The hair on my head is dark brown and basically straight, maybe a little curly around the edges when it’s really humid. My beard is red-brown and tightly curled. It winds itself up in unruly tendrils, about a quarter inch across. Except when an occasional hair decides to be straight for a day. It’s never the same one. I know because I tried pulling That One straight hair, but there was a new one the next day. I let that one go, and after my next shower, that day’s straight hair was back to curling with the rest of the bunch, but there was an errant straight hair on the other side. After a while, I realized that I could make that one straight hair curl back up. It’s like curling a ribbon on a gift. If you have a rippled ribbon and you run one side of a pair of scissors along the ribbon, it will make a corkscrew curl to decorate your present. If I take my fingernail and pull hard against the stray straight hair, it will curl back up, into a tidy little quarter-inch-wide spring.
Except that the white hairs don’t seem to respond to curling so well. I’ve got a few white hairs now, scattered through my temples and head and beard. And it seems like the white hairs are more likely to be That One straight hair. And, at least half the time, they won’t re-curl, no matter how many times I try. Until a few days later when they re-curl of their own accord.
I don’t want to pull out my white hairs. I’m proud of my age, of what I’ve worked through, of the stresses I’ve endured to earn these white hairs. I think white hair is beautiful, and I admire and envy people who have a shock-white head of hair. I don’t think my genetics will turn my hair that white for a long time to come, so I hang on to the few white hairs I have. I let them stick out, unruly and stubborn, until they decide, in their own time, to rejoin the group.
When I first started growing out my beard, I wondered how long it would get. I envisioned myself with a ZZ Top style beard, draped down my front. I hoped to be able to braid it and play with it. When I was in kindergarten, I envied a kid whose hair was so long she could sit on the ends of her braids. Julia, I think her name was, and I can still picture her blond pigtail braids. I decided, with all my 5 year old determination, that I was going to have hair as long as hers. So I rejected haircuts and let my already-long hair keep growing. The problem was, the rest of me also kept growing. So, the longer my hair got, the further it still had to go to reach my tuchus. By the time I was 12, I’d finished my last growth spurt, and my hair finally had a chance to catch up. But by then, it seemed to have reached its natural maximum. If I tilted my head back, I could, just barely, sit on the ends of my own hair. I declared it a victory.
I supposed I imagined my beard would grow in the same way. That it would just keep going, long and straight, or perhaps a bit wavy, until it cascaded down my chest. After all, that’s how my brother’s beard grows. Thick, wavy, long, and red.
But I got curls. And, just like the trailing ribbons on the present turn into short, tidy little springs when they’re curled up, my beard hair curls itself up into a cozy mat around my chin. It refuses to get long. Or at least it refuses to show its length. If I pull my beard straight, right now, it reaches almost three inches from my chin. But when I let it go, it springs back up, nestling close in, barely an inch away from my face. At its longest, my beard got to maybe 5 or 6 inches, stretched out, but it only looked like a densely matted, uneven layer, about an inch and a half thick.
I’ve learned, over the years, how to trim it to make the curls as tidy as possible, and not to let it get too long. I was kind of bummed that I couldn’t grow a thick, long beard. And the curls continue to be a pain to manage.
But then I discovered the best thing about my tight, tiny curls.
My curls are small, about a quarter inch across. Too small to wind around my finger, even my pinky. But, I discovered six years ago, my curls are, delightfully and inconveniently, almost exactly the diameter of an infant’s fingers.
Or, I should say, my son discovered this. He’s always been an energetic child, even before he was born. When I was pregnant with him, as a nervous first time parents, I carefully counted and tracked how many times he kicked, to make sure he was growing ok. I was told to contact my midwife if he kicked fewer than ten times an hour. I never got anywhere near the worry point. When I counted his movements, I usually counted ten kicks within a minute, maybe two or three minutes on a slow day.
When he was born, he took to breastfeeding very quickly, and with enthusiasm. He didn’t want to sit still just because he was nursing, even as an infant. His tiny hands would wave and reach, and his tiny fingers instinctively closed on anything in their path. Including, of course, my beard, which was perfectly in arm’s range. His tiny fingers closed on a hank of my beard. And then his tiny, randomized, but surprisingly strong arm decided to dart off somewhere else. With my beard still firmly in his grasp. I tried to extract him – one-handed, since my other hand was still holding his tiny head firmly to my breast. I worked one finger loose of the cross-twisted strands that trapped his little knuckles, but then, as soon as I started extracting the next finger, the first little finger would dart back into the snare of curls. And as I worked, his arm kept moving, jerking my chin around, just a little bit painfully. It ended up taking two of my hands to remove one of his tiny hands from my tight beard curls, which were just the perfect fit for his beautiful, grabbing fingers.