The Time My Nephew Washed His Hair With Nair

He calmly explained that the bottle said “hair remover,” which he interpreted to mean having the ability to remove extra dirt from hair.

While waiting for my niece outside a movie theater, my sister entertained herself and her 11-year-old son by walking up and down the aisles of the only store still open in that strip mall late on a Sunday evening. They had already purchased “Wonder Woman” on DVD, and the electronics store was closing.

“Mom! They have bath salt bombs,” My nephew exclaimed, and immediately started begging for the bomb.

The white, baseball-sized salt ball glistened with pink glitter and pressed green leaves.

“I just bought you ‘Wonder Woman,’” she said.

“But this is for the bath and you always say not bathing is not an option,” he argued.

Always delighted to promote solid reasoning and good hygiene, my sister immediately caved, under the condition that he not use it that night as it was already getting late.

The next night, my nephew barely contained his excitement and requested to bathe in the master bathroom tub to maximize the depth of the bomb’s effect. He climbed into the big tub, leaving the door to the bathroom open. My sister and brother-in-law heard him talking to himself and relishing every effervescent moment as they finished up some work on their laptops in bed. (Yes, they bring their work home sometimes. Don’t judge.)

Half-an-hour into the fizz extravaganza, my sister went in to remind him to use soap and shampoo before getting out. When he walked out of the bathroom wrapped in a huge towel, he announced that the shampoo he used – the one in the blue bottle with the pink pump – smelled funny.

My sister is remarkably cool, calm, and collected by nature, which made her training as a high-risk obstetrician a perfect fit for her personality. However, it’s not every day that your kid shampoos with Nair. Panic-stricken, she sprung into action.

If Wonder Woman wants to learn how to fly for her next movie, she should take lessons from my sister, who doesn’t remember her feet touching the ground as she leaped off her bed into the bathroom. She admits to screaming “Oh shit!” and bounding into the shower stall with her clothes on. She scrubbed my nephew’s head with one hand while maneuvering the hand-held nozzle with the other. When she asked him why he didn’t use the regular shampoo, he calmly explained that the bottle said “hair remover,” which he interpreted to mean having the ability to remove extra dirt from hair.

That night, my brother-in-law told my nephew not to worry if a few hairs shed on his pillow and, when they tucked him in, he was wearing his Yoda beanie to “help make the hairs stay in place.” Clearly he was still fuzzy on the process of hair growth and removal.

My sister was a bit traumatized when she cleaned the fizzy residue from the tub and noticed one-inch hairs stuck to the rim, but my nephew’s hair was intact. The hair removal chemicals did not stay on his head long enough to cause bald patches, burning, or any real damage. His hair thinned a bit, but hair grows and lessons are learned. In fact, she and my brother-in-law managed to help my nephew rally to such an extent that he couldn’t wait to go to school to share his war story. He and his friends began composing the sound track to the movie during recess:

Nair, Nair, it’s good for your hair.

The more you use, the more they stare.

If you use too much, you’ll be bald as a pear.

When I heard the story, and after I recovered from my own “what-ifs?” and “holy shits!”, I couldn’t help but marvel at the support and humor my nephew found among his friends. May their bond be as thick as his hair will grow. May we, as adults, take notice and support each other with humor because, sometimes, all you can do is laugh.

Laughter is a great healer, although sometimes it’s not enough. Hair is just hair, and it grows, right? Not always. My sister, tremendously grateful that nothing worse had happened, passed a blessing onto those whose hair is not “just hair.” She donated her long ponytail to charity. Then she exhaled.

Brave

This is a submission in our monthly contest. October’s theme is Determination. Enter your own here!
I felt a hand on my shoulder.
“You are so brave.”
The young woman in white pants and cold shoulder top said those four words emphasizing each syllable like she was going to pin a Purple Heart to my wrinkled t-shirt. I started to ask why.
“You are so brave for not dying your hair.”
And then she slipped away. I am assuming she went to her $400 highlighting appointment or aisle four for gluten-free bread. I was headed to aisle six to break up a canned corn fight directly from the movie Brave.
I am a hair coloring virgin. I have two kids so obviously not a virgin-virgin. My hair has run the gamut from to-my-butt to cut-it-short-break-up-revenge pixie. I didn’t have kids until my mid-30s so while they look young, my hair keeps no secrets. It is increasingly saltier in part because of the hubby and kids.
My spouse desperately wants to have silver-tipped temples. At work, he suffers through not looking his age in part because of his 20-something-looking, but really 40-something dark hair. I joke when I half-prayed I would love curly hair instead of stick-straight, I should have specified all at once. The new white hairs are coarse and curly and stand out in stark contrast to my stick-straight dark brown hair.
On the other end of the spectrum, my tween daughter wants a hair change color, but of the blue variety. Ironically, the day before the “you’re brave” woman arrived on the scene, the blue hair came up in a way that got someone giggle/grounded (you know the mom moment – when you have to punish but need to look away).
“Mom, if you dye your hair and won’t let me get blue streaks – that makes you a hypocrite.”
The irony. If I wanted to look younger, I needed to dye my hair but in doing that would invoke the wrath of the younger crowd and apparently lose my “Brave” card in the process.
After I pulled both kids out of the produce section and took their banana weapons we entered more dangerous territory. The hair coloring aisle. Kid Two immediately pointed out the blue dye. I pointed out the ice cream that could go back in the freezer section
Once we got home from our three-hour grocery store tour, I had time (alone) to think about the well-meaning woman in aisle four and what I should have said to her. It all went back to one main question.
Does not coloring my hair make me brave? Does it make me less successful? Less determined? Less of a mom?
The flood of responses filling my head outside of the grocery store all ended with: no. While the implication was that going out in public with salty hair was in itself a brave fashion choice, there is nothing intrinsically brave about not dying your hair.
After I got over initial moment of clarity, I made a list of what does make a person brave. Not one involved hair dye.
My 40-something mom friend in the midst of Stage 4 cancer. Worrying about her family. Facing her own mortality far too soon. Finding wigs to cover up scars and bald heads. Brave.
The family of my mom friend who just lost her colon cancer battle. Brave.
My mom friends taking their kids to cancer treatments wondering if they will survive. Praying for clear scans. The moms who have lost a child to cancer. Brave.
Single moms going back to work. Brave.
Recently divorced moms escaping domestic violence. Brave.
Moms in blended families making it all work for new kids and new spouses. Brave.
Moms in the military serving their country. Brave.
Families I saw in Costa Rica this summer with nothing trying to make happy lives for their children. Brave.
The woman with a screaming baby AND a toddler in the grocery store. On a flight. In the library. Brave.
Women who run for office and try to change the world. Brave.
Teachers. Brave.
Nurses. Brave.
Firefighters. Brave.
You are all determined. And brave.
The list is never-ending. That white-panted woman probably thought SHE was being brave for pointing out my un-dyed hair. Using the word brave as a flippant badge of honor for fashion or hair choices or even normal parenting cheapens it in a way that dishonors the people I do truly think are brave.
And so I offer an apology to those brave women (and men) for my momentary, misguided shift into your category. True bravery should be recognized and celebrated and exalted from the highest rooftop. And even on occasion in aisle five. You are brave. I am just in need of a new hairstyle.

