Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Ponytail Love

I have a 14-inch ponytail in a zip lock bag on my desk and I don’t know what to do with it. My nine-year-old daughter had about half her hair snipped off last Monday with the intent to donate it to a charity that would craft it into a wig for a child with alopecia or chemo related hair loss.

Locks of Love, the organization that is synonymous with the cause, may not use Amelia’s hair because they collect thousands of ponytails a week but can only make a couple hundred wigs a year. This ponytail could end up in the trash.

So I’m doing research, sifting through websites and blogs, and it’s making me dizzy. There’s no lack of controversy. A 2007 New York Times article I found laid out some of the facts:

Surplus hair is sold to commercial wig manufacturers to offset Locks of Love’s overhead. According to its tax returns, Locks of Love made $1.9 million from hair sales from 2001 to 2006. They send the best of the hair it receives to a wig manufacturer, Taylormade Hair Replacement in Millbrae, CA, which rejects up to half. Taylormade then sells the wigs wholesale to Locks of Love for less than $1000.

Now, I don’t want my daughter’s hair to be sold and bleached so Brittney can buy some new hair extensions.

Also, Locks of Love doesn’t give wigs to children, but charges on a sliding scale, and according to a particularly snarky blog, they force potential recipients to jump through hoops, writing pleading letters and getting recommendations from coaches and clergy.

Pantene’s Beautiful Lengths is another choice. Pantene is the $3 billion global hair products division of Procter & Gamble and their Beautiful Lengths real hair wigs are distributed for free to women (not kids) with cancer through select American Cancer Society wig banks. This Pantene campaign is one of several that the Women’s Cancer Programs of the Entertainment Industry Foundation is committed to. Each event links a brand like Revlon, Callaway Golf, Mercedes & Saks with a pencil thin movie star to raise awareness, funds and support for women with cancer. Just a few minutes navigating the website and I can see that they are stirring a lot of pots. The campaign’s emphasis is heavy on product, celebrity and beauty and some of these products contain carcinogens. The platoon of stylists, engineers and professionals employed in the Hillary Swank photo shoot could have paid for six wigs.

The NYT article also mentioned Wigs 4 Kids. The website felt homespun and heartfelt. Maggie Varney, a hairdresser and owner of a salon in St. Clair Shores Mi, formed this nonprofit in 2003. Most of the donations are from kids. Their mission is to boost the self-esteem of children through age 17 with appearance related challenges that cause hair loss including alopecia, lupus, chemo, burns and other disorders. They provide custom, age appropriate wigs to help kids feel better about their appearance at no cost to the families. They are funded solely on contributions, with no corporate sponsors or celebrity spokesperson.

I turned my research over to the donor. She analyzed the data and looked at each website and very quickly and made a firm decision: Locks of Love is the most well known and they do it for kids, but families have to pay for the wigs and her hair could be sold to Britney or thrown away, so that was a deal breaker. Pantene only does it for grown ups and is all fancy and professional and trying to sell beauty stuff, so no. Wigs 4 Kids is free and only for kids and even though nobody’s ever heard of it they seem personal and family owned and not flashy.

Kid to kid is the appropriate choice.

Drum Lesson

I usually sit and read during my daughter’s thirty-minute drum lesson. She walks up a curved flight of stairs to a house canopied with Redwoods from the parking lot in the center of a cul de sac. Sitting in my car I can hear the drumming, occasionally a saxophonist practicing, often birds and wind in the tall redwoods. Last winter I enjoyed the call and response of a pair of owls.

On this warm June evening, I have the windows down. There’s no fog yet, and a car pulls in next to me with its windows down as well. As the engine is killed I caught the tail end of a Mom lecture I know well.

“You can’t have fun all the time. You need to balance your school and fun. It’s about balance. If you have a solid foundation, then you will have options later and you can do what you want.”

I’ve had variations on that one with my teenaged sons many times. Just as I was about to recognize this Mom as a comrade, a sister soldier in mothering adolescent boys, she turned on me.

“If you’re doing well in school, then you can smoke a little pot.”

I whipped my head around and stared at her as she closed her window and her son got out. He looked to be about 13, maybe 7th grade? I was stunned.

I’m sure this mom insists that her son wear a seatbelt, and she probably had him vaccinated. She has certainly made thoughtful choices about her growing boys nutrition and use of sunscreen, so where’s the disconnect that would not put brain chemistry on that checklist? Is she unaware that encouraging illegal drug use might be considered a poor parenting style choice?

When another mom condones getting stoned as long as junior’s homework is done, it undermines my efforts to shepherd my kids and steer them to make good choices. She’s making my job harder! I need my community of parents to have the best of intentions for theirs and mine alike. We need to all be on board to help each other and all our kids to navigate adolescence.

Marin’s social host law, which I very much support, didn’t deter the idiot dad in Muir Beach. According to his attorney he agreed to let his kid have a two friends over for a birthday celebration and,

"Teenage drinking at the party resulted from the security officer's failure to employ basic standard security methods and procedures, including searches of the teenagers for alcohol containers.”

