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Self-Identity and Image

Bad Hair Decade

Susan Ashby Mergler January 15, 2017
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It’s a Saturday night and I am staring into the bathroom mirror. Not in a pre-going-out-to-dinner last minute kinda way but in that way of trying to figure what the hell was wrong with this night out after I have already devoured oysters, baby clams and a healthy amount of chocolate lava cake.

Earlier my 84 year old mother who I might add hasn’t changed hairstyles in the past 50 years asked me if I had combed my hair. Yes, I am comfortably seated at my table in the middle of the restaurant where everyone now must be wondering what the hell is wrong with that 50-something woman’s hairdo. But alas, there is nothing wrong with my damned hair. Nothing. She has long resigned from ever being complimentary. Let me fix that statement. She has never, ever been complimentary.

A couple hours after our dinner excursion, as we are pulling back into the driveway, my mother begins her predictable chant of who has the key to get into the house. Predictable, like peanut butter on a jelly sandwich. Never mind that a set of keys always hangs on the front door in a realtor style box in the unlikely event, or in her case the highly likely event, that 911 personnel must rescue her on any given day. And never mind that I always have a spare set tucked away in the glove box of our SUV. Because let’s be clear here, she never, ever has her keys.

I am still so damned livid that she, who still has the 1950s beehive of chemically induced curls attached to her head, could actually see to analyze whatever the hell is currently going on with my hair. I slyly exit the car like a seasoned thief with that hidden set of keys I always carry because these days no one can be sure if she will have keys or even a purse in her possession.

I toss back a demonic grin at my husband who is still outside the car’s back door trying to convince his mother-in-law that the house is now unlocked. She is still stuck in her seatbelt, digging through the Vera Bradley paisley purse full of Kleenex and restaurant rolls, looking for her keys. This, the same seatbelt that she was unable to fasten two hours earlier while traveling a mere 2 miles from her house.

She has become the little engine who can’t. “Andy, I can’t fasten my seatbelt.” “Andy, I can’t open the butter.” “Andy, I can’t find my package of Depends.” Funny, growing up I never heard the end of that story about the little engine who could. In my younger days, she would repeat to me, “ Can’t is a coward who doesn’t try.” As if I was this little girl who just refused to try to do anything. Funny, hypocrites seem to overtake my life currently.

So just to be clear, yes, I left my mother stuck in her seatbelt. Looking for house keys in her purse full of restaurant rolls. Because earlier she publicly announced that my hair needed combing. By now, I had already found the keys and let myself into her house. And my husband is still standing outside in the bitter cold trying to coax her out of the car. I’m pretty certain I’m going to hell one day.

A few years ago on the way to an Earth Wind and Fire concert, Ashlee, my 22-year-old-hotter-than-I-could-acknowledge daughter in a jumpsuit cut down to her knees caught me in a state of shock as comments that her boobs were so very large and in charge poured out of my old-has-been woman’s mouth. As soon as I had made the snide comments, I wanted to grab them and stuff them back from that hateful place where they came. But it was too late. The line in the sand had been drawn and I was now the bitchy mom who couldn’t deal with the hot daughter who was just one painful reminder that she now was exactly what I still was not. It wasn’t that she was dressed like a whore. It was that I no longer looked like that. I no longer could rock that look. I was no longer 22 and hot.

Later after the concert we met some of her friends at a local bar where I ordered a simple glass of cabernet while the rest of the 22 year olds now surrounding me ordered complicated blender drinks. Theirs came before mine. Bartender had forgotten my freaking simple house glass of cabernet. Bartender couldn’t see me. No one could see me. Now I am not exactly a has-been and an easily forgotten woman. In my upper 40s I fooled a very hot South American tour guide into thinking that I was still in my early 30s much to the irritation of a bunch of 18 year old goo-goo eyed girls along on that trip who couldn’t seem to manage to bat a successful eye his way. I know that I simply don’t blend into a wall. But I also know that with age has to come some sort of acknowledgment that things just don’t stay the same.

I realized that night of the concert that my reactions to my daughter’s life were simply my issues with growing older. But tonight I am pretty sure that my mother clearly meant that I needed to locate a damn comb. Never mind her outdated and god-awful 1950s hairstyle. She was throwing shade and she clearly meant every nicely hidden barbed word.

Which if my own mother can have these issues, I can’t help but think about my mother-in-law who has been nothing short of a royal pain in my ass throughout the past 27 plus years. I have exhausted the thought processes of humanity while wondering what her motivations have been all these years. Is everything in life that is unpleasant and bad simply a product of that unmentionable green monster called jealousy? What possesses the vermin out of someone’s mouth to escape and get tossed my way? For crying out loud, her son chose me to love until kingdom come. Wasn’t that enough to shut her the hell up? Well, obviously we have issues far surpassing just the mother-daughter realm here.

So as I back away from that mirror, full of chocolate lava cake, cabernet and years of pent-up self-esteem issues, I turn to my husband with a slightly puzzled look as I simply say, “ What the hell is wrong with my hair?”

He flashes such a stupidly crooked grin and I instantly know that I could go for two months unshaven and un-showered and he would still wish for one second of this bad hair day woman’s attention. And that right there is enough revenge for anything my mother or mother-in-law has ever thought or uttered about me.

For more stories please visit www.middlelifemadness.com


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  1. James Warren January 22, 2017

    Thank you for another insightful story! You tackle self-esteem, family relationships and the experience of middle life with humility, honesty and humor! Kudos!


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