Mood indigo: Singing the blues over hair color

For his 13th birthday, Ben requests to dye his hair blue. "Why blue?" I ask to give myself time to think.

"Because no one else at school has blue hair, and I'd be the first," he says.

I imagine Ben with blue hair while he walks to school - past the neighbors who don't have teenagers. I imagine blue hair while we sit in church. I remember the boy with the leopard-skin dyed hair last spring. His black and yellow spotted head bobbed up the aisle for communion. What were his parents thinking?

I stall on my answer to the blue-hair question. "I'll think about it" gives me time to actually think about having a blue-haired son.

While Ben keeps hoping the answer will be yes, I convince him to paint the garage.

I dye my hair now that I'm just over 40. My hair has always been my favorite part of me. And when those gray strands of hair began to outnumber the brown, there was no doubt about my coloring them. Why would I want to be silver-haired now?

I realize Ben and I have something new in common.

"If you still feel like this by August, we'll do it," I tell him to quiet the frequent requests.

In the meantime, we talk about temporary and permanent hair colors. "What's the difference?" asks Ben.

"The roots," I say.

"What kind do you use?" he asks.

"Permanent. See?" I pull back my hair so he can see the color change. "Do you want to keep dying it, or let it wash out gradually?" I ask him.

"I'll check the next time I'm at the mall," he says.

Later, he returns with the news that blue is available only as a temporary hair color. Which means his hair won't be blue for long, but our bathroom towels might be.

One day while I am sitting on the porch and staring out the windows, a stray memory from seventh grade returns. Every night for months, I washed my long brown hair and sectioned it into tiny braids that I let dry while I slept. In the morning, I brushed it out and had this beautiful head of wavy hair.

I walked to the bus stop with big hair flying in the wind. I walked down the halls of Capitol View Junior High School. Other kids would touch my hair and I never knew it until my best friend told me that people were touching and pointing at my hair.

In math class, the boy who sat behind me had to push my billowing hair off his desk. It stood out, and so did I. I loved how soft it felt when it dried while in braids. I loved how people looked at me because I had something different. I loved being asked, "How did you get your hair to do that?"

My mom said little about it. She must have known it was just hair. I'd change my mind soon.

When Ben asks about blue hair for the thousandth time, I say OK.

"Really? I can really do it?" he stares and smiles in shock that I would actually say yes to this novel trend.

"Will you help me, Mom?" Ben asks. The next night we are both in the basement with a bottle of my favorite shade of blue, a toothbrush, and a towel. I do an admirable job of keeping the blue off his skin and in his hair.

In the morning when he walks to school, the sun's rays highlight his glossy blue locks. My neighbor walks across the street and says, "I'm impressed that you let him do that. It's only hair. Better than a tattoo."

That's right. It's only hair. I remember now.

Maureen Webster and family live in Stillwater, N.M.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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