I cut bangs once a year, and immediately regret it.
I don’t know if it’s all the boots on Instagram or the hubbub about pumpkin spice lattes, but something about the fall season makes me crave a significant hair change. I have medium-length hair and longer side swept bangs, so my hair change options are as follows: 1) chop it, 2) dye it a different color, or 3) cut straight bangs.
My husband and I would like to have a third baby sometime soon-ish and the Internet tells me that chopping your hair off prior to gaining a substantial amount of weight is (usually) a bad idea.
Which leaves my options at: dye it or cut bangs.
I tried all the hair colors as a teenager and know that blond, red, and black (oh yes I did) don’t suit me well. At the ripe age of 31, I have confidently settled into a brownish auburn that is close to what I think is my natural color. The thought of further experimentation gives me anxiety.
Which leaves my options at: cut bangs.
So I do. Every September I waltz into the hair salon with a series of photos on my Pinterest app featuring attractive women with messy ponytails and perfectly effortless bangs. The stylist is giddy.
“Bangs!” she squeals, “Let’s do it! This will look FANTASTIC on you!”
Every fall, my hair stylist cuts the bangs I request. Every fall, I leave the salon, get into my car, and immediately regret it. I fidget for the rest of the day. I go home and blow dry them again. I try dry shampoo. I try adding hairspray. I try a messy bun. I try half-up, half-down. I try an effortless messy ponytail which looks anything but effortless. It is the most consecutive time I spend on my hair in an entire year—the day I cut bangs.
For the rest of the afternoon, I catch glimpses of myself in mirrors around the house and every time I see my reflection, it is jarring. I squint and wonder, Am I pulling this off?
No. I’m definitely not.
You see, in my mind I believe certain truths about girls with bangs. I believe they are cool and chic without trying too hard. They give off a confident vibe, in an I-just-woke-up-like-this sort of way (which is ironic, because bangs look dreadful first thing in the morning). Girls With Bangs can throw on a chunky sweater paired with an unkempt ponytail and look like a million bucks without breaking a sweat.
In reality: I do not match this persona. I am only cool and chic when I try VERY hard. I am not inherently confident, and nothing makes me sweat more than trying to make my stupid ponytail look perfectly disheveled.
Every fall I feel like I’m wearing a costume—like I’ve dressed up as Cool Girl With Bangs for Halloween, but the real me is underneath, hiding and lying to everyone.
Last year after I cut bangs, my husband left for a week-long conference. He doesn’t travel often for work, so a week of solo parenting for me is a pretty big deal. I prepared like one of those doomsday preppers you’ve seen on TV. I went to Target and Costco and Trader Joe’s stocking up on everything from toilet paper to laundry detergent to popcorn. (Heaven forbid we run out of any of those things in a five-day stretch.) I also grabbed a few face masks and some dark chocolate, pre-planning five whole nights of little luxuries to pair with my impending Netflix binge.
I should have known things were headed south when my then four-year-old had some bathroom issues the day before my husband left. Without going into all the gory details, let’s just say: things got hard. Real hard.
And so, I spent the next five days sitting on a stool in the bathroom acting as a professional poop doula. We went through half a bottle of miralax with no success. Hours and hours we sat in that bathroom, as he cried and I rubbed his back. I remember swatting my bangs out of my face every two minutes and hating them so much.
“I can’t do this,” I texted my husband a dozen times.
Meanwhile, my youngest came down with a cold, and he spent those five days wiping snot on the couch, the carpet, the rocking chair, and all of his clothes. There was a streak of green snot on every surface in our home. I did not open a single face mask that week, but instead, collapsed on the couch every night close to tears.
I thought I had seen the worst of my solo parenting week, but on the very last day, I pulled out of the preschool parking lot and my car died. The gas pedal locked, the engine croaked, and the car fell silent in a matter of seconds. One minute I was driving, the next I was sitting in the middle of the street in a dead car with a two-year-old in the backseat.
I got out of the car and looked around, unsure of what to do next.
“The firemen next door can probably help you!” one of the preschool teachers yelled through the fence.
I glanced at the fire station next to our preschool and sighed. With a snot-covered toddler on my hip, I rang the doorbell, and awkwardly asked a few strapping firemen to push my car out of the street.
