A little more than a year ago, I decided to become a Silver Fox. I finally found a cooperative hairdresser, cropped and spiked my already short hair, and never dyed it again. Gone were the days of henna red, streaky blonde, and blah brown. I wanted to see what me real color looked like after so many years of living in hair incognito.
The change did not come without opposition. My husband said he didn’t want a grey haired wife. Of course, I’ve had a grey haired husband for years, but I did not get a vote in it. A series of hairdressers told me I would hate grey. Of course they did. My expensive coloring was putting money in their pockets. I knew I was with the right person, at last, when her response to, “How would I look with grey hair?” was, “Just like Jamie Lee Curtis!” My friends told me the switch would be aging and, frankly, a little piece of me remembered articles I had read that said women in the workplace needed to keep their hair a youthful color.
However, I was curious. After all the years of coloring, what did my real hair look like? My father died at 87 with mostly brown hair. Did I take after him? My mother, whose heavy, wavy hair I inherited, died at 91 with snow white hair. Would I somehow take after her, despite the fact that I had always had my father’s non-descript color?
In less than six months, I had my answer. The transition for me was effortless and the result was satisfying. Yes, I had my mother’s color: definitely salt-and-pepper but with a vivid white streak in the front. I loved the new look, as did most of my coworkers. Because I have my father’s virtually lineless skin, it is a stark contrast between a youthful face and sophisticated grey hair. I took to flipping my collars up, wearing scarves and chains that pulled attention to my face, and favoring turquoise blouses that played beautifully against my new color. Even the clerk at the DMV commented on how well I looked when I had to have a new driver’s license picture made, and that doesn’t happen often.
Then, the other day, I was doing a story time for a group of kindergarteners visiting my library. One little boy with milk chocolate brown eyes that can probably see through walls, looked straight at me and said, “You’re old!” His teacher was horrified and tried to shut him up. Just in case I missed it the first time, he repeated it, “You’re old,” and pointed at my hair so that there was no mistaking how he had come to that conclusion. I gave him my best crinkly-eyed grandma smile and said, “Yes, I am.”
His teacher was further scandalized. “How did you get to be that old,” my little interrogator continued. “Well, I was born a long time ago.” I continued, for no particular reason, “Did you know I’m the baby of my family?” The juxtaposition between this grey-haired adult saying that she was a baby was more than a roomful of five year olds could comprehend. “How can you be a baby?” “My sisters are even older than I am?” I then proceeded to read the Bemelman’s “Madeleine,” a favorite book of mine when I was their age, fifty-eight years before.
After the children left, I got to thinking about it. You always come up with the right answer too late, right? What I should have said to the drill-eyed child was this: I love my hair color because every streak of grey represents an experience I’ve had. Some have been good, some have been bad. But all those experiences sit upon my head like a badge of honor. Among the grey hair is my childhood and adolescence, my early years of marriage, my daughter’s childhood, my husband’s illnesses, moves back and forth the country, jobs in which I shared children with hundreds and hundreds of children in three different states, good coworkers, bad coworkers, wonderful friends, and lost family. I should have told the child that I dearly hope, when he is sixty-three years old, that he also has a headful of grey hair and all the stories of his life to tell about it.
The next time his class comes to visit me, I just might read them another antique story and tell them why grey hair doesn’t make you old, it represents a life well lived.