Think Beyond the Maxipad: How to Help Your Modern Teen Manage Her Period

Today’s teenagers have a wide variety of options when it comes to managing their periods.

Women and girls have been dealing with periods since the beginning of time. From mystical powers to a well-understood scientific annoyance, the miracle of becoming a woman has a fascinating evolution.
Women in ancient Egypt are credited with making the first tampons out of rolled papyrus and other types of grasses.
Ancient Greeks are said to have made their tampons out of lint wrapped around small pieces of wood.
In Roman times, periods were associated with mystery, magic, and even sorcery. A Roman author wrote, “Hailstorms … whirlwinds and lightening even, will be scared away by a woman uncovering her body while her monthly curses are upon her.”
Early Mayans believed that menstruation originated as a punishment after the Moon goddess slept with the Sun god. Do not mess with Goddesses.
In Europe in the 1800s, British Medical Journal published a statement saying that menstruating women were medically unable to successfully pickle meat. Seriously, who pickles meat anyway?
And one more fun fact: When Judy Blume released “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret,” it was the first book to mention a girl getting her first period. This book was published in 1970! We sent a guy to the moon only one year before we were okay mentioning periods in a book written for girls. Periods have been misunderstood, shamed, and secreted away for thousands of years.
Considering the first period products were rolled grasses, we have not come that far. A tampon is slightly more comfortable than a piece of wood wrapped in lint but woman can still die from Toxic Shock Syndrome, pads are still bulky, and who hasn’t had an unplanned bikini wax from those sticky wings?
I do believe the teens of modern day are leaving a mark of their own on the history of periods. They are bringing humor and an openness never before seen in the history of menstruation. Teens are refusing to hide in shame, or stop doing things they love. Instead of quietly unwrapping a pad in the school bathroom, teens are proudly grabbing their period bags and walking with heads held high into the bathrooms. Not only are teens laughing about the good, the bad, and the ugly of periods, they are changing the demand in the market. They want comfort, coverage, convenience, and environmental consideration.
Here are four products that are slightly more comfortable than what Ancient Egyptian teenagers used.

1 | The menstrual cup

Once teens get past the “where do I put that thing” horror, the cup reveals itself as an environmentally friendly alternative to pads and tampons. These reusable, bell shaped cups are made out of silicone and are worn internally and collect rather than absorb menstrual flow.
Menstrual cups have actually existed since the 30s but have taken a long time to become mainstream. Leave it to teenagers to buck the system!
Note: There is a learning curve to using cups. They require teens to get up close and personal with their body and they are not easy to get in or out.
Cups cost between $30 and $40 dollars but can be reused for many years. There is virtually no risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome. They can be worn for up to 12 hours at a time, while swimming and sleeping. They come in many colors and sizes specifically designed for teens.
Check out The Lily Cup, Femmy Cycle, and the Lena Cup.

2 | Period panties

Period Panties are basically super absorbent underwear that take the place of a tampon or pad. They are super thin (so no diaper butt) and come in many styles/colors/designs to fit any booty perfectly.
This underwear needs to be rinsed in cold water after use and then simply run through a regular load of laundry. The only catch is that they need to be hung to dry.
Period panties are a great option for teens who aren’t quite ready to explore all of their lady bits and aren’t ready for adventures in inserting and retrieving. Period Panties even have a line of swim wear so every teen can rock the pool or beach with confidence.
Teens may like Knixteen, a period panty designed specifically for teens. Their website states that their panties are to be worn in the days leading up to their periods as a backup – with a pad or tampon on the heaviest days – or as an option on the lightest days. They are priced at $17 per pair.
Knixteen has a teen-friendly website that answers period questions and even allows teens to send an email to their parents with size and style to make ordering and conversations about periods even easier.
Be sure to check out THINX, too. These cost a bit more per panty but can be worn instead of a pad or tampon. They offer period panties of all sizes and shapes and they are also doing great things around the world with their THINX Foundation. They are partnering with grass roots organizations to educate and empower girls and women across the globe about female health and reproduction, eliminate the shame associated with menstruation, and lower our combined carbon footprint. Girls across the world should have the power to manage their monthly periods with dignity.

3| Sea sponge

If you and your teen are super adventurous you can try a Sea Sponge. Yep. An actual sponge harvested from the Mediterranean Sea. These gals come in many different sizes and can even be trimmed for a perfect fit. These sponges are 100 percent natural and environmentally friendly and can be rinsed and reused many times.
The downside is that teenagers in particular aren’t as comfortable with their bodies and have difficulty retrieving the sponge after use.

