This essay originally appeared in our monthly newsletter for The Mom Hour podcast. To get our emails, subscribe here. –Sarah
You’ve probably heard me talk about one pandemic discovery that I’m keeping forever: the at-home hair color that has allowed me to touch up my gray roots every three or four weeks without going to a salon.
It’s a win in every possible way: It’s affordable ($9 for the box, which lasts for at least three uses, vs. the $70 + tip I was spending every five weeks in the salon). It saves me time (takes about 20 minutes, vs. an hour-plus the old way). The results are fantastic (I use the dark brown color and it’s a great match). And I’ve come to genuinely enjoy the ritual of a locked bathroom door, a really great extended podcast-listening session, and a personal grooming process that appeals both to my artistic side AND my detail-oriented inner perfectionist.
So as the world begins to open up again, you won’t find me back in the salon every five weeks. Instead, I’ll probably go two or three times a year for a cut and all-over color, or some fun highlights, the way I used to do before I got so gray.
Although it’s arguably quite safe to do so, I haven’t made that first post-shutdown salon appointment yet, and I’m realizing that I’m a little hesitant. I’m beyond overdue, of course. I had one open-air quickie trim in my own backyard in late May 2020, and that’s it since the pandemic began, so the l last time I was in a salon was almost 15 months ago. My hair is as long as it has ever been, the ends are dry, and a professional update to the cut and color would, I’m assuming, feel really great.
As much as I delight in concealing the abundant natural gray that lines my hairline and weaves through my part, I’m harboring a little secret underneath the touched-up top of my head. I have silver strands that start at the base of my neck and all through the middle of my hair that are now over six inches long. February 2020 to May 2021 inches long. Fourteen months of pandemic survival inches long. Three kids and two adults Zooming from home inches long. You never thought this would be your life but it is inches long.
You won’t see them in a photo, or even in person unless you’re looking. But my secret survival grays wind visibly through a french braid and, when my hair is in a top knot, are on display loud and proud at the back of my head where the hair from my neck is pulled upward toward the bun.
And I sort of love them.
I love having such basic, biological evidence of the passage of time since my last pro dye job. It feels like a reminder that while we gave up a whole lot last spring – trips and parties, hopes and dreams – our bodies kept trucking along. We had periods and grew fingernails; got pimples, popped pimples, swore off popping pimples. Some of you reading this grew HUMANS, birthed humans, nursed humans. And while a lot of these examples shift their shapes or ebb and flow, my inches of gray root-growth stretch out like a measuring tape of pandemic time.
Which is why, weird as it sounds, I feel a little sad at the thought of having them dyed to match the rest of my hair. I’m not ready to go full silver vixen, but I’m also not ready to let go of this proof of pandemic life.
And maybe that’s where a lot of us are right now. On the surface, like the freshly touched-up dark brown crown of my head, we’re shiny and pretty and ready to meet the day. We’re making plans and booking flights and starting to hug our friends. But underneath we’re holding on to something from the past year that, while it looks nothing like what we thought we wanted, is strangely beautiful and undeniably a part of us now.
I don’t know if or when I’ll make a salon appointment, but I do know that the weird pride I feel at my less-obvious grays is mine to hold onto. It’s a small but ever-present reminder of what I am capable of – what we’re all capable of – when life doesn’t go as planned.
And that’s something I’m in no hurry to hide.