I have this white hair.
It isn`t my only one, by a long shot. I`ve been going grey for a few years now, although so slowly that you still can`t spot most of the greys unless you`re looking for them.
Apart from this one, new hair, right near the front.
At first, I ignored it. Then, as it grew longer I considered pulling it out. Why would I leave one, increasingly obvious, frizzy hair that insists on sticking out away from my head like it`s waving hello every time I look in the mirror? Two seconds and it`s gone, no longer reminding me that I`m slipping past what our culture has decided is attractive (i.e. young, or if not young, then at least wrinkle, sag and grey hair free).
But something stopped me. I feel sort of fond of this hair. Friendly. Welcoming. Even a teensy bit proud.
What`s all that about? I asked myself. That hair is not pretty.
Here`s what I`ve concluded:
For most of my life I`ve looked young. When I was 18 I looked nearer 13. When I became a mother, every health professional I spoke to started by asking, “So, you must live with your mum?”
“Ur – no, I live with my husband.”
When I was around 30, people I met often assumed I was at college (some of them thought I was still at school).
And for several years after having my third child (age 26), nearly everyone who heard I had 3 kids would say “You don`t look old enough!” At a conference I spoke at, when the person interviewing me mentioned my teenagers, the audience gasped as one.
How wonderful, some may think, to look younger than you are. This is purely down to genetics – my beauty routine is almost non-existent, and I`ve been this way my whole life. But before anyone starts feeling jealous, just think about it…
Being treated like you`re 13 when you are 18 is not fun.
Being assumed to be a 15 year old mother when in your twenties with a full time job isn`t either. This is not a judgement about young mothers – I was 21 when my daughter was born, wallowing in student debts and a long way from what I would have considered an ideal place to become a parent. I have genuine respect for those even younger than I was, who have to make so many sacrifices while putting up with the frequent snipes from strangers who think because you`re young they can tell you how to raise your own child.
Being repeatedly told you aren`t old enough to mother the number of children you have doesn`t do great things for your confidence either, if you aren`t careful. I needed counselling to sort that one out.
And having reached the grand old age of thirty-nine and fifty-one weeks, I have no problem with being regarded as such.
I am happy to be credited with forty years of life experience.
So, I guess that`s why I`m keeping the hair, for now at least.
When I see that hair it speaks to me of four decades of living. Challenges met, fought and lost, and the lessons and strength gained from both of these. It reminds me of achievements earnt, as well as mistakes. That I have loved, and known how loving wholeheartedly can bring agonising grief, as well as overwhelming joy. It reminds me that change is always happening – the slow everyday passing of time as well as the sudden earth-shattering or heart-soaring moments that leave your world upside down. And yet, that some things stay the same – life has its seasons, fashions come and go but at the end of the day people are people, none of us perfect, all of us valuable.
My grey hair is a testimony to the confidence that crept up on me throughout my adult life. That a woman who once struggled to say hello can now speak to hundreds of strangers and not beat herself up later about the bits she messed up. That I have learnt something of who I am, why I`m here, what I do well and what I`d rather never do again, thank you very much.
That hair reminds me that I`ve reached four decades and can look myself in the mirror and feel blessed about what I see – a body that is healthy, for the main part, still working as it should. That carried me this far.
There is not one part of me that wants to be any younger than I am. I am thankful for every precious day that brought me here. For what I know. Who I am, and who I am becoming. So, I`m keeping the hair – for now – to remind myself of that.
Having said that, please don`t stare or feel obliged to point it out if we happen to meet face to face…