Mermaid hair is a harmless concession
By Liz Pinkey
I’ve either just made the biggest parenting mistake of my life, or I’ve done something monumentally awesome that is going to turn out to be one of the best parenting decisions I’ve ever made. I stepped way out of my comfort zone on this one, and although it will probably be years until I know for sure if it was a good decision or a bad one, I have a feeling I’m going to question myself about it over and over again.
I let E turn her hair blue. Just for the summer.
I’ve mentioned before that when it comes to our sense of style, we could not be more different. I tend to dress for comfort. I’m lucky to be able to wear jeans to work, and when I come home, it’s usually a quick change into sweats and more T-shirts before I head off to the pool or the playing field. E dresses to sparkle. The more glitter and bling she can have on an outfit, the happier she is.
E also knows what she likes. When she was about 2, she told me she wanted her ears pierced. Assuming it was just a passing interest, I put her off initially. She was persistent, every few weeks asking me if NOW she could get her ears pierced. After about 6 months, I told her that if she still wanted them pierced when she was 3, she could get them pierced. I didn’t hear about it again until her third birthday. When I woke her up, I whispered, “Happy Birthday!” She responded impatiently, “NOW, can I get my ears pierced?” I made the appointment that day, and she has taken good care of her earrings and pierced ears since then.
A few months ago, she asked me if she could “get her tips done.” At first, I didn’t know what she was talking about, so she explained that she wanted the ends of her hair dyed a fun color. She also explained that she knew she wasn’t allowed to have hair color in school, so she thought that she could get the tips colored for the summer, and then before school starts again in the fall, she could just get the color trimmed out. I was pretty impressed that she had thought this out and was aware that there were rules that had to be followed, and it made the “no” that was already on the tip of my tongue get stuck.
I decided to discuss the idea with the Wonderful Husband, who has even less of an interest in what’s trendy and fashionable among the 7-year-olds than I do. I laid out her argument, that she’d only do the ends, and at the end of summer, she would get it cut. “Well, if it turns out badly, you can always just cut it off sooner,” he said, ultimately leaving the decision up to me.
A few days went by, and she didn’t bring it up. I decided to wait things out again and see if she changed her mind before I shot down her dreams of having “mermaid hair.” Eventually, she patiently asked if I was going to let her get her hair colored. She pointed out that I am a regular user of hair color, although, for the life of her she can’t figure out why I wouldn’t want silver hair.
I told her I was still considering it, but I wanted to know what she was going to offer in exchange for such a privilege. The first thing she could think of was getting straight A’s for the rest of the year. Although we were only a few weeks away from the end of the year, and I was pretty sure that she was on track to earn that anyway, I thought it might be good motivation to keep her focused.
Next, I showed her how much of her hair I was willing to consider letting her color, and then reminded her that in August, that much would all be cut off. She readily agreed to that. I also said that she had to let me take her to my stylist, because I didn’t want to mess around with questionable processes or products, like the infamous Kool-Aid hair dye, which I’ve heard nightmares about. Always one to try out a beauty treatment, this just sweetened the pot for her.
I admit that I could already tell that her commitment to this idea of blue hair was so strong that if I didn’t let her do it the right way, I fully expected to find her in the bathroom with a blue marker coloring her own hair.
I really could not think of a real reason not to let her do something fun for the summer. After a few days at the pool, in the sun and chlorinated water, her hair would start changing colors anyway. Nevertheless, doing something as drastic as this shouldn’t be done willy-nilly, or spur of the moment. I thought this was a real learning process for both of us: her, showing me that she had a plan that respected the boundaries, but allowed her to express herself, and me, not just automatically saying no, but hearing her out and developing a compromise that made us both happy.
Seeing her face light up when the stylist unveiled her new hair was something, but later that day, when we were having dinner, our waitress admired her hair, and then complimented me on being a “brave” mom. I explained to her all that had gone into the process, and she was genuinely taken aback.
“I wish my parents had been a little bit more understanding,” she said. “I might not have rebelled so much when I got older.”
And I realized that that’s what I’m hoping for: a rebel who can wear her unique blue hair proudly, but still manage to color within the lines when it comes to respecting her parents’, or in this case, the school’s rules. In a few weeks, that blue hair will be gone, but hopefully the lessons that it taught both of us will last a lifetime.
Liz Pinkey is a contributing writer to the Times News. Her column appears weekly in our Saturday feature section.