Friday, November 1, 2013

I Hate Crazy Hair Day

I hate Crazy Hair Day. Can I just say that? Every school year we sail along smoothly and then sometime in October, Crazy Hair Day rocks the boat. For most kids Crazy Hair Day is a fun day. They turn their locks into masterpieces – spikes, colors, decorations, gel-engineered creations that look painful. My older two children were full participants, dreaming up hairdo’s that could only be perfected in their imaginations and crushed when their mother couldn’t fulfill their dreams with her curling iron and hair spray. Still, the day was one of laughs and squeals and smiles.

Crazy Hair Day seemed completely harmless until I had a kid with no hair. My youngest child has Alopecia Areata, an autoimmune disorder that causes his white blood cells to attack his hair follicles. At age 4 he became completely bald and has been ever since. He doesn’t remember having hair so early elementary years he was relatively unaffected. It was just the way he was. Some kids have big noses or green eyes; Ian has no hair.

Most people believe that Ian is accepting of his condition. There is nothing that can be done about it after all. No one knows what causes it and there is no treatment. Yet, it is difficult to be different. No matter if that difference is something you can do nothing to control. As teen years loom, his difference becomes more and more difficult to bear. He is not a precocious child; he’s never sought the spotlight. Yet his bald head demands it. People stare. People wonder. He covers his head with a hat most days, only removing it in the company of people he trusts.

For the most part, no one bothers him anymore. We live in a small town. He’s attended the same school for seven years. Everyone knows Ian doesn’t have any hair. It’s a non-issue for 364 days of the year.

And then comes Crazy Hair Day. Everyone talks about hair. All day long. “Did you see John’s hair?” “Can you believe what Alicia did with her hair?” On this day, Ian is more conscious of his difference than on any other day of the year. When he was seven, I remember him getting on the bus on Crazy Hair Day, sitting in his seat, and then turning to find me out the window with tears streaming down his cheeks. I cried all morning too. So the next year, I asked if he'd rather stay home on Crazy Hair Day.

For the last three years, he’s stayed home. We’ve found fun things to do on that day – meeting his dad for lunch, taking a hike, buying ice cream, watching a movie. But this year he told me he was thinking he might go to school on Crazy Hair Day. He thought he might do the craziest thing of all – go without his hat. My heart caught. I told him I thought that was a great idea.

This morning, the morning of Crazy Hair Day, Ian came into the kitchen quietly. He slumped in his chair. I asked if he was okay and he said he was. I could see tears on the edges of his eyes. He was quiet. I asked if he was packing lunch or buying, and then it came. “I think if I go, I’ll just be jealous and sad.” His voice was small, deflated. Then he asked if he could go back to bed, and I told him that was fine.

I headed for the barn to muck stalls and mutter angrily to myself about the stupidest day of the year – Crazy Hair Day. I hate it. It makes my child feel ashamed of the fact that he doesn’t have hair. It breaks his heart and mine every year. I know that the school administration doesn’t intend for that to happen. For 99% of the student body Crazy Hair Day is one of the best days of the year. I get that. As I said, my older kids loved it too. But it doesn’t change the fact that today I am sad. And my son is sad.

As I filled water buckets and hauled hay, I wondered if I was spoiling him. Should I make him go to school? After all, we can’t change the fact that he doesn’t have hair. He needs to learn to accept that. The world will not cater to his pain.

But I can. For just today.

This is the last Crazy Hair Day he will endure. Next year he will move on to Middle School. No more Crazy Hair Day. But there will be several hundred new kids who don’t know why he is bald. That will bring its own challenges. No, today he can hide behind my love. Today we will go out for lunch.  We’ll buy clothes for his Biz Town interview. We’ll take the dog to get her nails clipped and maybe stop at the library for a new book.

I’ll do whatever I can to distract him from the reason he is spending his day with me and not his peers. I know I can’t protect him forever. But today I can offer a small defense.

I hate Crazy Hair Day.

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