Hair Whore

My mother and my grandfather were both in advertising, so I grew up somewhat suspicious of ads. Companies are not advertising so you can find products that will help you and make you feel better. They’re advertising so you’ll buy their products and give them money. They don’t actually give a damn about your well-being. A cynical statement, perhaps, but it’s a fact that companies are in business to make money.

Having said that, I am a complete sucker for hair care products and any time I see an ad for one in a magazine or on TV that looks like it may be the solution to all my hair care problems (which are manifold), there’s every chance I’ll  go out and buy it. My husband is constantly saying to me, “What did you spend sixty five dollars on at Rite Aid?!?” and when I say, “Hairspray,” he says, “Are you buying it in fifty gallon drums?” Duh, of course not. You can’t get the fifty gallon drum with the non-aerosol sprayer on it. That’s only for refilling. Men are so dumb.

I’m what you could call a hair product whore. I have no loyalty to any brand, tossing one aside as soon as the next shiny pretty comes along promising me smooth, perfect, shampoo commercial hair. I take every recommendation given by my stylist, except the one when she said, “You don’t need to buy any more hair products for like a year!” after I brought everything I currently owned with me to an appointment for her to look through to see what I should keep and what wouldn’t even work for me. Since that appointment I’ve bought a bottle of smoothing spray and a bottle of sea salt spray (which actually have contradictory effects on hair, but it was never my intention to use them at the same time). But every other recommendation I follow to the letter. Shampoo brand? Bought it. Styling product? Got it. New tool (straightening iron, hot rollers, etc.)? I am all over that shit.

And let’s not even talk about editorial content in magazines that describes new ways to deal with hair care problems. Oh screw it, let’s. I get half a dozen beauty magazines—InStyle, People StyleWatch, Lucky, and god knows what else. Every month they have articles on how to get a blowout look without actually getting a blowout, how to make your fine hair look fuller, how to love your straight hair…I could go on and on. And every month I read these articles and scoff. And then, a few days later, I find myself in the bathroom with wet hair thinking, “Well, I’ll try this, but I won’t admit to myself I’m trying it.” Like that negates my trying it, and then if it doesn’t work (or, I should say, when it doesn’t work) I can say, “Well, I didn’t really believe it would work.”

My fundamental problem is that I have no talent for styling hair, compounded by the fact that my hair is challenging to style. I have a lot of hair, but it’s baby fine. It wouldn’t hold a curl on a bet, and it slips out of pins and barrettes in mere seconds. I can flub my way through makeup application (something else for which I have no affinity) because how hard is it to put on some concealer to even out my skin tone (and dear Fate, please, if I’m going to saddled with remnants of my adolescent skin, couldn’t I please have just a little of the metabolism I had at the same time? Not much, just a little. Thanks), swipe a little blush on my cheeks and liner under my eyes, and slap on some mascara. But hair just seems to require more knowledge of what you’re doing. I get good cuts, so that’s not the issue. I just suck at hair.

The Holy Grail of products for me is one that will make my stick straight hair (effortlessly) curly. I’d even settle for a little wavy. I’ve bought thousands of dollars’ worth of stuff with the word “curl” in either the title or the description of its powers. In addition to being styling challenged, I am also kind of stupid, because in all these years I’ve never really accepted that things that use the word “curl” are generally intended to enhance curl one already has, not magically create curl where none exists.

I turn to styling products in the hope that if I have better ingredients, I’ll end up with a better cake (as it were). But as with making a cake, you can have the best ingredients in the world, but if you combine the eggs and the flour, then pour in sugar and milk, and then add vodka and crushed red pepper flakes, you’re going to end up with inedible slop. And that’s sort of what I have in hair form—all sorts of fancy “ingredients,” some of which aren’t even the right ones for me to use, combined in weird and possibly ineffective ways to make “slop” on my head. Sometimes I wish severe buns covered with sunbonnets would come back into style.

Toy Story

A friend was telling me she’d found some old games at a yard sale a few weeks ago, and was asking me if I had this one or that one.  I started thinking about the toys I never had. In spite of the fact that I was an only child, there were a number of really sweet toys that I never got, for reasons that I don’t understand. It’s possible that my mother didn’t realize I wanted them, and I think that excuse will cover a couple, but there are a few that I know for a fact I just never got. And yes, thirty five years later, I am still somewhat bitter.  Here is my list of Toys I Never Got And My Mother Is Just Lucky I Didn’t Grow Up To Be a Psychopath Or Rob Liquor Stores Because Of My Sadly Deprived Childhood.

Easy Bake Oven
I wanted this thing SO BAD. And this is one I’m pretty sure my mom knew I wanted, but just didn’t want to buy. I think it goes back to a bad experience she had with Baby Alive. For the uninitiated and those who spent their formative years as boys, Baby Alive is (I think they still make a version of it) a doll that you can feed and then, shortly after she eats, she poos and needs a diaper change. Her mouth had some sort of battery powered mechanism that made a “chewing” movement that ingested the food, and then it would go right through her.

