Going Home

There’s a quote that goes something like, “You can never go home again”, which I’m guessing to mean that once you leave home, things will never be the same again if you try to return. I left home when I was nineteen, just before I turned twenty. Yeah, I had gone away two years before that for college, but I always came back for Christmas and summer breaks. Coming home back then meant coming back to our little upstairs apartment in Bethel, Alaska. It was small, but very cozy. My mom had bright colorful pictures all over the walls, and house plants on every available surface. I had my little spinet piano, and my bedroom had all my memorabilia displayed on my bookshelves.

I finished two years of college, but now I was dropping out and going to Haiti for an open-ended visit. I remember getting on the plane to leave, saying goodbye to my mom, fighting off a panic attack. My mom asked me what I was most worried about and I remember my answer was, “I don’t know when I’m coming home.”  As it turned out, I never did. Not really. I went to Haiti for four months and then went to Chile for five months, came back to the States and got married shortly after in the Lower ‘48 without ever making it back up to Alaska.

The next time I walked into my parents’ little upstairs apartment in Alaska, I had a husband and a ten-day-old daughter in tow. In many ways it felt just like coming home from a term at college, and in other ways it was completely foreign. My husband had graduated from the University of Tennessee and we had stuck around Tennessee until I could give birth to our firstborn, then we had planned to go straight to Alaska. The idea was to stay with my parents until my husband could get a job and we could save up enough to get our own place. My mom had reorganized my old bedroom so there was now room for my new little family. It felt like home in that my mom was in full-blown mother-mode. I had just gone through the stress of giving birth and moving from Tennessee to Alaska with a newborn. Some mothering was exactly what I needed. It was foreign because I was now heading off at bedtime to my old bedroom with two extra people, and these people were now my first priority.

We stayed in Bethel for a year and half. During that time my parents’ apartment was a place of rest. We would go over and hang out on Sunday afternoons, eating lunch, taking naps. I enjoyed those brief moments when I could relapse to just being a daughter again and take a short break from the new “mom” role I was in. Then we moved, and later my parents moved out of that apartment into a different house. A later visit to Alaska had us staying at my parent’s new house and it did not feel like my home at all. It was where my parents lived. It was inviting, but I had no childhood memories there, and my role had solidified as mother to my own children. I never really relaxed back into the daughter role. My parents stayed in Alaska and we settled in Tennessee and for the next eighteen years (aside from two visits to Alaska) we only saw each other when my parents flew down for their yearly visit.

About a year and half ago my parents retired and moved down to Tennessee, about an hour away from us. We have really enjoyed having them closer. The kids love going to Grandma and Grandpa’s house and we try to get out there as often as possible. It’s a wonderful house, but again, I have no childhood memories there, and my role, when I visit, is mom to my kids, keeping them out of trouble. It simply where my parents live.

This week is my kids’ spring break from school. I was trying to think of fun things we could do on the break so I called my mom to see if we could come out and spend the night and a day with them. She said yes and we made our plans. Since they’re only an hour away, spending the night is not necessary, but the kids love it. It makes it feel like they’ve gone on a holiday somewhere. I’m not so keen on spending the night, only because my youngest doesn’t sleep well in new surroundings which means I don’t get to sleep well. But, a visit to my parents sounded really nice and who knew, maybe the little boy would sleep better this time.

Well, he didn’t. I didn’t get him to sleep till closer to midnight and then he slept fitfully all night and kept me up. In the morning my mom looked at me with concern. Are you feeling ok? No. I was tired and on top of that I had a bad cold. I had actually wondered if I should go see my parents with this cold hanging on me, but when your children have been counting down the days before they can go to Grandma’s, there is no way you want to change your plans. Also, being sick at Grandma’s sounded like a good idea. I had this vague notion that maybe my mom would help me feel better. Sure enough, Mom pulled out the cough syrup, urging me on as I choked down the vile liquid. My dad brought me a cup of some kind of fizzy drink that was supposed to boost my immune system. Then my mom told me to go back to bed whenever I wanted, the kids would be fine. I finally took her up on it and crawled back into bed for several hours. When I woke up around noon the house was silent, they had all gone outside apparently. I browsed through my mom’s cupboards, looking for lunch. My parents are vegans and so their house was fully equipped to handle my new diet which just entails fruits and vegetables. I found a can of lentil soup and then threw in some frozen vegetables. More exploration in the cupboard found some plantain chips. Perfect. I sat in the silence and ate my lunch, feeling rested and relaxed. And at home.

