It was seven after five o’clock when I decided to call.
“Hi, I have an appointment at 5, but I’m stuck in traffic and I wanted to let you know I’m going to be late.”
“Oooooooh …” the receptionist at the salon put on her sweetest, synthetically sympathetic voice, “I’m sorry. But if you’re more than 15 minutes late, we’ll have to reschedule you.”
Life, or at least the circumstances surrounding this moment, flashed before my eyes: my odometer reading zero miles per hour, the sea of red lights in front of me, how this cut is four weeks overdue (for short hair, this crosses a line of propriety). I thought about how I go out of town in two days and have company coming in two hours; how I couldn’t find an available babysitter this week to give me some free time to get this done earlier; how I left my house later than I should have because I felt bad that my husband was under strict deadlines but I left him at home with the kids when he should be working to do something as frivolous as get a haircut. I thought about how I look like that dog at Westminster that my kids love—the one that looks like she has a dirty white mop on her head.
I thought about how this was my only window of time. I thought about screaming But I can’t reschedule! Do you know what I did to get here today?
I couldn’t not get this haircut.
“I’m on my way. I’m close. I’m almost there.” This was kind of true (I was only four miles away) and also a bit of a lie (my car was not currently moving).
A saccharine voice with an undeniable edge repeated, “It’s our policy if you’re 15 minutes late, you’ll have to reschedule.”
I took her sugar-coated edge and raised her some grown-woman-faking-confidence-who-doesn’t-have-childcare sass of my own, “Well. I’ll get there when I get there and hopefully something will work out. I was just calling to let you know I’m late. I’ll see you soon. Thank you!”
She paused long enough for me to hear her eye roll then said as dryly as possible, “I’ll let your stylist know.” She hung up and the tiniest wave of panic fluttered in my chest.
Traffic started to move, slowly, and I exited the highway. At the bottom of the off ramp, I sat at a light with my left blinker on and looked at the clock. I was officially 15 minutes late. Don’t turn around I told myself. Someone will be able to take you. Drive on, sister. Drive on.
One, two, three lights. One 35 mph zone. A metro station with endless pedestrian crossings. At 5:25 p.m., with 0.8 miles to go, my phone rang. It was the salon.
“Hello?” I probably shouldn’t have answered.
“Hi Sonya, this is Hope. I heard you were running late, and I’m so sorry, but I have another client in 20 minutes and there’s just no way I can fit you in.”
Tears I didn’t expect flooded my eyes. With a quavering voice I asked, “Do you have anything later tonight?”
No. Tomorrow? No … well, one appointment. At the very hour I needed to be home for my company to arrive.
“Can you come in next week?”
“I’ll be out of town next week. That’s why I need this haircut so badly.” But this time, she knows I’m crying and I can’t believe I’m crying and it’s here where I feel a little scared of my emotions and I believe her sympathy is genuine when she says, “I’m so sorry, Sonya.”
“It’s okay. I’m sorry I was late.” (And just an aside here: I want to acknowledge the insanity that I apologize for things that are fully out of my control—like traffic—yet feel compelled to do so anyway.) “I’m sorry,” I say again (I can’t help myself) and hang up in a rush.
In the movies, car crying is tragically romantic and a tiny bit glamorous. In reality, it’s kind of a train wreck.
When I arrived back at our house, I walked into our kitchen, dropped my purse, and passed my husband Chris, who was making dinner and said, “what’s wrong?” after seeing my red face and puffy eyes.
“There was traffic. I was late. They couldn’t take me. I’m going to the bedroom.”
I fell face first onto the bed, sobbing (sobbing!) into my pillow.
I was mad at the traffic, at the salon’s policy, at myself for not leaving sooner, for not making the appointment earlier in the week, for not living closer to my family who (I’m assuming) would let me drop off a kid, or four, for this little bit of time to take care of myself. I was sad my babysitters were on vacation and for how scruffy the back of my neck looked. I was frustrated with rush hour traffic, with the world, with the whole of my life in this moment.
What is it, this thing, where we do so much for so many people (both the big and tiny ones), and even when we accept we also need to also take care of ourselves—and we try—we are trying to take care of ourselves! but it just feels like we can’t get a break?
That was why I was crying.
The next morning, I moped around in my moppy hair and asked some neighbors for their salon recommendations. I made a few calls, but the places were either booked solid or had one opening at a time I couldn’t make.
So I got my house ready for my company and tried to keep my kids from actively destroying my clean-up efforts.
In the middle of vacuuming up LEGOs, it hit me: I can make this work. I can do this.
One of the salons had an opening in the afternoon and why didn’t I think of this earlier? I have two older kids who can stay home alone and my younger two can come with me. I mean, screen time was pretty much made for this type of scenario.
“Hi, I called earlier. Do you still have a 1:30 appointment open? Great. I’ll be coming with two little kids. I’ll see you soon.”
Whether it’s for our children, our spouses, our parents, or even ourselves—we moms make things happen. We evaluate what needs to get done with what we’re actually capable of doing.
And then we do it.
It may not look like our idealized version of what we want or need, but it’s good enough. A haircut at a new salon with a stylist I’d never met with kids playing on tablets for 45 minutes was the best I could do.
I walked out of that salon with two kids in tow, sporting a fresh cut—and I felt great.
But it wasn’t about the haircut.
(Well, it wasn’t just about the haircut.)
P.S. If you enjoyed this essay, don’t miss our podcast episode, This Is How We Do: Self Care