They asked me several questions about the car, to which I knew none of the answers. And then they asked how to adjust the headrest to release the strap from one of the car seats, to which I responded, “Umm … my husband usually installs the car seats. I’m not sure.”
My toddler wiped a streak of snot on my shoulder while I fidgeted with my bangs again, staring at my reflection in the car window more certain than ever that I was not pulling any of this off.
A couple months ago, just as the pumpkin spice lattes made their first appearance, I got bored and cut bangs again.
I regretted it immediately.
A few days later, my husband left for yet another week-long work conference. I ran my doomsday prepper errands and joked that no matter what—we couldn’t possibly have a worse week than last year. The universe must have taken that as a challenge, because after dropping my husband at the airport, we came home and Everett, my now five-year-old, promptly threw up all over the tile.
Here we go again.
I tried to remain calm. In control. Patient. Loving. Not panicked at all that norovirus could be coursing through our home on the one week my husband was out of town.
Honestly, I kept my cool until he threw up in his bed.
It was everywhere. I’m talking the bedspread, his jammies, his stuffed animals, the bunk bed frame, the carpet. I ran in when I heard the cries, shoving a big bowl under his face, but it was too late. The damage had been done. Carson, my three-year-old, wandered into the room next—curious about all the screaming, no doubt—while I tried to shield him from the scene of the crime.
“Look away, Carson!!!” I yelled, positioning my body in front of Everett, who was still crying hysterically with vomit dripping down his chin.
I got Everett calm enough and instructed him to stay put while I removed the bedspread from the top bunk. I folded it up carefully—or so I thought—and rushed the bedspread to the laundry room, not realizing until I heard the drip drip drip that I was leaving a distinct trail of vomit through the living room and kitchen.
I will confess here that discovering an actual pathway of barf throughout my house was the moment I briefly considered begging my husband to come home from his conference.
I prayed a quick silent prayer for endurance and germ protection, and then got to work. I put the kids in front of the TV—Everett on a towel on the floor, and Carson segregated on the couch. I washed chunks out of the bedspread in the sink and threw everything, including the stuffed animals, into the washing machine. I wiped barf off the mattress and bed frame, scrubbed stains out of the carpet, took a mop to the trail, and ran around the house spraying lysol left and right like one would apply hairspray at the backstage of a fashion show.
At one point, I caught a glimpse of myself in the kitchen mirror and as I looked at my sweaty, stuck-to-my-forehead bangs, I thought: What a difference a year can make. I think I’m going to pull this off.
The thing about cutting bangs is that I do, eventually, start to like them. They get a little bit longer, and I finally learn how to style them well. I just have to make it through the awkward phase first.
I’ve had many awkward moments as a mother—scenes where I am panicked and unsure of what to do, days and weeks where I feel anything but confident. I remember the first wedding I attended as a new mom. My baby wouldn’t stop crying and I spent the entire ceremony in the bathroom, shushing him and swaying back and forth in front of a toilet so we wouldn’t disrupt the vows. I remember the first time my son had a diaper blowout in the grocery store, and I had to change him in the trunk of my car while he screamed and people in the parking lot stared. I remember the first time both of my kids threw a full blown tantrum in public and I had to discipline them in front of my friends.
All of those instances were awkward. I fidgeted a lot.
As a new mom, I used to believe certain truths about mothers. I thought mothers were supposed to be confident, full of intuition, patient, and calm during a crisis. Motherhood often looked effortless to those around me, but I usually didn’t match that persona. I felt like I was dressing up as a mom for Halloween, like any moment someone could pull the mask off and discover the truth: I had no clue what I was doing.
Now of course, more than five years into this motherhood gig, I know the real truth: Motherhood—just like bangs—requires time, training, and lots of intention. There is nothing effortless about it.
I don’t think I will ever cut bangs and not immediately panic. And I don’t think I will ever bring a new baby home and not wonder if I am truly qualified to take care of a real human being. I don’t think I will ever watch my kids throw up when my husband is in another state and not wonder if I am capable of dealing with it by myself.
But I’m learning with the right tools—an extra outfit in the car, prayer, friends on speed dial, Lysol, a good round brush, and practice—I can actually pull off quite a bit.
Sometimes we just need a little time to grow into our bangs, and into ourselves.
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