Recently I had reason to call the Clairol hair dye hotline number. You know the one printed on the incredibly detailed instructions leaflet. For years I genuinely believed it to be a ghost number, or at the very least, one of those automated phone maze nightmares that goes nowhere except to elevate your blood pressure. But low and behold, after only two or so number pressing options, I got through to a real live person.
Theresa sounded bored. I imagined her sitting alone, in a factory-sized call centre somewhere in the desert (cheap rent), with every other desk empty. She'd be well dressed, with full makeup, holding her handbag - the only person to man the phones since no one ever calls that number anyway. Well, no one but me that is.
The presenting problem was that the 'medium auburn' shade in their Natural Instincts Creme range, didn't come out so much medium auburn as it did raspberry. And I'll be dammed, if after the fact, I didn't look at the top of the pack and see it actually says 'Raspberry Creme/Medium Auburn.' Not on the front by the good looking airbrushed model where it only says '23R Medium Auburn', but on the top! Which bloody genius came up with that I'd like to know? And I'll go further, your honour, and ask, in what way does the colour raspberry have anything to do with the hair shade auburn?
I had visions of turning out looking like Nicole Kidman in Practical Magic, or Charlotte Rampling in Stardust Memories (although it was shot in black and white so who knows what her real colour was?), or vintage Jane Fonda (her Hanoi Jane days) - but not actual raspberry. And trust me, it was raspberry. 'Good lord, I've royally screwed up my hair this time,' I thought to myself. And there is a lot of hair to screw up at the moment, what with it nearly reaching to the small of my back.
Before I left England I texted my lovely stylist Ross and asked him what the store-bought equivalent of my colour was so I could DIY it. I mean, who doesn't trust a cheap off the shelf solution over a myriad of qualified professionals in New York right? Well, er, stupid me that is, on some illogical level. I don't know what I was thinking. In London I would never dream of doing my own hair colour because, well, it could turn out raspberry and there is a lot of it. I think we covered this already. So maybe I was swept up with the romantic atmosphere that is the K-Mart hair dye aisle and I thought 'What the hell?' But Ross wisely advised me that I should avoid a DIY job, and he would send me the colour spec to pass on to a NY stylist. He didn't, but then I forgot to remind me, or ask him, or whatever.
So back to Theresa. Theresa, in her bored 'I'm the only person in this creepy Mexican call centre factory' voice, asked me if my hair was lighter or darker than a glass of red wine. Me: 'Well which wine in particular? Merlot, Shiraz, or perhaps a fence sitting slightly loose on morals Rose? And what year?' OK, so I didn't ask her that. Theresa didn't strike me as one who wanted to discuss vintage versus drinkable, and she genuinely sounded like someone who wanted to get back to the serious business of being bored.
Eventually we established the exact hue my hair had turned out; Me: "Um, well, it's kind of violet, but more magenta than a true orange red, and it's well, it's not quite purple, but it's sort of pinkish, but more on the red side of pinkish." Sheesh. If the eejit that is me had looked on the top of the box as opposed to just the front, well I would never have used it in the first place. But, in the real world, if I had looked at the top of the box I would have realised that the product had indeed done exactly what it had said on the box, and that I wouldn't need to fish around for pantone adjectives. My hair was, quite accurately, raspberry. Evidently Theresa had had more than one person call her in her experience of being the hotline hair dye screw up adviser, and she cut to the chase. She advised me to get another specified shade, mix all the components with an equal amount of shampoo (any shampoo she answered), and keep it in for 10 minutes or so but checking it every 3 or so minutes.
You may be surprised to learn that I have not taken her advice. Not because I don't believe she is qualified enough in the area of 'holy shit this is not the colour on the model on the box', field of expertise, but right now I am employing the 'rather the raspberry devil you know than the total f**k up you may know' kind of thinking. The good news is that it's a 28 washes out kind of thing, and as I wash my hair every day, I'm living in hope. Or rather, I'm hoping that it washes out of my hair better than it does out of my towels, which still resemble a rag in a butcher's shop. I have also booked the first available appointment with my stylist back in London to try and remedy the situation. I can see him looking at me with genuine pity, but not saying anything. He will try and be upbeat about the whole thing, but I know that deep in his heart, after our nine year relationship, he'll feel as though something has fundamentally changed between the two of us. It reminds me of that fantastic movie Steel Magnolias where Dolly Parton's character says, "Never trust a woman who does her own hair."
Today at the Children's Museum of the East End, a nanny asked me to keep any eye on a brother and sister that were sharing the table with my two at lunch, while she nipped to the loo. I asked the inconceivably beautiful boy (think model/air stewardess mother and millionaire father, or the other way around) what his name was. "Noah," he said in a nonchalant voice, blinking at me through his shaggy white-blonde hair with big blue eyes. This kid was already cool and has a whole bunch of coolness in his future, I could tell. His equally beautiful little sister piped in, "And I am Ella. He is six and I am three. We also have a bigger brother who is eight." Me: "Ah, and where is he today? Noah: Nonchalantly (of course), "Playing golf. This is one of the days he plays golf. He plays golf twice a week." Me: "Of course, as one does."