4| Reusable pads

Washable pads are made of absorbent cotton and are used much like a disposable pad. They can be rinsed and then washed for multiple uses. Lunapads have great starter kits and accessories in fun colors and patterns.

Look at All the Living We Have Done Here Today

I still am scared. The idea of finding a new normal, of being comfortable in my own skin, is still terrifying.

“So how have you been?” my new hairdresser asks as I settle into the chair. She’d just shampooed me, which is likely the most intimate I have been with anyone in quite a while, but she acts like it’s not big deal so I try to too because my goal in these situations is to be the least awkward I can be.

“I’m okay,” I say. “I started meds. So there’s that.” Being not awkward does not come easy to me.

To her credit though, she nods like this is a normal thing people tell their hairdressers. I’m not sure. Maybe it is. We are new to this dance, me and her, but I like her so far. She can meet my wit halfway, which is my very favorite quality in a person, and she politely ignores how I have shit hair and tend to sweat when she blow dries.

I lost my last hairdresser in the same tragic way I lost my mother. She was close to me in the way that only someone who washes the hair of your whole extended family can be, but not so close that I ever had to live with her quirks or be affected personally by her sadness, and so her loss hit me harder and quicker than the loss of my own mother, at least when it first happened.

I stood in the funeral home during her packed service and looked around at all the heads and hearts she’d touched and wondered, again, how someone could feel so alone amidst all that crazy love. How do we get so lost?

“And how’s that going for you?” my new hairdresser asks me.

I look at her in the mirror, at her bird-themed art on the walls, and at the tubes of dye lined up in neat little rows along one wall. I look at anything, really, to avoid looking at my own reflection, all soggy-headed in that black cape tucked just tight enough around my neck to create the slightest hint of a neck roll.

“Good. I’m good.” I look at myself by accident. That neck. “I’m putting on some weight though. I guess that can happen.”

It can, or so I hear. My doctor and my sister – who, together with “Grey’s Anatomy,” make up the full extent of my medical knowledge – say it’s more that the antidepressants take the edge off of that insane drive we have to stay thin at all costs. Like when we get hungry, we just eat (gasp). Or when we don’t feel like punishing ourselves at the gym because Netflix just dropped a new season of “House of Cards” and cozy pants are calling our name, we don’t go to the gym. Crazy, right?

I tell her this, and then I say something that as soon as it leaves my mouth we both realize is kind of revolutionary. I say, “You know, I think I would rather be happy and a little bigger than skinny and sad.”

She’s quiet then, maybe waiting for me to retract, drop a “Just kidding,” or fall on the floor and roll around amongst the hair clippings, roaring with laughter. I wait too, and am probably even more surprised than she is when I realize that I actually mean it. I would rather be happy.

Now, maybe this is common sense to the rest of the world. Maybe everyone else is well-adjusted and loves themselves enough to always choose the happiness, but I don’t think so.

I’ve been around enough women in my life to know that sometimes the choice is not as simple as it seems. I’ve seen the magazine covers, watched the shows, and scrolled through the Instagram feeds. For every strong badass Mama out there being true to herself and her body, there are 12 more people selling me shakes and wraps, and and telling me why I should stay at home or not stay at home, breast feed or bottle feed, find their God or renounce another, change myself in just enough essential ways that I will become the person I always wanted to be: a completely different one (and where is that thigh gap?).

I’ve been there. I’ve lived in that place my whole life, where we tell ourselves the same awful lies of unworthiness and ugliness over and over again until they beat like a wordless heartbeat through the backdrop of every moment of our lives. I’d wandered in there was I was 16, nestled right in, and made myself a home and, after a while, I became too scared to leave.

I still am scared. The idea of finding a new normal, of being comfortable in my own skin, is still terrifying.

I’ve been trying it on though, wearing it around the house or the office, breaking it in the way you would a new pair of heels. Every time I start to think something nasty about myself, something derogatory about my belly or my face or my choices or my personality or my life, I stop, I breathe, and I reframe.

This is how “God, I look gross” becomes “I am grateful for this body.” Or how “I need to burn off that cheeseburger” becomes “I run because I like the feeling of movement.”

It’s not just the things we say to ourselves about our bodies, it goes so much deeper than that. “I should be at home with my babies” can become “I am grateful for this job that allows us a comfortable life.” Or “I really should clean this house” might change into “Look at all of the living we’ve done here today.”

Can the simple act of looking at something differently be a revolution? I think so. I think that everything big, beautiful, and world-changing has to begin somewhere, and self-love is as good a place to plant seeds as I can imagine.

“If you’re being serious right now,” she says, affirming my suspicion, “then that’s a really big deal.”

I force my eyes to the mirror and take my reflection in. The same old shit comes bubbling up to the surface, of course it does, and I’m disappointed for a second. Then I realize that the opportunity lies right there, inside the thoughts. So I try.

I am grateful for this time, I think. To sit. To chat. To be shampooed.

I meet my eyes. I look tired, I think, but couldn’t that just be another way of saying relaxed? What a blessing it is to be relaxed.

On the way home in the car, I run my hands through my shorter hair and remember my old hairdresser, like I always do. I remember how she had called me one evening, shortly after my mother died, and I sat on the floor of my bedroom and talked to her for hours about nothing and everything until my breasts ached with the milk that Luca needed to drink and I was reasonably certain she was going to be okay, at least for that night.

After she died, I looked back on that conversation so many times and wondered if I could’ve done or said something differently, something more. I start to go there again, drifting into the habit, but I stop myself short.

Could I reframe?

So I try. “I am so grateful I had that time with her,” I say out loud to myself. Here’s the thing: this feels truer than the rest of it ever has anyway.

There’s more in here to learn, I know there is, but I’m only at the beginning of what is still a lifetime of healing. I’m starting with the neck roll because that’s where I am right now. I’ll work my way up to forgiveness and, eventually, maybe, hopefully, there’ll be a moment when I realize that I too live a life of crazy-love and just can’t see it because I’ve tucked myself snugly into the dark places.

