cut above the ears. She felt nervous grabbing for the buzzer to cut the nape of my neck. I felt…peaceful. She brushed, dried, straightened and texturized what little hair I had left. She noticed the dark bags under my eyes, my swallowed skin, my nails bitten to nubs. She watched me for more tears trickling down. I stopped weeping during the blow dry. And I did look better. A little more like my old self: the sassy and vibrant girl who could take on the world. For two minutes while staring in the mirror I knew her again.
I posted my new hair online with a picture for friends and family to see. Of course compliments shot up on my notifications (perhaps they too were reminded of my former self). But one comment surprised me. A wife of my friend chastised me for spending money on a cut. She scolded me for taking food from my son’s mouth and using it for a frivolous haircut. How dare I do such a thing? What kind of mother was I? I deserved public shaming for such vanity.
I did not prepare myself for that reaction. I spent months going without—I lost weight when I refused to buy groceries for myself because all food needed to be for the baby.
I pinched every penny as I carefully calculated my teacher’s salary, estimated how much I might gain from side jobs, and sold my wares online. Just a few short months prior all my possessions that didn’t fit in my tiny car remained in my old home. I lived with my sister in Omaha for The Bear’s first 6 months. I holed up in her guest room applying for jobs, assistance, grants, and completed the mountains of paperwork needed to finalize divorce. I nursed The Bear during case management interviews, I rocked him while trying to cancel credit cards, and I whispered to him during our sleepless nights that everything would be ok.
When I got this haircut I didn’t foresee loved ones reprimanding me for my situation or possible selfishness. I was far too familiar with my circumstance to imagine a trip to the salon could save me from my daily depression or release me from my financial woes.
But that day I wanted a break from it. Even for 60 minutes. I needed a break from sitting in my empty apartment questioning every decision I made over the last year and half. My life imploded with his affair, the surprise pregnancy, and the quick move from the West Coast back to the Midwest. Nothing was the same. The adage parenting changes you is one thing: parenting in crisis completely alters the core of oneself. And even then I maintain that’s an understatement.
Coming home to an empty apartment, lazily flipping through match.com emails, viciously cycling through wanting him back and wanting him gone forever, watching Netflix and drinking cheap vodka mixed in orange juice fundamentally transformed me. And no one got it. No one could possibly understand the anguish of becoming a mother and a divorcee in one fell swoop.
I meandered through weekends without the baby. I hired a teenager to help me clean and put clothes away because finding the floor felt so impossible. Frankly, I needed the company too. I eventually moved all of the things I needed to the living room so I had no need to venture anywhere else in the apartment. Once a dedicated cleaner, expert home cook, and successful professional I found I had lost all connections to the person I had been before I became a Parent In Crisis.
I never slept because the baby didn’t. I never relaxed because I couldn’t. And real life obligations like bills, grocery shopping, grading, diaper changes, breastfeeding, playing with my son, showering, and so on made the determined me crumble. I describe that first year as being in a terrible fog walking a smelly beach with the wind hitting me with salt water that stuck to my cheeks. It’s not a pleasant stroll next to the ocean, but a trudge through wet sand jutting against rocks and garbage piles. And to make matters worse sometimes monsoon rains poured down, the waves built and became dangerously violent, and often the tide drenched my feet leaving me stuck on a rock to wait it out.
I would give almost anything to never feel that year again.
To catch a brief release from the intense weight I caved and used a gift card my sister gave me for Christmas to get a haircut. I hoarded it for year knowing I needed to use it only for a special occasion. I failed and used it out of sheer boredom.
The mom who shamed me barraged me with text messages for days—she felt so strongly I failed my son and his security by choosing a haircut over paying a portion of a bill. Friends on Facebook quickly came to my defense exclaiming “Self-care is important!” But I fell stuck in shame. I’d look at myself in the mirror weeks after that incident and pine for my mop of hair to instantly grow back. I was one of those moms who put her selfish desires ahead of her child. It consumed me. I stopped eating all together losing almost 50 pounds. I slept on the couch and kept biting my nails. I over-compensated by attending too quickly to the needs and cries of my son--- he stirred and I responded--- he never self-soothed well. All because of a haircut. Probably not all, but still it prevented better healing.
And yet I go back to that hour, sitting comfortably in the chair, breathing in the smells of high-end shampoos and I feel calm. I can still feel the weight of my hair falling to the checkered floor and how my head instantly felt lighter on my shoulders. The way the stylist rubbed my neck and the pop of my spine as she shifted my neck from side to side. The slicing of the comb making the part, the sounds of other women gabbing as they watched me wondering and still I feel calm. That haircut saved me for a brief moment during a catastrophic time in my life. Nothing was easy. I had very little support; I parented in isolation. I walked that awful beach alone with no one to call and ask to take the baby so I could sleep. I experienced very little rescuing --- except a short brunette chomping her gum in a little salon. She showed up that day. She gave me something I needed badly… a little less weight.
Get a haircut.