Friday, January 30, 2015

To Dye For

Baby prep has me reading mommy blogs the way I used to read restaurant wine lists: frequently and with great anticipation. I can’t get enough of real women telling me what I’m in for. I tend to avoid the Pinterest Mommies - women whose lives are just as perfect as the likenesses of Queen Elsa they frosted onto three dozen individual cupcakes that morning. I relate more to the “my kid pooped in the cereal aisle of Target...again” kind of blogs, as I fear assume my own experience will be much more in line with these.

A common theme on these sites is “you will NEVER believe what my child did this time,” often supported by a tale of whatever shenanigans their little one was up to that week: painting the kitchen walls with marinara sauce, giving the dog a “bath” with a bowl of instant pudding, usual kid stuff.

I read these parents’ gripes and wonder what outlandish scenarios my own little mischief maker will find herself in. It all got me thinking about my own childhood. What did I ever do to get into trouble? The answer, I will tell you, is: Not much. I wasn’t exactly a hellraiser. Up until I was older and acted like every teen in every sitcom by throwing a house party when my parents were out of town, I kept things pretty tame. 

I can truly only really remember one time when my mom looked at me the way I imagine the mommy bloggers look at their own misbehaving children. You know the face - that mix of rage and incredulity when you think your mother is going to simply walk away from you, board a bus to Wichita and assume a new identity as an apple butter maker with a roadside stand. And I swear, I didn’t even know what I had done was that bad.

OK, maybe I had a hunch.

As an adolescent of the ‘90s, I was, of course, enamored with all things grunge. I longed to be angst-ridden. I listened mostly to Nirvana and Hole on the Walkman I took on the school bus every morning. Angela Chase was my hero. There were kids in my school who had embraced this lifestyle full-out, donning Doc Martens and devastatingly thick smears of eyeliner to school everyday. I was so jealous of them. Lacking both the guts and the fashion sense to pull that look off, I envied from afar, wishing I could put my own pain out there like that. You know, all that pain I had from growing up middle class in suburban America with no real problems and a generally happy outlook. Oh, youth.

Anyway. I really wanted a way to express myself but I knew a piercing or a tattoo were out of the question. Even a swipe of that eyeliner would look wildly out of place on me, Miss Plain Jane USA. I knew my mom would never let me dye my hair so that was out. Or so I thought. 

One day, I was standing in the cafeteria lunch line and overheard one of the grunge girls talking about how she’d gotten this awesome shock of blue hair she’d been rocking for the last week.

“It was easy,” she said to her friend. “ I used Ice Blue Raspberry Kool-Aid.”


Later at home, I looked over the contents of our pantry. I spied a long-forgotten package of Cherry Kool-Aid tucked back in one corner that had probably been there since I’d finished fifth grade. Jackpot. I grabbed it, a spoon and a plastic cup half full of lukewarm water and hightailed it up to my bedroom before anyone could catch me. I felt a rush of adrenaline rip through me as I slammed my door shut. (I realize now that had anyone spotted me, they probably would have thought, “Huh. Rachel must want some Kool-Aid,” and immediately moved on with their lives, but in my head, I was a freaking ninja.)

I stirred the fiery red powder into the glass and watched it dissolve. I pulled a tiny section of hair out of my ponytail and slowly submerged it in the liquid. I hovered there, neck straining and palms up jazz-hands style to keep my balance, for about a minute. Figuring that was surely good enough, I lifted my hair out of the glass and sprinted to the bathroom, where I locked the door and blew the wet section dry, practically holding my breath with anticipation. I put down the blow dryer and took in my edgy new look.

I couldn’t tell I’d done a thing. The section I “dyed” was barely even noticeable, nothing more than an ever-so-slightly pink tinge that was a far cry from the violent red slash of color I’d been aiming for.

I was disappointed, but the idea of doing it all over again just seemed like a whole lot of work, so I dumped the rest of the drink down the drain and went back to my rule-abiding existence.

The next day, Mum and I headed out for some errand-running. We were in a health food store, waiting for the clerk to check on something we’d ordered, when Mum looked at me like I’d just slapped her silly.

“What!?” I said, recoiling.

She stepped toward me, reached out and took a section of my hair between two fingers.

“Did you….” she started, head slowly swiveling from one side to the other. “Did you dye your hair?!”

Crap. The awful fluorescent lighting must have accentuated the evidence of my clandestine makeover. 

“Well,” I said, stepping back out of her reach. “Kind of.”

“Kind of?!” she screamed, grabbing me by the arm and lurching me out of the store as the gobsmacked clerk watched.

“It’s not dye!” I screamed, sure I’d be able to absolve myself once she knew the truth. “It’s Kool-Aid!”

She stopped and again cocked her head to the side.

“Kool-Aid? What the…!”

“It’s not permanent! I’m sorry! I just wanted to try it! This girl at my school has really cool hair and…”

“Enough,” Mum said. “You’re grounded. And you’re washing that out.”

“Fine,” I said, bidding my wannabe rebel days adieu.

Sadly, my punishment didn’t end with a week stuck at home. For weeks, Mum would sing the theme song from “Pinky and the Brain” to remind me of my ridiculous endeavor. The rest of the family caught on and to this day will still hum a bit of it to me if they’re somehow reminded of the story.

I never really understood why Mum got so heated that day. I asked her recently why one measly streak of hair dyed pink with a kids’ drink enraged her so much.

“I think because you did it without asking me first,” she said.

Fair enough. I’m sure I’ll understand even better when my own daughter pulls something similar. Though I can’t imagine that I’d care that much if she wanted to dye her hair.

But just in case, consider Kool-Aid banned at my house.  

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