Something shifted. Something inside of me. I think I allowed myself to just be a daughter again. Mom, I’m sick, take care of me. And that felt like coming home. It’s not a place I can stay. I’m a mom myself now, I’ve got my own house full of children who look to me to hold their lives together. It’s a heavy responsibility, a full-time job. But, it was really nice to just go home for a short break. Feel like a kid again. Thanks Mom. Thanks Dad.

To Dye or Not to Dye?

This has been on my mind the past week, then I saw a NY Times article written by a woman in her 60s who decided to stop dyeing her hair. Made me think about my own decisions…

graypic

I noticed my first gray hair when I had only recently turned 20 years old. My mother had turned gray prematurely and so it wasn’t too big a shock. More of just a surprise. I told my friend and she said, “Pull it out!!” What? Why would I want to pull out my gray hair? It’s interesting! Surprising! I admired the lone hair in the mirror. I had long hair and this single gray hair was pretty long itself meaning it must have been there for a while and this was just the first time I had noticed. My hair was pretty curly at that time and my favorite hairstyle was making a bun and sticking a carved “hairstick” into it to hold it in place. Not surprising that I hadn’t seen the gray hair. A couple months later I saw my brother who was two years older than me. Somehow the gray hair came up in conversation and he admitted that he had found a couple gray hairs himself, but he was always diligent to pull them out as soon as he found them, “so they wouldn’t invite company”. Apparently this premature graying thing was a pretty strong gene since we had both inherited it.

I really didn’t think about my gray hairs too often until I was in my 30s. By then I had a noticeable amount of gray hair. I had a lot of older women friends and I would listen to them exchange reports on hair dye and touching up the roots and their favorite hair stylists. I always felt a bit like an outsider. I didn’t go to a hairstylist. I had long hair. I liked it long. When it got a certain length where it started looking scraggly, I would just have my handy husband cut off a couple inches. I started looking at people’s haircuts. Most of my friends had short hair and since I’ve never been interested in short hair, I was only mildly interested. But every once in a while I’d see a woman with longer hair that was bouncy and curled just so and you could tell that it had been layered professionally, and it looked very attractive. And I would ponder whether I should go to a hairstylist and get a haircut, and maybe, just maybe, try out a new hair color. Two things always stopped me though. One, I really didn’t have money to go to a hairdresser and my Keep It Simple motto had to question why I needed to pay money for my hair when I had always been perfectly happy with how it looked. Second, and this was the big one, what on earth would I do when, a couple weeks later, my hair started growing out and the gray started showing up at the roots? There was no way I could afford to go to a hairdresser regularly. A friend tried to encourage me and told me how she did her own color at home from a box. I asked her to give me a blow-by-blow description of the process. By the time she was done, I knew for sure there was no way I would have the patience or skill to do that. Especially on a regular basis. I am a low-maintenance person. I don’t even wear makeup. Personal preference. I think all my friends look beautiful in their makeup, I just don’t have the patience for it, and my husband prefers me without it anyway, so, win-win.

Now I’m 40 and I’m starting to struggle with the concept of being “old”. One of my teenage daughters thinks it’s funny to say, “You’re so OLD Mom!” any time I mention something that didn’t happen during her short life span. I find myself staring in the mirror a bit more often. Staring at my gray hair. Maybe I would feel prettier if I dyed my hair. Maybe I would feel younger. And then one day my husband came up behind me and twined some of my hair around his finger. “Your hair is so beautiful! Look at all those different colors. It’s so unique, and it shimmers in the light. I love your hair!”  Well then. I apparently had a fan club of one member. But a very important member. He’s the only one I’m trying to impress, and it seems that dyeing my hair was not going to impress him. I put my hair dye musings onto the back burner again.

There is one other reason that I have hesitated about dyeing my hair. I have 5 daughters. The actions I take are going to have a very strong influence on how they see the world. I really want them to have a strong message that it’s ok to be yourself. You don’t have to change your appearance to be acceptable. I want my daughters to know that as a woman you have options. You can choose to wear makeup and dye your hair, but it doesn’t have to be your only option. You can choose to go out in public bare faced and gray haired if you want, and you can do it with confidence.

Who knows, maybe down the road I’ll have a surplus of money laying around and I’ll be feeling really adventurous and maybe I’ll go to a fancy hairdresser and get my hair all dolled up and colored pretty. That would be fine. Probably would be fun. And maybe I won’t. That will be fine too.