Let me be clear about this because it’s important: I don’t have a life of crazy-love because I am special. I live a life of crazy-love in spite of the fact that I am who I am. Like my old hairdresser did. Like my mom did before me. Like we all do, or could, in a truth that is both beautiful and terrifying. Beautiful because it means we all have a chance at the extraordinary, but terrifying because it also means we have to open ourselves up to it.

We can change the world, one reframing breath at a time. (Also, meds help.)

This post originally appeared here on the author’s blog.

Nothing About This Girl of Mine Needs Fixing

I’ve watched friends mourn over lost hair, but ultimately accept the change. But this time, it’s my daughter and quite frankly, I’m proud.

She walked out of the playroom with a pair of scissors in one hand and a fistful of hair in the other, carrying both so carefully. She gripped the scissors, covering the blades, exactly as we had shown her for safety. She thrust her hand forward with pride, presenting a brown tassel, a wilting bouquet just for me. She had held so tightly onto the clippings that there wasn’t a single stray strand of hair on the floor.

I knew this day would come eventually. She had taken scissors to doll hair before, this was the developmental next step. I’ve come to think of it as a rite of passage. A preschool-aged child (most of the ones I know were, just like her, four years old) takes scissors to her baby curls, her flowing locks, her inconvenient hair.

This logically leads to the second right of passage, mostly for the parents: the first trip to the salon.

I’ve watched friends mourn over lost hair, but ultimately accept the change. They shrug, attempting to veil their disappointment, noting that their child, usually a girl, really likes her short hair. They embrace that the style is cute. More importantly, it’s socially acceptable. The change in the child is palpable. Joy, pride, weightlessness.

It’s usually a girl because her hair is still long. She hasn’t heard the buzzer in her ears. She hasn’t yet sat in a chair with a plastic cape draped over her. She hasn’t had to remain still while someone else picked the picture in the book or the number on the clippers.

When my daughter came to show me her work, we carefully placed the hair inside a plastic bag. I opened the special box filled with her tiny baby treasures: sonogram profiles, hospital bracelets, and footprints. And now, her first haircut. Measurements of growth. Snapshots of autonomy.

She is neither me nor mine. I have held her in my body and I have held her in my arms, but I will never hold her place in this world. That is hers and hers alone. All I can hope to do is let her be the being she is. Sometimes, it’s harder than I want it to be, but that’s on me.

I listened as she explained the process to me. She was trying to focus on her work, but her hair kept getting in her eyes. She was very careful because she knew that scissors can be dangerous. She also made sure she didn’t get hair all over the floor, because that would be hard to clean up. Now she has bangs! Now she can see to do her work! “I had a problem, and I fixed it!” she chortled.

That’s my girl. She thinks her way out of every box that anyone’s ever tried to place her in. She’s creative. Not in the sense that she enjoys using art supplies, but with the expanse of imagination that any object in our home can be used in infinite ways, can become anything else. She is creation. She asks meaningful questions. She challenges everything. She is a force of nature.

It’s my turn to respond. I’m thankful that she kept the space clean, that was very thoughtful of her. I’m very glad that she was careful because scissors can be very dangerous, especially near our eyes. I remind her that there are tools and experts for most jobs that we know. Cosmetologists work very hard and go to school to learn lots of different ways to cut hair and change hair colors. They also have special tools for those jobs. Next time that she wants to change her hair, we can make a plan to ask an expert for help.

Once we’ve safely stored the scissors and placed the hair with other memories of her dependence, she rushes to the bathroom mirror. She first looks directly at herself, then turns to see the side, then, of course, the other side. She quickly evolves into various poses – some silly, some serious – mesmerized by the way her face looks different and the same in relationship to this new haircut.

It’s crooked. The bangs are off center, like the sweepy bangs of the late 2000s, but less sweepy and more upside-down staircase. The longest jagged tips come down above her right ear. The shortest piece, a tiny unicorn horn that elevates her hair into the third dimension, is perfectly centered between her eyebrows.

I stand in the doorway, watching her, but purposefully staying out of the frame. She looks in that mirror and sees strength and beauty. She’s a problem solver and a stylist.

I ask her how she feels even though I don’t need to. She hears me, but continues looking at her reflection. “I feel proud, ” she tells me as she turns to look at the other side. “And really pretty!” She’s almost giddy.

She asks me to take pictures of her new haircut. I send them to her dad and to my mom.

My mom calls me to commiserate. Another parenting milestone added to my own growth chart.

“Oh my,” she laughs. “Are you going to take her to a salon to get it fixed?”

“No,” I respond.

There’s nothing that needs fixing.

Ditching Antiperspirant May Be Less Offensive Than You Expect

Now that my firstborn has started to work up his own man-stink, I’ve begun to reconsider that puberty rite of passage, antiperspirant and deodorant.

I grew up in New Jersey in the 80’s. Puberty meant slathering myself with Neutrogena Body Oil while using Nair to deforest my legs and Sun-In to frost my hair. Then I’d walk through a cloud of Anais Anais and spray a Chernobyl cloud of Aqua Net on my puffed up hair in case my lungs thought they were getting a pass for the day. The fact that I didn’t blow up our bathroom, sending shards of dusty rose porcelain tiles raining down into our kidney-bean-shaped swimming pool, is a modern-day miracle.

I was all about transforming my very human and totally satisfactory body into some imagined semblance of Molly Ringwald perfection.

Somewhere in the midst of all that self-grooming, my mother walked into my bedroom with a bottle of roll-on antiperspirant. She was giving me a neon pink sign. Apparently, no amount of perfumed, alcohol-laced beauty products was going to keep puberty at bay.

Let the record show, I’m not saying I stink more than average. At least my friends, boyfriends, college roommates, husband, and children have never told me so. So I’m taking them at their word, or lack thereof. I just stink like a normal person.

