Many moons ago - when I had fewer children and more brain cells - I started to get the itch to dye my hair. Not that anyone was complaining about my hair - my husband liked my few silver streaks and my eldest children weren't at all embarrassed to be seen with me - well, at least not because I had grey hair!
But there were other people. And they had decided opinions about my hair. The first was one of my best friends. She was a solid 5 years older than me and didn't have a single grey hair on her head. Not one. Anywhere. And she continually rubbed it in in a rather offhand way. Instead of teasing me, she insisted that she envied me my bits of silver. They were my "crown", my "glory" and she wished she had streaks of silver like I did.
Yeah, sure she did!
The second was a sweet, but unsuspecting offender who stopped to chat with me after church. We were talking right along when suddenly he verbalized his latest brilliant observation, "You've gotten your hair highlighted, haven't you?" Being a quick witted soul I shot back, "GOD highlighted my hair this way!" But deep inside I was stung to the core.
I found myself starting to hover in hair care aisle at the local mart. Next thing I knew I was reading the labels of hair-dye boxes and pondering the endless shades of brown available. Finally, convinced that the possibilities were endless, I selected a "medium brown" dye and headed for home. I followed the instructions carefully, dyed my hair and…
Nothing. No one even noticed. The only one who even seemed to know was my daughter because she'd been with me when I'd bought it. My husband may or may not have noticed, but his only reaction was to caution me against trying any "wild" colors. No one at church noticed. The whole experiment was a complete bust.
But now my hair was dyed and that meant I was going to have to keep touching up the roots because, you know, hair grows. So I convinced myself that the color made me look better and feel younger and I kept on dying it for a year or more. Slowly I became aware of other women around me my age and even younger who had -shock of all shocks - grey hair on their heads. Some were all silvery grey and looked appealing. Others had an attractive salt & pepper style. They were all natural and all lovely. And obviously they weren't wasting $8 and an hour of time every 6 weeks. They were FREE; I wanted to be free too.
So I let the dye grow out. I insisted that my grey was "silver" and that I was proud of being all natural. My husband and my kids liked my hair color and that was good enough for me.
For a few years.
In the meantime I birthed two more children in my late 30's. Suddenly I was spending a great deal of time with other mothers of young children and those mothers were all only slightly older than my oldest daughter. They were all young and pretty and energetic. And none of them had grey hair. I felt old and tired, toddlers not withstanding. But I held firm. I did not dye my hair.
My older 2 children moved out and started families of their own. Now I was the mother of 2 young girls AND and grandmother. The girls grew and we got involved in various activities. There was our 4-H club where my co-leader often and repeatedly reminded me how she admired my willingness to bravely go grey. There was our new church where all the ladies my age and even older seemed to have decidedly stylish colored hair: blond, red, and brown. And then there was my mother. She delighted in pointing out that she was "the mother of the grandmother" and started calling me her "grey-haired daughter".
I was weakening.
Then came the final straw. I stopped at the bread store and the cashier asked if I wanted my discount.
"Your senior discount!"
I was only 48. Ouch!
Back to the dye for me. This time I had more grey than brown. So I selected a brand with "natural highlights" in a light shade of brown so the change wouldn't be too abrupt. I duly read all the paperwork and set aside the time to do the job.
My mother-in-law came over to bring me the newspaper. She didn't mention my hair. My husband came home from work and didn't say a thing. He didn't notice the next day either, even though I took the time to style it. I went to my Mom's for lunch and shopping. She used to be a hair dresser, but she had no comments whatsoever about my new color. I went to 4-H fully expecting my co-leader to notice the dye job. Nothing.
I guess I had succeeded in picking a subtle shade! Sheesh!
My roots started to grow out and I knew it was time for a touch-up. Should I stay with the same very subtle color or get more daring? I went a shade darker. I'd been wearing the new shade for 2 weeks before my mother-in-law finally stopped talking mid-sentence to peer closely at my head. "Have you used a rinse or something?" she asked. She was bit embarrassed when I told her I had started dying my hair 2 months before! It was yet another week before my husband gave me an odd look and asked if I had died my hair. He was even more embarrassed than his mother that he hadn't noticed.
The problem with a darker dye is, of course, that your roots start to show sooner, so I picked up some more dye. Unfortunately, now that I'd found a color that I liked, the store didn't have it in stock.
So I bought a different brand. The color looked similar to what I had last used and it was a brand my mother had recommended, so I figured I'd try it.
A few days before Christmas my kids and husband were away. It was the perfect time to dye my hair, wrap some presents and watch a movie.
This particular brand of hair color had copious warnings about possible allergic reactions - more than I recalled seeing on the other brand - but I wasn't really worried. I'd already done my hair twice. If was allergic, I'd know it, right? Well, the new brand was messier than the other. It smelled stronger and it made my head feel kind of tingly - I was pretty sure it not an "allergic" tingly, but my anxiety level was starting to go up. I kept gauging my breathing and straining to see if "tingling" was turning to "burning". Finally, the timer sounded and was able to rinse. My hair felt quite brittle some fell out while I was rinsing, but at least I wasn't allergic to the dye.
I let my hair air dry as I popped in a movie and started wrapping gifts. I was about an hour in to my work when I started feeling weird and restless. Shortly later I was dizzy and hot which progressed to clammy and nauseated and suddenly very anxious. I could still breathe alright, but - oh my goodness - I was having an allergic reaction! I was home alone and started panicking. I was about to dial 911 when I felt a strong impression that I should check the back of my neck. I groped my way into the bathroom and grabbed a mirror. Sure enough, there was still dye all over the back of my neck! I grabbed a wet washcloth and scrubbed 'til I was raw. Almost immediately, the wave of horrible feelings lifted and I felt fine.
I decided not to tell all my family about my life and death dye drama - especially after my husband came home, took one look at my hair and said, "I really don't like it that dark, Honey."
He was right. It was REALLY dark. Ugh! And now everyone noticed my hair. "What did you do to your HAIR?" came the frequent question, always punctuated by raised eyebrows and the distinct impression that I'd gone a bit too far.
I even felt so castigated that I humbly asked my hairdresser if there was a way to rectify the color. She pursed her lips and squinted thoughtfully, "Well, I suppose I could put in some highlights for $55."
Never mind. I'll fix it myself. So now I am - oh so slowly - working my way back to the first color so it won't be as noticeable when I go back to all natural.
After all, I've noticed most of my friends are letting their hair go a stylish silver…