By Theresa Weiler
Recently, I made a promise to C, my five-year old, that I would color my hair.
“You look so beautiful right now,” she told me, tears in her eyes, holding my face in her small hands, “I don’t want you to look different. I want you to always look like now.”
You and me both, kiddo.
I am in my forties, but my hair is still uniformly brunette. Only the occasional gray can be spotted at my temple or behind my ears. I haven’t dyed my hair since the Bush administration, but it seems to be getting darker as I age. Otherwise, there are a couple of lines across my brow, and my eyes sag enough that every now and then I click on those face-lifting elastics they advertise on instagram, but overall I think I look and feel like a heavier, more tired version of my high school self.
My own mother didn’t start graying in earnest until she was in her mid-fifties. She never colored it. Now in her seventies, my mom looks great. She looks like…my mom. True, when we finally got to see each other after our long pandemic lockdown, she looked a bit older than I’d remembered, but I’m sure I did, too. Of all the things I worry about, aging out of my (limited) beauty is not high on my list.
Apparently, though, it’s high on C’s. I comforted her by saying that everybody’s looks change, but that it happens very slowly—a statement that is both quite true and a total lie.
I promised her that I would always try to look healthy and happy and like myself—and if coloring my hair is a part of that, I would do it.
(Hell, if Botox is part of that, I might do that, too. I mean, if there’s a Groupon or something. I could tell the haters it’s for my migraines.)
When you are a little kid, your parents are the nucleus of your world. C is my youngest, my baby, so she is the last one holding me at her center. The teenagers are centering themselves, as they should, and even the eight-year old is experimenting with pushing me to the periphery. It’s all natural. It’s how they grow.
We count on our parents being consistent, dependable, boring—there when we need them, like a lighthouse, so we can leave harbor and return again safely. I was lucky to have parents like that. Ron and I try to be parents like that.
The view is so different from the shore, though.
As far as I’m concerned, my mother didn’t change, not one hair, throughout my long childhood. That’s how I believe my kids see me.
It’s not how I see them.
To me, they are quicksilver. I can’t grab hold of them, not even for a moment, before they are changing again.
My baby holds me, crying “don’t change,” and I won’t.
When I hold her, my heart begs, “don’t change,” but she will. She has. She must.
She has known and loved me as one person, but I have seen her take a new shape every day. For every new version I get to meet—the joyful three-year old, toothless kindergartener, clever schoolgirl—there are hundreds I will never see again, except in pictures. In the blink of an eye, I have lost them forever—the chubby toddler, the warm little nursling, the riotous tumbler in my womb. All gone.
When do you mourn, though? Time moves so fast.
C asks me how many days until her sixth birthday.
“28 days,” I tell her.
“That’s so long,” she tells me.
“That’s nothing,” I tell her.
We are both right.
I am grateful that in her eyes, I am standing still.
The next time C asks me to hold her, I will try to see myself as she sees me. I will imagine how time stretches languidly before her, and step into it, into a liminal space where the mother she will always know can hold every child she has ever been.
Where she and I can stay, forever, in no time at all.