 
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Thankfully, over the years my beauty routine has been pared down. No more Anais Anais or Aqua Net, and I traded in the Nair for a good old Daisy razor, the neon pink roll-on antiperspirant to a more modest Dove (because who doesn’t love their ads?). By the time I was in my 30’s I started to think a little bit more about what products meant for my body. Having children did that to me. I switched to an Aveda salon for twice yearly highlights when I got pregnant, cut down on sugar, read labels for ingredients instead of calories, and got rid of aerosol everything. (You’re welcome, ozone layer.)

Now that my firstborn has started to work up his own man-stink, I’ve begun to reconsider that puberty rite of passage, antiperspirant and deodorant. What in the world am I putting on his body? I won’t buy him Goldfish on a regular basis but I’m okay with daily aluminum on his otherwise perfect armpits? His younger sisters are waiting at the estrogen station to get on the puberty train any day now. What about those little balls of fleshy perfection?

Because, really, he doesn’t smell that bad. So I checked with a girlfriend, the one who composts and recycles everything, who only buys organic, and uses reusable beeswax wrap instead of plastic. (#IHaveNoIdea)

“What do you do for the puberty stink?”

And she told me.

Primal Pit Paste, Tom’s of Maine, or just soap. So I chose early summer as the perfect time to give it a trial run myself. I recommend the aluminum-free journey, but be forewarned that everywhere on any “natural” deodorant website, they’ll tell you the bad news. Those first few weeks of natural pits are a disaster of scent.

Apparently aluminum has been clogging your sweat ducts for 25 years. I can picture the sophomore year gym stank jammed all the way up there next to my cancer-free boobs, layered like a wedding cake with every sweat and stink situation I’ve encountered since 1985. When you stop plugging the ducts, that stuff comes oozing out like a Roald Dahl snozzcumber.

It doesn’t look like boogers, and it hardly even appears that there’s much actual sweat, but the smell. Whoo-eee. Fierce.

After about two weeks, I texted my friend.

“Still stink. How much longer?”

She replied within seconds. “Soon. You know you’re going to smell like a human, right?”

It hadn’t occurred to me. Seriously.

You can slather your armpits with all the deodorant soap and lavender-lemongrass pit paste in the world, but in the end, you will smell like a human. You are supposed to smell like a human, for obvious reasons. Or at least not like a robot version of imagined Molly Ringwald. (Who by the way, probably went to live in France as an exile specifically because she wanted to stop jamming aluminum up her ducts.)

Eight weeks later, I’m pretty much over the snozzcumber hump. I don’t smell too bad. In fact, I mostly smell like nothing. Also, my white shirts and blouses don’t get those nasty yellow pit stains on them anymore, which, I have to say, may be inspiration enough to stop putting random chemicals on one’s recently mowed and absolutely vulnerable pits. I may sweat a bit extra at my next mammogram, but then again, maybe I’ll sweat a tad less.

It’s time now for me to role model for my kids that it’s good to be clean, but it’s also okay to be natural, that my body is a (quickly aging) house for my soul that deserves a little more TLC and a little less Al. (Al n. 1. The scientific abbreviation for Aluminum, just in case all that Nair inhibited your ability to learn the periodic chart in 10th grade chemistry.)

Our journey into aluminum-free adulthood can be a stinky road to travel, but I’ve arrived at the destination and I heartily recommend it. Better health for you, your boobs, your pits, and most importantly, those sweaty, hair-covered lumps you call your pubescent kids. Go natural. In eight weeks you’ll thank me.

Candid Thoughts on Laser Hair Removal for the Uninitiated

If you’re ready to jump on the laser wagon, here’s my, ahem, low down on all the things that they won’t tell you in the glossy brochure.

I have a skin allergy to wax. I’ll just let that rest with you for a moment. Perhaps along with the word “lesions.” 

While I could completely reject the general concept of hair removal, I persevere through personal choice. Particularly since I’ve hit my thirties, previously separate colonies of hair have mobilized to join and cross-pollinate, and I’ve somehow lost track of where my bikini line ends and my leg hair begins. (Above the knee, yes?)

After the latest episode involving a supposed non-allergenic wax, a whole tub of nappy rash cream, and much sideways head-tipping from fellow pool-goers, I resolved to give laser hair removal a go. Now I’m a complete convert. I feel like I’ve lifted the lid on the best kept (yet heavily advertised) secret ever. Organic bike pants be gone!

Of course, reclining near-naked on a table and submitting to a stranger wielding a staticky vacuum cleaner hose that shoots sparks at you in the name of hairlessness is not for everyone. However, if you’re curious about whether you too might be ready to jump on the laser wagon, here’s my, ahem, low down on all the things that they won’t tell you in the glossy brochure:

1 | You have to nude up

Even for moderately enthusiastic nudists, it’s quite a position to be lying naked, except for compulsory safety glasses, on a table in a fluorescent-lit room 30 centimeters from someone’s face. It’s a bloody cold room too, because the laser is hot.

This isn’t like when you go for a facial and they tell you to take off all your clothes and to get into the warm cocoon of towels (which seems bizarrely unnecessary, but they do have a warm cocoon of towels that would be a shame to waste).

If you’re getting your legs or bikini area lasered, there is no way around taking your pants off. Take a cardigan and complain about the cold (while pretending you’re fine with the nudity if you inexplicably feel you must) and slip it on or huddle under it for warmth and some semblance of decency (except for when she’s zapping your underarms). Or you could wear a sleeveless dress, as the technician pointed out to me today on my seventh or so visit.

 
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2 | The technician may draw on you with a pink highlighter

She is drawing on you to grid your legs so that she doesn’t lose her way and miss bits. Don’t freak out when she asks you to lift your leg as she starts inside your ankle and draws all the way up onto your inner thigh. Ignore the opportunity to make jokes at your own expense about surface area or topography, it’s awkward for everyone.

3 | Buy the skin-calming stuff, but don’t read the label

Ignore the rest of the products they try to sell you. As the Queen of Post-Hair Removal Lesions, I know good skin-calming stuff and you’ll be squirting this onto a human-sized bit of saran wrap and rolling around in it in about 24 hours. It’s possible that there are other application methods too. The skin-calming cream is good for sunburn and insect bites as well.