The thing was, she only came with maybe four packets of food, and naturally you fed those to her within the first twenty minutes after getting her home from the store. Then you spent the next six weeks nagging your mom to buy Additional Food Packets Sold Separately.  And the commercial was on TV often enough that you’d ask, she’d say no (or perhaps hem and haw, if you were still in weeks one through three), and just about the time you’d forgotten about being totally out of food packets, the commercial would come on and the whole cycle would start again. I suspect it was something of a living hell for parents of the time.

All of this is a rather long-winded explanation for why she looked on the Easy Bake Oven as some kind of instrument of Satan. Because of course, it would come with enough mix to make two cakes and two cookies, and then you’d be out and start nagging for Additional Mix Packets Sold Separately. I think in her mind it was just Baby Alive with a light bulb but without diapers.

Lite Brite
“Lite Brite makin’ things with liiiight, outta sight, makin’ things with Lite Brite!” I don’t think my mom really realized I wanted one of these. I don’t recall ever putting it on a Christmas list (of course, I don’t remember ever making a Christmas list, so there’s that), and by the time I got old enough to want it (4th grade) after playing with it at my friend Jill Schultz’s house, I was too old for her to overhear me tell “Santa” it was what I wanted.

She did that, you see—I remember very clearly the year  we were at Lord & Taylor looking around the Toy Department (in 1972, in the days when department stores still had Toy Departments) and I saw something called Baby Butterball (don’t ask), who came with a wicker basket and a full wardrobe of precious baby clothes. I think out of guilt over having told me a couple of years earlier that there wasn’t actually a Santa Claus (she couldn’t “lie” to me, was what she always said in later years), she decided to buy exactly what I asked Santa to bring. Not sure I was fooled—I wanted very much to believe in Santa, but I couldn’t quite get over her telling me he didn’t exist. It doesn’t really matter, and it’s off topic, so we’ll move on.

Anyway, I thought the ability to stick pegs in a board with a light bulb behind it and have it look like a duck or a unicorn or Elvis or whatever was just the coolest thing EVAR. But either my mother didn’t agree with me, or she didn’t know I felt this way, because a Lite Brite was never forthcoming.

“I don’t believe it, I just don’t believe it, the things I can do with my spirograph!” (One could perhaps argue that the reason I wanted some of these things was just because they had catchy jingles that stayed with me, but I’d retort that one would be wrong—this was cool shit.)This is another one that I think may fall into the she just didn’t realize I wanted it category. But damn I loved this thing. Really cool random spirals and arcs. I even have a memory of straight sided shapes in addition to circles. My neighbors, Peter and Laura Albert had one, and I used to play with it all the time. Laura Albert was also allowed to wear jeans under her skirts, which my mother thought was dumb (“Wear one or the other”) so naturally I thought she was pretty damned lucky.

Barbie Dream House
I loved Barbies and I adored playing with them. I would act out scenes from books I was reading with them as the characters. I had some small doll furniture that I’d use, and then I also had carrying cases that doubled as a bedroom with a closet. Ultimately I was given an RV/camper thing that was so big (three feet long) that until I was in 8th grade and it was given away (yes, 8th grade—so what?) I had to include it in the furniture placement plans I drew up every time I decided to rearrange my room (which was about every three months).

But did I get the Barbie Dream House? The four level town house with the real working (manual) elevator? That came with all sorts of cool furniture? That Tamar Holley had and I did not? (Spoiler: I didn’t.) Was I and am I bitter? Hell yes. This does not go on the she didn’t know I wanted it list. She knew perfectly well, and since she bought me the RV/camper thing that took up as much (if not more) room, and couldn’t have cost much less, I really don’t know what the logic was for getting that and not the Dream House. It’s not even possible to ask the question, since my mom passed away over 20 years ago, but believe me, if she were still here, it would be really high on my list of things to get straightened out.

Sit ‘n’ Spin
This one I’m actually not bitter about anymore. In retrospect it was sort of a lame-o toy. It consisted of a round platform with a post that stuck up out of the center (all molded plastic, of course). I think it had some optical illusion spiral sticker thing on the platform, which of course didn’t show when you were using it, because the method was that you sat on it with your legs sticking out in front of you, and spun the top of the post and it would rotate the platform and you’d spin around. Sort of a personal merry-go-round, if you will.

So if I ever decide to knock off a gas station, I think I’ll leave this one out of my conversation with my attorney prior to the trial. Besides, he’ll probably be horrified enough to hear of about the Barbie Dream House that he won’t need any more to work with. Might include the Easy Bake Oven for the sympathy angle.

Big Wheel
Again, there was no question that I wanted this. I longed to go speeding down the sidewalk, and then, just inches before jumping the curb and being hurled into the oncoming traffic, I would reach down and yank up on the lever to be thrown into an uncontrolled spin that would send me flying backwards into the oncoming traffic.

