I mentioned recently that M decided to shave her head for St. Baldrick’s, and I owe you a report on how it went. So here it is.
Cute W and I spent the week prior to the St. Baldrick’s event not sleeping. We were tense. I don’t know what, exactly, about the whole thing made us so overwrought, but we were definitely overwrought. I was worried that M would change her mind at first, but that receded as the donations started streaming in. Then I continued to worry that she’d regret doing it. And Cute W and I both went through a little bit of a mourning period over her hair, all the while feeling guilty that we were so shallow that we were mourning her hair. J was also sad. On the night M announced her intentions, J came down from bedtime, tears streaming. “But why?” she sobbed. “Why does she have to do this? Her hair is so beautiful! I love her beautiful hair!”
And Cute W and I pretty much felt the same way!
But we managed to not cry and to explain that having beautiful hair would help her to get more donations than many other shavees, most of whom were boys. Intellectually, we knew she was making the right choice. Even if none of us would have chosen for her to do it ourselves.
M ended up bringing in more than $3000 for children’s cancer research, and she hooked up with two other girls in her grade who decided to shave their heads at the last minute, as well. We shared her page on Facebook and sent emails to our immediate family, and we had an amazing response, including people who just knew people we knew, high school friends with whom I hadn’t really talked in at least 20 years, and so on. So, that was excellent.
On the day of the big shave, I arrived at the event earlier than the rest of the family to do a volunteer shift. They do the actual shaving in that exhibit space between the box office counter and the entrance to the smaller film theater at Proctors, and the place was packed. I located J’s painting, which a friend had marked “Sold” so that I could claim it, and set about doing my volunteer “work,” which turned out to be mostly chatting with random acquaintances about the impending head shave. Finally the family arrived, and everyone milled around while I was tethered to my station. M and J both had friends at the event, which was excellent, and Cute W was pacing around like a caged animal. I am not even kidding you. He was tense.
First I’d heard that the shave would be at 2:30 pm, and then I heard that they were running behind schedule, and then, well before 2:30 pm, a neighbor found me and said, “She’s up there now. She’s going.” At which point I went into panic mode. M was literally about 15 feet away from where I was standing, but first I was hunting down hair bands to keep her hair together for the donation (totally didn’t need to bother–they did it for us), and then when I finally made it to the long row of shaving stations, I found myself at the exact opposite end from my daughter. So as the hairdresser was combing those locks into three separate ponytails for maximum hair harvesting, I was pushing and shoving my way through the crowd and attempting to locate the other members of my immediate family. I finally stumbled closer and saw Cute W, all set up with his video camera. M and the other shavee girls were surrounded by a gaggle of 6th grade girls-gone-groupy for the occasion, cheering and taking pictures and reaching out for one last hair-feel. You can check the link and scroll down to watch the video, which shows M. What you miss from that perspective is that at some point after the ponytails got cut off, little J started sobbing, and I lunged and half-stumbled over the 6th grade girls to hug her and tell her it was okay in a tone that sounded about as miserable as she looked (although I did not cry. At least, not at the event. And never in front of M. So, yay me). J was also hot, still wearing her fleece and sweating in the middle of the crowd, so I maneuvered her out and some kindly volunteer plied her with water bottles and mini-donuts. Then her sweet little 3rd-grade friend found her, gave her a big hug, and held her hand for the remainder of the shaving session for moral support. I was really glad that she was there for J.
I’d suggested to M that she should invite friends to come and support her, but I hadn’t anticipated how much J would need moral support, too. So we really lucked out that we ran into her friend at the event.
Meanwhile, M was doing great. There was about a 2-second interval, mid-shave, when I thought she might lose it. Later she said that she didn’t like that the hairdresser handed her each of her ponytails as it was lopped off, and it was as she grabbed these that her entire face flushed and for just a moment her eyes were shiny. Then she pulled it together. It helped that everyone was cheering for her and telling her that she was terrific and that she looked wonderful. The truth is, she does. She’s a cute kid with a big smile and symmetrical features and bone structure that’s decidedly feminine even when it’s accompanied by a shaved head. She was pretty before the shave and she still is.
Once the shave was complete, M had her public to consider: posing for pictures, allowing her friends to rub her new stubble, and reporting to the restroom with the closest 6 or 8 of them to access mirrors and examine the new look. I barely made contact, except when she briefly passed me her ziplock baggy full of ponytails. Which I clutched, two-handed, in front of my chest, and displayed to anyone who approached me. I probably spent a good twenty minutes clutching the ponytails weirdly, and then I shoved them into my backpack for about 3 days, when I was finally able to smooth them out and think about sending them away. Cute W and I were relieved to have the shave over, and we moved on to insuring a fun first night bald, which involved a sleepover with friends and take-out Indian food.
Cute W put together a video to share, and more donations came in, along with lovely notes. The very best was from a girl with leukemia whose Grandma works with M’s Grandma and who told M that just hearing about the head-shave made her day, along with all sorts of sweet things, like “we’re strong girls.” It was another weeper, I tell you. Having them exchange notes cheering each other from afar feels priceless beyond any money that we raised.
Since then, M is occasionally mistaken for an ill child. At a soccer game last weekend, one of the opposing coaches deviated from the rote “good game” mantra to tell M that her play was really strong and she should “keep fighting.” It took her a minute to realize why he was encouraging her with such fervor. And then we parents were chuckling because she’d played the whole game. “Oh, my gosh, can you imagine?” someone said, “They must have been thinking, give that poor girl on chemo a break for a minute, this is terrible!” Yesterday I took the girls shopping, and everyone was super-friendly. A complete stranger handed me a 20% off coupon, and as we left one store, one of the saleswomen said over the shoulder to another, “Oh! She’s so sweet!” I walked out of the store and then hesitated. I mean, really, what’s the etiquette, here? Should I have gone back in and said, “Umm, in case you were wondering, she’s perfectly healthy.” Or to the lady with the coupon, “Thanks so much, and it’s very kind of you, but before I accept, I should tell you that none of us is seriously ill”? I didn’t. It would be awkward, plus I’d feel compelled to ask for donations. So we decided to just absorb the good karma and say thank you. But really, do you think I should be telling people? I mean, do you suppose any of them thought about this later and were sad about it? Anyone want to advise me on the protocol I should follow for future encounters?
M’s taking vitamins with fewer complaints than usual, and I’m giving her scalp massages, all in the hopes that we’ll encourage those hair follicles. And Cute W’s working on a new video, taking photographs of M’s head so that we can offer up a time lapse re-grow video sometime soon.