4 | Shave the night before and then do a final going-over on the morning of your appointment

This saves you the stress of feeling like you’re trying to mow an acre of dense scrub with a push mower. Thank me when you’re not screaming through the shower glass at your kids to get ready now because your deforestation attempt has taken an hour longer than anticipated. Warm shower, lots of shaving gel, and new shaver for a close shave.

5 | The hairs will still be there (inside the follicle) after your appointment

They somehow (I haven’t researched this, but we’ll put it down to one of the great mysteries of science) work their way out over the next few days, but they’ll be all messed up and wonky-looking like Homer Simpson’s over-ear hairs. They’re not properly attached anymore and need to be exfoliated out after about five days. You can shave again to clean them up if you’re an overachiever.

6 | Set appointments for roughly every four weeks

You’ll feel like you’ll never need to go again a couple of weeks after the first session, but you will. Apparently eight to 12 sessions is average for effective ongoing hair reduction, with a yearly maintenance zap thereafter.

7 | Pasty with coarse dark hair, I am the ideal laser candidate

If only I received as much enthusiasm in response to this profile as I do in other areas of my life. Apparently, the laser does not do so well with blonde or red hairs, and there are different lasers that work better on different skin tones, so go in for a consultation if you’re curious.

8 | If the technician asks you if you want the “add on,” she’s probably asking if you want her to laser your butthole

She may use some other weird non-specific, deliberately-vague word but this is what she is asking you. Apparently some people have hairy buttholes. Please, don’t make it easy for her – express confusion and make her spell it out to you. Get her to draw you a diagram if you’re up for it.

9 | Don’t draw inferences if the technician asks you if you want the “add on”

She’s probably just up-selling. Probably.

10 | Avoid sun and chlorine for a couple of days and exfoliate well in five

Become that weird evangelical laser-hair-removal lady that approaches strangers who have what may be hair-removal lesions at swimming pools. Surely that can only end well.

I Still Shower Every Day, and 5 Other Things Becoming a Mother Hasn't Changed

If you’re worried everything changes after you have a baby, don’t stress. You’re still you.

It was 3 a.m., and I was standing in the shower, hunched over my big pregnant belly, sobbing. I had been in labor since 1:30 and the contractions were getting more intense, but that wasn’t the reason I was crying.

I was freaking out because I kept thinking, “What have I done? Am I about to completely ruin my life?”

All of the mom blogs I’d read and stories I’d heard emphasized one thing: after you have a baby, your life completely changes. But what if you really liked your pre-baby life?

If that sounds like you, I have good news: your life doesn’t completely change. A lot of things change, and you might not recognize yourself or your life from time to time, especially during the early days. However, overall you remain you and the important things in your life stick around.

Here are some things in my life that have remained constant in the nine months since my son was born:

1 | I still shower every day

There’s a stereotypical image of the new mother: sleep-deprived, dirty hair up in a messy bun, covered in spit-up, etc. Well, my messy-bun game sucks, and my body has a finely-tuned ability to feel like a complete greaseball after exactly 24 hours without bathing, so this wasn’t going to work for me. I vowed that I would shower every day, and unlike most of my resolutions, this one stuck.

Granted, I can’t remember the last time I used my blow dryer, and my yummy salon-quality shampoo and conditioner has been replaced by some fancy Suave 2-in-1. I do usually manage to put on mascara though, because I don’t enjoy being spooked by a lashless ghoul every time I walk past the mirror (Curse of the Blonde Eyelashes, egad!). Sometimes I even dance with the Devil and attempt some liquid eyeliner. You don’t know an adrenaline rush until you’re trying to finish the perfect cat eye while your baby screams in the other room. (I jest, of course. I’ve never actually achieved the perfect cat eye.) I tell myself that I’m going for the beachy, natural look. If you see me in person, please don’t destroy my delusion. My hair may look like crap, but at least it’s clean.

2 | I keep in touch with friends

A good Bluetooth is a lifesaver for the stay-at-home mom. My best friend recommended getting one after her husband bought one as a last-minute Mother’s Day gift for her. She said, “I acted mad because it seemed like such a crappy gift that he clearly found at the pharmacy while he was buying the card. However, it’s actually incredibly useful.” (We’re never admitting that to him, of course – solidarity, sister!)

Babies take at least two hands (sometimes three or four) to wrangle, so a Bluetooth means that you can keep discussing the latest episode of The Great British Baking Show while changing diapers or lassoing a toddler. Genius, I tell you.

It also does away with your friends’ pesky excuses to get off the phone once you’ve overloaded them on baby details for the day.

“Oh man, it sounds like you need to go feed Ben!”

“Nope, don’t worry, I have my Bluetooth and this puppy has an eight hour charge on it. I can keep talking all day!”

Mwahaha!

3 | I still have time for my marriage

Obviously, when baby first comes home, your partner will take a slight backseat. (This is okay, because shaving and wearing normal underwear also take a backseat for a few weeks. Nothing says romance like a nice pair of granny panties and prickly legs.)

Newborns take a huge amount of time and energy, but here’s the great news: they only stay newborns for a few months (this is also sad news because they’re so sweet and squishy and sleepy as newborns *heart eyes*). After that, their sleep starts consolidating and you get lovely three- or four-hour chunks of time to hang out with your partner, get in some hanky-panky, hire a babysitter and go out for the evening, or just stare off into the distance together in a tired stupor.

Things do change in your relationship, but you don’t have to lose each other. My son now goes to bed at 7:00 and generally sleeps through the night, so my husband and I get to take off our “Mom and Dad” hats at 7 p.m. and just be partners again. Usually this just means we get to watch TV in peace, but that’s enough sometimes.

4 | I get plenty of sleep

A few disclaimers on this one: my definition of “plenty of sleep” has definitely changed since becoming a mother, and much to my eternal gratitude, my son is generally a great sleeper (so I have it pretty easy here). Also, this isn’t true of the newborn stage for anyone. Ever.