He felt compelled to hire three security guards, which I’ve never done for a kid’s birthday party myself. What irresponsible security officers.

Paramedics had a very difficult time gaining access to a girl with a head injury because of the 200+ celebrating teenagers in the home. I was discussing this local disaster at a dinner party soon after it was in the Marin IJ, and one parent praised her sixteen-year-old son for having taken a cab to this party. Um, kind of missing the point. ­­Impulse control, anyone?

I followed the young stoner up the steps to retrieve my daughter. In the studio we chatted as she gathered her book and sticks. He was polite and well spoken and I told him that he looked familiar – he did now that we were face to face. The instructor reminded us.

“Oh, yeah, I recommended ____ to your son last fall when he was looking for a drummer. I think he’s been to your house.”

So there it is folks. The wolf is not at the door, he’s hanging out in the living room with my son. When I got home I described the whole event to my son and asked him if he remembered this kid coming over.

“Yeah, he was a douche.”

This, I suppose, was a drumming critique, but I’m still relieved that my son wasn’t interested in hanging out with him. I asked what he thought of this kid smoking pot. His answer was pure 14-year-old snark.

“What a loser. He’s not even in a band.”


Lying. This is a biggie for me, being a child of divorce with abandonment issues. I can handle most any kid related screw up but lying. The phone didn't ring, allowing me to sleep until 5 AM when I woke with a start. I knew the second my eyes were open that he had not called. I grabbed my phone off the nightstand and punched the missed calls log. Nothing. Lifted the receiver on the house phone. No interrupted dial tone indicating a message. He had not called when the concert was over or when he safely arrived at his friend's house. Two checkpoints skipped and it was now 5:15 and I was full of adrenaline. I called his cell - straight to voice mail. I called his friend's cell. Same. I called his again. Same. I got dressed.

"Don't go over there. It's too early, you'll wake everyone up," my husband sleep talks from the bed.

"Uh-huh,” I agree as I pull my hair into a ponytail and start to wash my face.

I called his cell again after I got my shoes on and I'd headed for the back door. Voicemail again.

I'm pissed and a little scared. Mom mode. Odds are he just screwed up. Of course his friend's mom or someone would have called if there were an accident. Or an arrest. Or he'd OD'd. And then there was the possibility that his friend's mom was too distraught over the death of her own son to tell me about mine. Or they hadn't found the body yet after the car went off the bridge. All this ping ponging through my uncaffeinated brain as I wind up the narrow redwood lined road to the house where I was going yoink my brat kid from a warm bed to kick his ass.

I didn't knock or ring the bell. I let myself in through the garden gate, and down the steps passed the pool to the first door. I knocked and listened to the birds and noted that the sun hadn't yet come over Blithedale Ridge. My cell rings. My husband, urging me to go get coffee, calm down and wait an hour before I barge in and embarrass our son. Sensible advice.

“Good idea. Okay.” I say.

I knocked again and a sleepy teenager answered. My guy was across the pool in the main house and I asked the boy if he would tell him that his mom was here. When he came to the door, he looked worried, and asked what was wrong.

"You didn't call."

"Yeah I did."

"No, you didn't. Get your things and meet me in the car." I thanked the sleepy messenger and walked back up to the street and waited for him in the car.

He didn't waste time, threw his things in the back and got in the passenger seat bare foot and bleary eyed. He insisted that he had called after the show, at 11, until I showed him my call log on my phone and asked to see his. Nothing since 9 pm. Then he says he was too caught up in the moment, that his phone, keys and jacket were rolled in a ball under the seat where he couldn't reach them. Excuses.

I am so relieved to have him in the car, that he is whole and alive and so fucking pissed at him that I tear up when I say, "You lied. That is the part that disappoints me the most. Why you would feel you need to lie to me. You had an opportunity to establish a foundation of trust here. It was so easy - all you had to do is call and check in. I want you to go out in the world and be with friends and see music and have fun. I want you to show me you can do this and make good choices and be safe and check in. I have to ask myself, what would cause you to not check in? You are always so good about this. And then you lie. That's the worst part."

Now, my six foot two inch, 185-pound boy is shaking and tearing up and apologizing. "I screwed up, I'm sorry, but I swear I didn't drink or do drugs."

I nod, "well, fine. But you also swore that you called. So there's that."

I'll never know why he didn't call. I do know he'll at least think about it next time, and hopefully he will get it right. That morning I made him sit with me at the Depot and have coffee and chat for over an hour while the sun came up. He was clearly uncomfortable and really didn't look too good. I enjoyed that. His leash has been drastically shortened and did he ever make a nice Mother's Day breakfast for me the next morning, complete with coffee just how I take it. He volunteered to unload the dishwasher and asked if he could help me plant tomatoes. He and his brother took me to see Star Trek. He accepted his younger brothers ribbing about how 'mom kicked your ass'. Sadly, I know I'll do it again.