About a week ago my hair started falling out. Despite the fact that the doctor told me it was unlikely. “Only 2% of patients....,“ she said. My husband laughed. He pointed at me and exclaimed, “She’s a 2 percent-er.” Oh, how right he was.
When I realized it, I was in denial. Nah, it’s just that the hair band pulled on my hair. Nah, this comb is just getting a good grip this morning. Nah, I always shed in the shower. And I put it out of my mind. Denial.
But in the middle of the night, I stumbled into the bathroom and ran my hand through my hair. And a handful came out. No denying it then. Sniffling back to bed, my husband mumbled, “Whaz wong?” So I told him, climbed into bed, and sniffled some more before breaking down into full on wracking cries. That’s when he really woke up. “Honey, what’s wrong? Why are you crying?”
”My hair,” I whispered in a quiet cry, still trying not to wake the kids. “It’s coming out. They said it wouldn’t. They were wrong.” He quietly put his arm around me. No words. And I just sobbed myself to sleep.
That scene got repeated a couple of times the next day. Quietly, in the bathroom or our bedroom as long as the kids couldn’t see: hair falls out; wife sobs; husband mutely tries to comfort her. (Meanwhile, he’s grieving too.)
I resigned myself to it. Texted my stylist and settled on a cute under-cut, spunky pixie. We told the kids calmly and dispassionately. My high functioning autistic son tried to crack a sarcastic joke. My glamorous elementary school girl bemoaned cutting my hair, then got excited that she can help cut it off. But the kids didn’t really understand.
At least not until last night. (I think)
Last night, my daughter and I were sharing the Short Circuit shorts on Disney+. It sparks her love of art and creativity. So, four shorts in “Lucky Toupee” premiers. We’d never seen it before. Not 10 seconds in I knew . . . it was too late. “This is too close to home!” I exclaimed.
(SPOILER ALERT) In the short, the camera scrolls past pictures of a full haired man and a full haired woman lovingly embracing, then turns to the same man — now bald — staring at the pictures. We see him sleep, and funny Irish leprechauns tug his hair out. We see him make a bargain for a wig with the Leprechauns, desperate for his hair. As he desperately tugs a wig on, he opens the door to meet the lovely woman. But the leprechaun didn’t get paid so the leprechaun rips the wig off, leaving the man bald and aghast at showing his baldness. The lovely woman just smiles, reaches up, and removes her own wig.
Oh the tears. At first they just leak out. Then, they roll out. Then, the wracking cries come as I sit on the couch next to my son. Head in my hands, tears dripping down my face, in an all-out ugly cry.
My ASD son reaches out — just like his father — and lays an awkward hand on me. “It’s okay mom,” he coos. “You have true friends. We love you even without your hair.” He doesn’t say more. He just stays there. Heavy teenage boy hand on my arm. Quiet. The exact right words at the exact right time. I tell him that.
My younger daughter can’t connect why I was crying. So in between sniffles, I explain I know exactly what that man was feeling: the grief of loosing his hair; the fear of being bald; the fear of rejection; and even the loving embrace of my bald partner.
I struggle to get my emotions under control and can’t. Then decided I shouldn’t. This is hard. It sucks. It’s also okay to grieve, and for my kids to see me grieve. My cancer is just as much their cancer. But more so: my cancer is their instructions for how to approach difficult things in life, how to receive care, and how to care for others. In a split second I know that this is one of those big mothering moments, and I want them to see me cry. I want them to see me struggle. And I want them to know that it’s okay.
MOTHERHOOD DOES NOT MEAN PERFECTION.
It does not mean sunshine or rainbows. It does not have to look like Susie Homemaker. Motherhood needs to be real, and gritty. It needs to look like love in the midst of suck, despite grief and hard things. I am grateful for that moment on the couch: full of snot and tears, where I was able to love my children by being real with them.
Written by: Shannon Davis