Some people might wonder why I was so nervous about cutting my 83-year-old mother's hair at the nursing home yesterday. It's just a blunt cut, after all. How hard can that be?
It wasn't the physical act that frightened me--I'm actually not bad with a pair of scissors. When I was in sixth grade I cut several friends' hair and even gave a few permanents. It was one of my many entrepreneurial pursuits, and I loved playing beauty parlor.
The fear goes back to a lifetime of verbal and emotional abuse dished out to me by my mother. If you were to meet her now--diminished by Alzheimer's, sweet and timid--you'd never believe it. But growing up in a home where I was chastised for everything I ate ("that will make you fat!") and how I wore my hair ("It's so flat--it needs some poof!") and how I dressed ("You're not leaving the house in that skirt--it makes you look fat.") you might understand my anxiety over cutting my mother's hair.
She hasn't let anyone cut it for a couple of years now. And this was a Southern lady who got a beauty parlor "do" every week during most of her life, along with a manicure. So when she announced a couple of weeks ago that she wanted me to cut her hair, the aids and nurses cheered me on.(It's hard to wash it and comb out the tangles twice a week.)
Yesterday I arrived with new salon scissors, comb, cape, and brush. Oh, and two new outfits from Sears to cheer her up, just in case she was no longer happy for me to cut her hair. One was a peach and white checked blouse with a white camisole and yellow knit capris. The other was a matching set only in light blue. "Oh, where did these come from?"
"I got them for you at Sears, Mom. Do you like them?"
"Oh, I love them--especially this one." She fingered the blue blouse.
I hung them on the knob to her closet so she could still look at them while we visited in her room and got ready to cut her hair.
I put the cape on her and reminded her that she asked me to cut her hair, and she smiled and said, "Oh, yes! It really needs it."
Since it was so long, I started by simply cutting the ponytail off a few inches below the band.
If you straighten out the ponytail, it measures 13 inches, although it only looks like eleven inches in the picture.
And then I took the ponytail holder out and combed out her hair, which landed in crazy uneven layers along her shoulders. She sat patiently while I trimmed up the layers, taking off more inches and evening up the blunt cut. The view out the windows in her room shows onto a wooded area with tall pine trees, which she loves. "Just look at those trees!" she would exclaim while I was cutting her hair. She never asked how the haircut was going, nor did she ask to see herself in a mirror.
After I was finished, I pulled her hair back up into a ponytail--a short bouncy one now--and smiled at the results.
"How does that feel?"
"I love it!" She still didn't ask for a mirror.
I wheeled her out into the hallway and up by the nurses' station, where we were greeted with more cheers. "Oh, Miss Effie, you look so pretty!" Several of the aids gave me a thumbs up.
I showed the aids her new clothes, noting which blouses and camisoles went with which knit capris, and she said, "where did those come from?"
"I brought them to you today, Mom, remember?"
We spent the next hour or so visiting on the patio and in the lobby, sharing a giant chocolate chunk cookie from Starbucks (her favorites are from McAllister's Deli but I didn't make it by there today) and just before I left I said, "Well, I hope you enjoy your summer hair cut."
"Oh, did I get my hair cut?"
"Yep. I cut it for you this afternoon. It looks so pretty, and I hope it will be cooler during this hot weather."
"Is it hot today? I'm cold." It was 97 degrees outside, where we had just sat by the fountain on the patio for about fifteen minutes, which was all I could stand of the heat.
"Just be thankful the air-conditioning works here!"
"Can you find my sweater for me?"
"Sure, Mom, it's in your closet with your new clothes."
"New clothes? I don't remember going shopping...."
And that's the way we roll in the world of Alzheimer's, new clothes and hair cuts....