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My hair really is clean

by Charlotte Stetson a day ago in Childhood

Confession to my mother

My hair really is clean
Photo by Erick Larregui on Unsplash

Dear Mom. It's weird the things that stay with you over time. I clearly remember announcing to the carpool full of little girls you were driving to kindergarten one day that MY nickname was "Dammit, Char!" I don't remember at all the bright red face you tell me you had right after I said that.

Most things I remember from childhood are a great deal more mundane than that one. A lot of them are basic life skills you taught me. Moms have to teach their kids everything from tying shoes to loading a washing machine to being sure to have a quarter for the payphone with you on a date in case you have to call for a ride home (alright, that one's a little - a lot - out of date, but the basic idea of thinking ahead about safety is still relevant). I remember a lot of what you taught me.

I remember how you always made egg salad. It was very specific, for some reason, and you always did it exactly the same way. Peel the egg, put it in the yellow Tupperware cereal bowl. Dip the fork in the mayonnaise jar and pull out a glob of mayo, plop it off the fork into the bowl, beside the egg. Never on the egg. Then use the fork to push down on the boiled egg like a sieve and slice it into thin strips, then continue using the fork - never a spoon, never a knife - to push down on the egg again and again until it was in tiny little pieces. Then, and only then, swirl the mayo over onto the egg and stir to mix the mayo and the egg bits together.

I still make egg salad the exact same way, even using the same yellow cereal bowl I took from your house when I set up my own home. That bowl has the perfect form at the bottom to allow the egg to be easily mixed with the mayo but without losing any bits in the edges. I remember how to make egg salad.

I also remember that you never taught me how to clean a toilet. Or even that they needed to be cleaned. I suppose you thought it was obvious. I knew you cleaned the bathroom. I watched you mop and sponge the sink and even more than that, I always knew when you were cleaning because I could smell the acrid mix of lemon and bleach scents from the front porch. I think what happened with the toilet is that you never assigned me to do that particular task, and when you did the toilet yourself you always had the door to our tiny galley style bathroom closed so that you could mop the floor.

At any rate, when I hit college, and then my own apartment, I had no idea that toilets were not self-cleaning. It's not a stupid idea. After all, there's that powerful swish of water happening numerous times throughout the day. Who wouldn't think that was how toilets stayed clean? I don't remember you not teaching me to clean a toilet, but I do remember the realization that you had never taught me to clean a toilet. I imagine you're mortified to hear this, but I assure you I don't harbor any ill feeling.

One of the earliest lessons I remember you teaching me was how to wash my hair. This came about when I was big enough to graduate from bathing to showering. In the bath, you always washed my hair, carefully holding my head under the faucet to clean the shampoo out but avoid flushing anything into my eyes. I do remember you bought No More Tears Shampoo, though, just in case, I suppose.

But to use the shower, I would have to wash my own hair. All these decades later, I can still hear the instructions you talked me through.

"Pour this much shampoo in your hand. Put it on your head and use both hands to scrub your scalp, like this -" and you made scrubbing motions with your fingers to show me what to do. "Then rinse your hair, like this -" and you tipped your head back, pretending to put it under the fall of water, with your hands cupped around the top of your face to form a dam against the water. "Once you get the soap out, do it a second time, more shampoo, lather again, but instead of rinsing right away, let the shampoo sit in your hair while you wash the rest of your body."

The instructions went one. I never fully understood why I had to shampoo twice, and the idea of the second soaping sort of percolating on my dirty hair felt more creepy to me than cleanly. But I was little and I did it. And I remember the lesson and your voice very clearly everytime I'm in the shower about to wash my hair.

I hear your voice telling me to lather up, scrub and rinse my hair. I hear your voice telling me to shampoo a second time . . . but I don't do it. I hear you say it every single time I wash my hair. And I feel a tiny twinge of guilt every single time I lather only once and then move on to other things. Sometimes I even speak back to you: "shampoo is more effective than it was when I was a kid," or "my hair isn't greasy like it was when I was a teenager so I don't need to shampoo twice." Your lesson impacted me so strongly I feel the need, to this day, to justify my decision not to follow your instructions.

But, I confess, I don't feel the need to follow your instructions, though I do feel guilty about it every time. Because the truth is, I don't lather only once because of any of the vast array of reasons I whisper back to you in the shower. The real reason I only lather once is because, well, because your way is silly.

I guess the good news for you is that you made a lasting impact on my life, and I am grateful for that. The bad news is that I grew up and realized you aren't all knowing, sometimes you're just ridiculous.

Love you.

Childhood

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Charlotte Stetson

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