Yes, for the first few months, you will probably feel like a zombie. There are days when you’re so tired that you’ll cry. You will think you can’t survive. You will regret all of your life decisions that led to this point, and you will vow to never have another child. (I’m very dramatic about sleep, if you couldn’t tell.) BUT: This. Will. Pass.

Babies do learn to sleep. They do. I promise. Even “bad” sleepers learn to sleep. You can survive this and someday, sooner than you think, you’ll feel rested again. You may not recognize the feeling, but then your baby will start teething or hit a growth spurt or something and you’ll remember what tired really felt like. (You will then vow to never take sleep for granted again, but you will, because humans have terrible memories.)

5 | I still have time for myself

I firmly believe that naps are the universe’s way of saying, “Well done, thou good and faithful Mother, here is your reward!”

I use my baby’s nap times to chill out, take a nap, read, write stuff, clean the house, or do whatever I need to reset or put my little world in order. Oh yes, I still even have time to clean! (I’ll admit that vacuuming is tricky, but that’s mostly because my dog decides that the sleeping baby needs to protect her from the scary vacuum and barges into his room. The vacuuming he can sleep through, the 80-pound panting beast in his room, he cannot.)

I’ll admit, there are days that my son decides that he’s so over naps and will no longer sleep for more than 20 minutes. Those days are awful. For those moms of babies who always nap like that: God be with you. I don’t know how you do it.

You can’t actually leave the house during nap times, but luckily, I’m an introvert and my social needs are blessedly low. What I need is lots of alone time to putter around the house and do whatever I want, and naps are perfect for that.

6 | I exercise

Strength training: 40 reps of carrying squirming baby up and down stairs. 20 reps of going back up the stairs to grab the thing you forgot because you’re a mother now and your memory is crap. five reps of holding squirmy baby in one arm while preparing a bottle with the other because he believes life will end if you put him down for two seconds. 100 reps of fending off surprisingly strong baby from whatever you have in your hand that he wants: phone, remote, food, coffee cup, shoe, etc. 10 reps of carrying 35 pounds of dead weight in one hand (infant carrier plus a baby) and a million pounds of groceries in the other because only suckers take more than one trip to unload the car.

Cardio: five sprints to finish unloading groceries from car because you are, in fact, a sucker and there’s no way you can carry a box of diapers, laundry detergent, a gallon of milk, a bunch of fresh fruit for baby food, and a jumbo-size box of cookies for yourself all at the same time. Five more sprints to the door per nap to shut the dog up before she wakes the baby. Bonus points for silent ninja running. (Extra bonus points for running so quietly that the dog doesn’t hear you until you’re on her barking ass.)

Your boobs, belly, skin, and idea of appropriate small talk may permanently change after you have a baby, but the important things stick around. If you’re currently pregnant or thinking about having a baby, and you find yourself panicking about what life with baby will look like, slow down. Take a breath, and remember that there will be a period of upheaval, but things will normalize again. You will still be you, and your life will still include the things that are important to you.

Babies change a lot of things, but they don’t change everything. You might even have time to blow dry your hair again (eventually).

The Inevitable Echo of "Enough"

When my firstborn was six months old and still waking in the night to nurse, I remember feeling as though the last shreds of sanity were slipping from my grasp. I’d never functioned well with a sleep deficit, and now the cumulative exhaustion of motherhood was hitting me hard. Late one night, as my daughter began to stir and fuss for another feeding, I knew I’d finally reached my limit. So I rolled over in bed and mumbled, “No more. Enough.”
With a little persistence and my husband’s baby whisperer skills, my daughter weaned from night nursing fairly quickly. Several months later, after enduring a wicked bout of mastitis, I decided it was time to conclude our breastfeeding relationship. It had been long enough.
When my daughter’s third birthday passed and she hadn’t yet mastered potty training, again the word surfaced. “Enough,” I declared. “We are done with diapers. You’re wearing undies or going commando!” There were tears and meltdowns from both of us, and ample amounts of chocolate to help us cope. Many pairs of underwear sadly met their end in the trash bin.
Fast forward several years: my daughter just turned eight, and that word still makes a regular appearance in my parenting vocabulary.
“That’s enough for today, honey,” I say when my budding artist accidentally spills an industrial-sized container of glitter or adorns the floor with permanent marker again.
“Enough, take it down a notch,” I plead when I’m trying to prep dinner and she insists on singing at the top of her voice.
“Enough, I’m done hearing about this!” I pronounce in frustration when she moans for the fifth time about how so-and-so didn’t play with her at recess, everyone is a meanie, and her life is ruined forever.
In our relationship, I have always been the limit-setter, the one who decides when something or other needs to stop.
Until one morning when I was about to brush her hair, as I always did before school. My daughter’s hair is wavy, thick and coarse. Like mine, but lighter.
“No, Mama,” she said firmly, pushing my hand away and knocking the brush from my grip. “That’s enough. I can do it myself.”
The words didn’t quite sink in at first.
“Wait, honey, if you just let me–”
“No! I don’t want you to!”
A small thing, perhaps. But it felt like a spear in my heart. In that instance – one of many to come, I realized – she’d taken my own words and turned them back on me.
Enough, Mama.
Something had shifted in our relationship. Some balance was changing. Each time I told my daughter “enough,” I was closing a door. Whether she wanted to or not, I was ready, often impatient, to move on to the next moment, the next phase or milestone, whatever it might look like. I alone controlled the timeline, making the decision for both of us. I never considered how it would feel when my daughter started doing the same.
Someday, she’ll take her first steps into a world that’s more hers than mine, building a life untethered from me. No matter how far into the future this day may be, I know I won’t ever be truly ready for it.
I can see now that I’ll always want more. More snuggles, more late night bedtime stories, more silly songs, and more messy crafts on the floor.
Last night, I perched on the edge of my daughter’s bed as she read a book. It had rained all day, and the sky was finally clear. Just a little interlude, a brief pause for a bit of stargazing before the next storm rolled through. “Should I braid your hair?” I asked, and held my breath.
She nodded. I brushed out her long hair, unwinding each snarl, and twisted sections into tiny braids.
We sat in the peaceful stillness together.

