When I was a child, the rituals of preparing for any new school year included, without question, a haircut.
I never had the long braidable hair I yearned for in grammar school. My mother appreciated simplicity, and although I loved the flowing manes a few of my friends sported, I certainly didn't want to bother with washing and grooming my own. And so a simple pageboy that barely covered my ears framed my face in every school picture from kindergarten through seventh grade.
My late-August pruning was severe and invariably revealed a graceless swath of white across my forehead where the sun hadn't penetrated for a month or two. So branded, off to school I'd go.
The first time I considered letting those bangs grow out – perhaps at age 12 or 13 – I was wholly unprepared for the local hairstylist's objective opinion.
"She's just too plain," she said perfunctorily, sweeping the front hair back for a moment to reveal my whole face, sans adornment.
My mother didn't agree, but she was my mother. I took the comment to heart, and the bangs stayed until I reached my mid-teens. By then my peers and I didn't need a stylist to decide what looked good and what didn't. I let my hair and bangs grow out, gamely sleeping on the hard plastic rollers I could finally utilize.
By the time I was in college, I had a dark cascade that I had long since ceased trying to curl. With the exception of one or two back-to-basics cuts, I kept it long through years of travel, motherhood, and even dairy farming – a quick ponytail before entering the hayfield or milk parlor kept it off my neck and out of the way.
On a whim of mine, my friend Gillian snipped my hair up to my shoulders one summer day. Initially liking the new look and sense of lightness, I kept it there with regular, often self-styled trims.
It proved to be an awkward length for me, though – too short to gather up on hot days, and long enough to easily dishevel.
My mother took a critical look on my recent visit home and casually offered to treat me to a quality cut by her own excellent stylist, Ellen.
I accepted, and two days later found myself flipping through the hairstyle books Ellen offered in her studio. The sheer range of possibilities – from punk to permed (all adorning stunning young models) – bewildered me.
I settled on a layered look just covering the ears, and Ellen approved, commenting (bless her heart) on the fact that my chin and cheekbones were very favorably shaped for that particular cut.
She shared stories of her upbringing, her philosophy of life, and a host of recent experiences, as she clipped away a good deal of hair.
I loved the result.
Even better – she never once breathed the word plain.