Going Gray

Finding a way to reclaim my roots

Imagine the scene.

A young mom, harried, arms full of screaming toddler and a stuffed platypus that keeps getting tossed to the floor that is covered in snow boot debris. The mom just wrote a check for the basket full of groceries she is trying to maneuver and it’s not going well.

The person behind her clearly has it all together. She is calm. Her coat is buttoned correctly, and she smiles gently at the young mom while tucking her gray hair into a cap. The bag boy quickly collects the three bags of groceries the woman purchased and carries them to her car.

Meanwhile, the mom and toddler deal with an overflowing cart in a parking lot full of winter potholes and falling snow. Again, it’s not going well.

The bag boy hurries back inside as the older woman’s car starts.

This is when the mom had a none-too-proud moment, even as she thinks of it now, some 35 years later.   She screamed, “I wish I had gray hair, so I could get some help with my groceries.”

As they say, be careful what you wish for.

Here I am, three decades-plus later. My hair is gray. My coat is buttoned correctly, and today when I was offered help with my three bags of groceries I smiled and said, “I can manage just fine.”

Something happened on the way to gray hair that makes me both appreciate the little kindnesses shown to the elderly and fight against the fact I have become the elderly. Even writing the word now makes me shiver just a bit. Is that what I am? Elderly? I think not!

I am full of energy, full of ideas and moving through life faster, and with more satisfaction than ever before.

But, I have gray hair. And having gray hair has been quite a ride.

On the day I decided I could no longer tolerate hours in the salon getting my hair dyed, I was actually sitting in the salon with a dyeing cape around my shoulders. When the stylist touched my hair, I had an epiphany. Instead of “pulling in some gray” and “mixing in more blond” in an attempt to manage the skunk line, I could just go gray.

I had been going lighter and lighter with my color and the results had been mixed. On the day I came home blond-ish, my husband, who is unfailingly kind and always supportive, said, with a twinkle in his eye, “I thought I married a brunette.” He didn’t twinkle quite so brightly when I mentioned his salt-filled beard. It was, perhaps, not one of my better moments.

Deciding to “just go gray” left me with free time that afternoon, so I treated myself to a cup of coffee and a moment to watch the world go by.

The world conspired against me. It seemed each woman I saw had gray hair.

They also were elderly. Their hair was flat against their heads, or frizzed and fly away. They didn’t appear to be excited about life. What had I done? What had I done? What had I done? I dialed my stylist. She could get me in a week from Thursday. A week from Thursday? I could be dead by then! I took the slot.

And, I went home. My husband said, “Are you ready for this, ready to own your gray hair?” I said, “I am not.”

By Thursday, I had settled down. We pulled gray into my hair to minimize the blond that really had not meant more fun. And I went gray. Glorious, free to go swimming, shining in the sun, own my life, my age and my posture, gray.

It is the best decision I ever made. Partly because it has been one of the most hilarious.

Strangers have asked to touch my hair. I say, “If I can massage your earlobe as you do.” I learned that trick from my son-in-law, who has a flowing beard people want to touch. Men do double takes, especially if I am in the sun, or under a bright light, and the number of flirtatious overtures has taken an uptick, which is both hilarious and kind of sad. My husband says it’s because I now embody the Montana motto, “Oro y Plata.”

Women are in two camps — the “your hair is lovely” camp and the “I could never do that” camp.

My grandson, who notices these things, because we are great playmates and he is very artistic, looked up from his drawing a few days ago and said, “Having gray hair has not made you get old.”

I suppose that is the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me. Okay, maybe not the nicest, but it felt pretty darn good.  Having gray hair has not made me old.  It has made me, me. I feel authentic. I feel like I have earned each and every one of these gray hairs. I feel like I am in a position to help other women step into their moments of “Oro y Plata” and own them with all of the glory that gold and silver deserve.

When I am elderly, I will be elderly. But for today, well, today I will be me. Vibrant. Strong. Ready for adventure and happy to think about who I was, and who I still can be. I hope the same is true for you.

And while I am doing these things, I will carry my own groceries, thank you very much.


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