COMBING & CURLING
When your mother combs your hair,
Here's a rhyme for you to say:
If you try it, I declare,
It will take the snarls away!
In the ocean of my hair,
Many little waves are there;
Make the comb, a little boat,
Over all the billows float;
Sail the rough and tangled tide
Till it's smooth on every side,
Till, like other little girls,
I've a sea of wavy curls!
Gelett Burgess. Goops and How to Be Them.
My mother, bless her heart, tried hard to make me into a lady. Raised "genteel poor" (a preacher's kid in a family of ten), she relied on both Emily Post and Amy Vanderbilt for insights into middle-class norms. My brother and I also read The Goops, though more for fun than guidance. The Goops offered this to little tangle-prone moppets like myself:
My mother didn't recite Burgess as she yanked the comb through my disobedient curls or poked my scalp with bobby pins during the Saturday night hair-setting ritual. She said, "You must suffer to be beautiful". That lesson would eventually apply to pointy-toed shoes, high heels, girdles and bras. And that was just for starters.
But at some point, I stopped believing that. There's grooming, and there's pain, and I am old enough to know the difference!
Lisa Selin Davis writes in a New York Times op-ed:
Forty-five-year-old women need a version of “the talk,” because our bodies are changing in ways that are both really weird and really uncomfortable.
I am not sure how I would have reacted to an article like this in my forties. I was still consuming the message that aging could be resisted, and having a kid in elementary school meant that most of my parental peers were in their thirties. Presbyopia had set in, and I was staving off bifocals with contacts and reading glasses.
My mother had just turned seventy, which made me uneasy around her. Part of that was wondering when I would join the "sandwich generation" as her caretaker, and part of it was what I now realize was aversion to her aging body. That's hard for me to admit, especially now that I am closing in on seventy myself. When I looked at Mom then, I searched her face for the young woman I remembered. And when I looked at my own face, it was comforting to still recognize myself. "But someday", I would think, "I will see an old woman and wonder who that is."
Like puberty, menopause has its highs and lows. And both have their promises for life-altering transformations. There are subtractions and additions, narrowings and deepenings. All in all, I'd say it's an interesting journey. In fact, more interesting than puberty. "Weird and uncomfortable"? Yes, but also amazingly fascinating.