In retrospect, maybe I see why I never got one of these.

So that’s the sad story of the toys that I never got. Of course for every one of these that I didn’t get, I had a hundred that I did. I had Perfection (which I loved because it didn’t require a second person to compete against to make it fun and since I was an only child, someone to compete against couldn’t be assumed); a ton of Barbies and clothes for them; a doll house; and a house, barn, and town for those Fisher-Price people with no arms. I wasn’t really that deprived--hell, I wasn't deprived at all. But I’m still bitter about that Barbie Dream House.

Epilogue: In my 40s I received both a Lite Brite and an Easy Bake Oven. That was only a couple of years before it was announced that Easy Bake Ovens would be going out of production because you can’t make a cake (even a small, crappy cake) with an energy efficient light bulb. My husband bought it for me at a yard sale. The Lite Brite was a gift from a friend who was cleaning out, knew of my pathetic childhood without one, and my continued longing (and bitterness), and sent it out to me so my children would have to find something else to bitch about in 35 years.

Seasons Change

If you have children, you have a slightly different take on the passage of seasons than people without children. I don’t necessarily mean things like back to school shopping and having to buy three hundred glue sticks, or planning vacations around Spring Break and that sort of thing, although those sorts of things are undeniably part of parenting. What I mean is that the seasons as we parents know them are aligned with the seasons of non-parent adults, but that we think of them a bit differently. As with real seasons, although the calendar defines them as beginning and ending on certain days, their true length is determined by the climate in which you live.
First up is Summer. Summer is the same to a parent as it is to a non-parent, for the most part. Summer starts in about mid-June, and ends when everyone goes back to school in August or September (depending on your school district). For parents, there’s a bit more stress about what to do with the kids for a couple of months, but mostly there’s little difference. We all spend July and August wishing we could have two months off of work, and talking amongst ourselves about the fact that year-round school isn’t such a bad idea.
Once summer ends, we come to the season that a parent thinks of as “I left my coat at school.” If you don’t have a child, this is the season you know as “Fall.” This is when it’s cool enough in the mornings that one needs a coat or jacket, but by afternoon the sun has warmed things up to the point that it no outerwear is necessary. Thus children, who have little ability to apply the rules taught by even the most recent events of history, or to think and plan ahead (in this case, that it was chilly this morning, and that tomorrow morning it will quite likely be chilly again) leave the coat hanging on the hook in the classroom. Only the next morning, when—surprise!—there’s a nip in the air, and Mom asks after the jacket they had the day before do they think that it might have been a good idea to grab it. This will continue until necessity (which is to say, the outdoor temperature) dictates they put it on when they leave school to go home.
This season is followed closely by “Where-are-the-gloves-you-wore-yesterday-I-don’t-know-I-lost-them.” Non-parents call this season “Winter.” It begins when it actually gets cold enough that kids stop forgetting their coats (which, as I mentioned, happens when it’s cold enough at the end of the day that self-preservation forces them to remember to wear the coat home), and ends a really, really long time later. Depending on where you live, you could spend upwards of six or seven months having the same conversation every morning about the gloves or mittens from the previous day and where they might be. Parents invest significant percentages of their income in gloves and mittens. In fact, as a parent of four children, I estimate that my investment in gloves to date is roughly that of the GNP of Belgium (which is almost as much as I’ve spent on Pokemon cards). And my oldest is only eleven.
Finally, after months and months of the glove purchase-wear-lose-purchase-wear-lose cycle that is Winter, it starts to warm slightly. The sun is a bit higher overhead, things like crocuses and snowdrops may bloom. Even if you don’t notice these things, as a parent you will know the season is changing because of a phenomenon that I think of as Wearing Shorts Inappropriately. As soon as it’s even remotely warm (read: when a grown up could stand to be outside for more than sixty seconds—but less than ninety seconds—fully clothed, but without a coat on), children come traipsing downstairs wearing shorts instead of long pants. As a responsible parent, you say, “You can’t wear those—it’s only supposed to be forty today. Go put on long pants.” And then, if you have my children, they employ the guilt whine. This is when they say, “But I don’t have any long pants,” in a tone that is both complaining and accusatory. They don’t have any long pants because you, neglectful parent, have failed to purchase them any. They are Practically Unclothed. And as a result, they were forced to pull out these shorts that you’re now giving them a hard time about wearing. You…big meanie. So you go out and buy them two or three pairs of long pants instead of buying more mittens.
Once it gets a little warmer, there’s another brief period of “I left my coat at school” before everyone gets out for summer vacation and it’s warm and all you want to do is take two months off and not have to worry about coats, gloves, or improperly implemented shorts. In retrospect, maybe year round schooling isn’t such a good idea. At least I get two months when I don’t have to stress about the correctness of or deficiency in my children’s wardrobes.