Could Adopting a Uniform Improve Your Parenting?

Cognitive research suggests that autopilot mom-style might be making me a better parent.

“Mama, I love the bumpy part of your hair.”

That makes one of us. The messy bun has been my morning style since the day my son was born. It makes me feel hopelessly lazy and unstylish. Last New Year’s I vowed to break out of the bun and get dressed, but, well, you know how New Year’s resolutions go.

However, that hairstyle may actually be a sign of success. Cognitive research suggests that my autopilot mom-style might be making me a better parent.

You can get dressed or you can change the world

In a 2012 Vanity Fair profile of Barack Obama, Michael Lewis shares how the then-President streamlined his decision-making:

You also need to remove from your life the day-to-day problems that absorb most people for meaningful parts of their day. “You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits,” he said. “I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.

Barack Obama is not alone. The world’s tech pioneers opt for even simpler wardrobes. Steve Jobs wore black mock-necks. His successor Tim Cook favors blue button-downs. Mark Zuckerberg wears gray t-shirts.

These are not lazy people. They are decision-makers who don’t waste cognitive energy on what they want to wear. Zuckerberg even claims that his t-shirts help him help more people: “I’m in this really lucky position, where I get to wake up every day and help serve more than a billion people. And I feel like I’m not doing my job if I spend any of my energy on things that are silly or frivolous about my life.” He frames his wardrobe not as a style choice but as a moral one.

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Too many choices lead to bad choices

Whether consciously or unconsciously, all of these global leaders are trying to avoid what scientists are calling “decision fatigue.”

John Tierney, science reporter for the New York Times and co-author of “Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength,” describes what happens to our brains after a day full of decision making. We may not actually feel physically tired, but choice after choice begins to wear on us:

Decision fatigue helps explain why ordinarily sensible people get angry at colleagues and families, splurge on clothes, buy junk food at the supermarket, and can’t resist the dealer’s offer to rustproof their new car. No matter how rational and high-minded you try to be, you can’t make decision after decision without paying a biological price.

That price, Tierney notes, is not a physical one, but a mental one: we start to make shortcuts.

The first shortcut is to make impulsive decisions, like eating a Costco-sized bag of chips or buying more plaid toddler shorts even though if you looked in the closet, you’d already see 12 pairs in the next size up.

The other shortcut is to do nothing, to make no decision at all. Think of the home improvement project you’ve been researching for months but are unable to make any progress on because you can’t choose a paint color.

Some of the world’s most successful and powerful people, Tierney’s work suggests, get this way because they’re frugal with their decision making. They narrow the available choices they have to make every day so that they can devote their energies to the choices that matter to them.

Can yoga pants make you a better parent?

Stay-at-home parents are some of the most decision-fatigued people out there. Just think of the decisions that happen before lunch: whether you have time to work out or shower before the kids get up, what to make for breakfast, what to pack in lunches, whether the weather requires coats for the kids. If there are errands to run, it’s what kind of pasta shape the kids will accept this week, what brand of toothpaste is on the best sale, and whether or not you have enough toilet paper. There’s decisions about what bills have to be paid right now and which can wait until later. There’s the same kind of triage for household tasks.

Perhaps this helps explain midday social media mom-fessions like this one: “DD is finally sleeping, but I’m too tired to figure out what to do.” By nap-time, stay-at-home parents have been spending as many as eight hours making decision after decision after decision. The science of decision fatigue may mean that we literally can’t decide what to do.

Decision fatigue could be part of the reason that so many women claim they never have anything to wear. Think about when you’re most likely to do your own clothes shopping. It’s probably at the end of the day, after hundreds of decisions big and small. That’s at least how I’ll excuse the yet-unworn pale beige romper hanging in my closet.

Yoga pants are often snarkily dismissed as a mom uniform, but wearing them may actually reduce decision fatigue (which can make ripples throughout the entire day). Taking the decision work out of getting dressed leaves your mind that much freer to contemplate all of the decisions you’ll need to make today.

Designing A Momming Uniform

Art Director Matilda Kahl may be the most recognizable female proponents of the work uniform because she has worn the same work uniform every day for five years. She was initially nervous about her uniform (white silk shirt, black slacks, blazers for cold weather) because she feared what people might think of her style. Then she realized that the work uniform was hardly a novel concept: “There’s a group of people that have embraced this way of dressing for years – they call it a suit.”

Realtor Renata Briggman has found similar success with her work uniform (white blouse, black slacks, red belt when she feels like accessorizing), which by her estimate has saved her a full work week per year of deciding what to wear.

One problem SAHMs might notice in these examples is the white shirt. That might work out during winter when it’s all washable paints and play dough, but there isn’t enough Oxiclean to make up for summer puddle stomping. Still, Kahl’s and Briggman’s uniforms are good models for parents: neutral hues, fitted-but-comfortable tops and pants, and a variety of outer layers.

Once Kahl found the perfect silk blouse, she bought fifteen of them at once. That kind of expenditure probably doesn’t work for most of us, but we can all adopt the broader concept of finding something that works and sticking with it. For me, that’s a slowly-growing collection of black textured base layers that let me feel well-dressed without ever having to use an iron, dark jeans, and the same loafers in every obnoxiously loud color they come in.

I don’t yet have enough copies of the uniform to wear every day. That’s okay, because I’m not yet ready to do a Marie Kondo-style closet clearing. Besides, I need clothes for when I’m not at work, too. I have found that uniform days are better days. I have more energy for all of the day-to-day decisions that come with parenting, and some special ones too, like what meal to let my three-year-old make all by himself or how to turn the inside of the house into a giant yarn-based spider web.