My Mother Fixated On My Hair Until She Went Too Far

Mr. Pierre’s Beauty Salon was the best toy. The centerpiece was a plastic head of a woman with golden hair sprouting from her head. It came with styling tools, but all I ever did was cut her hair badly. I didn’t care because you could begin again by pulling more hair from her scalp. While I loved my baby doll that peed and drank milk, nothing compared with sneaking the kitchen scissors and chopping hair.

It was the only time hair-styling was fun. My mom never left my hair alone. She made a hobby out of improving it. She started with huge velvet bows. They perched like missiles between my side part and ears, obstructing my peripheral vision.

In second grade my mom went too far and gave me a Toni Home Perm. After work one evening, she sat me on a green velvet stool in the living room, told me to sit still, and went to town. With my scalp still burning from the solution, she pulled my hair like taffy to fix it on the pink plastic rollers. The last step, fastening the hair on the roller with hard rubber anchors, delivered the biggest shock. Imagine tying your pony tail to a door and standing still while someone shuts it.

I couldn’t help wiggling and whining with each stretch of the rubber band. “Aow!”, “AAoow!” “It hurts!”, followed by fake crying. The Ta Da was a big, unnatural bonnet of tight brown curls not suited to a pale, freckle-faced, skinny little kid. My family name was Annie because we had two Maureen Annes. With the Toni Home Perm, my nickname became Little Orphan Annie. Hilarious.

With my mom and my aunt Mimi and my new perm

On my first day of school with my new hairdo, I spilled out of the school bus onto the sidewalk and lurched toward the side entrance of the Convent of the Sacred Heart for girls. I wobbled as I walked with a Mark Cross briefcase and a white rabbit’s fur coat. That was a long day. I thank God for the nuns who ran defense, offering select kind words and stern, eyeball warnings to classmates who might be inclined to comment.

My daughter Emma endured a few bows in preschool. I cut her hair until she was five, just like mine was at that age, China doll style with straight bangs just above her brows, and the rest cropped just below her tiny ear lobes. Emma was born with lots of good hair. It is thick and shiny with a bit of a wave. Lucky for her. Who knows what I might have done to that head if it needed a correction.

P.S. Imani Shabbazz, an intern at Catherine’s Table, took this photo while I repeatedly asked, “How does my hair look?” followed by “You need to focus on the hair.”