At the risk of generalising (so much fun and so much easier to support ones weak to begin with argument) a lot of women around here, including the mother of Noah and Ella and their golf-playing sibling I bet, are blond. Which of course serves as a painful reminder of how lovely my professionally salon coiffed blond streaked hair used to be before I screwed it up with my DIY crappy raspberry debacle. But I digress. And they are also very thin and muscular. OK, so I have never been really thin and muscular - which saves a clever anecdotal comparison in this respect. Also they are usually in gym clothes, which may have something to do with a phenomenon, because that's what Vanity Fair are dubbing it, called SoulCycle around here.
Basically a spinning class in a barn in Bridgehampton, with a sort of hotbox yoga temperature going on. But wait, there's more! The instructor shouts out motivational stuff to you while you are sweating like a madman. Things like: 'Be the same person you are on the outside as you are on the inside!' and 'Buy buy buy, sell, sell, buy!' (OK this last one not really). Apparently everyone gets into this heady psychobabble trance while losing half their body fat and getting buns of steel, and it's the most popular and sought after thing on the planet that is New York right now. And made even more so because as with most really really clever marketing ploys, they make it really really hard to get a place in the class, and really really pricey. Which, let's face it, rich people love. Really expensive and really exclusive. Genius.
Our house is on a busy road, which used to really bother me, but now, amazingly, I find the noise rather comforting, especially late at night. I'll hear a lone car whizz past and I imagine it's driver sitting there in the dark with the lights flashing across his face. A hamburger (cheese and bacon, naturally) on the seat next to him, a large coke in the drink holder, and something like Hendrix, but with a beat, playing on the radio. He is off on some or other cool mission. Like returning to a warm bed and an equally warm and sleepy unsuspecting girlfriend after months on an oil rig. Or perhaps off somewhere to reclaim a piece of land won in a half-forgotten poker game by a long lost grandfather. Yup, you can see I'm really mainlining Americana.
But I do find it comforting. It reminds me of a few years back being in Japan with my husband on the 30 somethingth floor of a hotel and waking up in the middle of the night in the midst of an earthquake. Our hotel was swaying, and the building opposite was swaying, and we were filled with the unquestionable certainty that we were going to die. And then, for some strange reason, I looked down, and I saw cars on the street below. And their lights were on, and they were driving along, and I thought, 'OK, so there are cars, and people driving those cars, so it's OK, we are going to be OK.' Now I realise this 2 plus 2 equals 9 manner of thinking can land you in all sorts of trouble. But you know, in this instance, it was kind of essential if the choice of expiration was between only the potential of being swallowed by a crack in the floor, and the certainty of self induced neurotic heart failure. At least that's my thinking.
There's been all this talk about this crazy woman dubbed Tiger Mom. She wrote this book and contentious article about how Chinese mothers kick ass with their children which is why they do so much better at school, the violin, chess, etc. Her tone is superior, defensive, and well, crazy, so a lot of people disregard her off the bat. I tried to withhold knee jerk judgement and read the article, and there are bits and pieces that weren't all that bad, in and amongst the borderline abusive crazy that is. I think what stuck with me is that you have to kick a bit of ass with your kids sometimes, to you know, get them to do stuff and develop into human beings with some motivation and aspirations that extend beyond a desire to watch Dora the Explorer all day. And there is something to be said for instilling a work ethic. Even Hemingway, a functional or dysfunctional alcoholic, depending on how your view his work, never drank while he was writing and allocated morning till, probably cocktail hour, where he sat down and wrote come hail or high water.
Another article, by a much less crazy person, supports the well documented and tested argument that children should not be told how smart they are, but rather that tasks are achievable through hard work. In several experimental scenarios, the sample group who are told they are 'smart' lose confidence with increasingly difficult puzzles and don't even want to attempt them because they don't want to risk losing their status as being smart. Whereas the other group tackled the tough tasks with a lot of success. The article also had a massive impact on me (because I am guilty of it) because it discusses how people effectively rob young children of their yearned-for autonomy.
My son, at just over two, is incredibly independent. He will shout and scream if you try and do something for him, "I do it, I do it, I do it!!!" From buckling himself into his stroller, to walking down the stairs, to brushing his teeth, to eating, to well, everything except dressing himself (for now). My daughter at this age was the same. Now some people muscle right over their kids and do stuff for them anyway, because, well, it saves time and mess, and its done 'right'. And I wonder at what point children have their instinctive independent spirit broken and think to themselves, 'You know, what the hell, it's not worth the fight. Let them feed me/brush my teeth/ put my shoes on.' Fast forward 30 or so years, and people are scratching their heads wondering why their son won't leave home and still asks his parents for petrol money.
I too muscled over my kids a lot of the time until I read the article, and it had such an impact on me that I not only stopped doing it, I have since increasingly encouraged them to do things for themselves. And here's the really cool science bit of it, they are not only up to the challenge but often do stuff that totally surprises me. The other day, without me ever having asked him to, my two year old son got home, took off his shoes, and took them to the hall closet and put them away with all the other shoes. He has done it every day since. My daughter now sings to her brother at night ( they share a room while we are on holiday), which means he no longer gets out of bed like a Jack in the box. Thanks to her my husband and I have our evenings back - praise the lord!!!
It's like kids have this instinctive need to do things on their own so they can learn and grow, and if you encourage it, they go on to do even cooler things all of their own accord. What a great discovery.
And for those of you thinking I am bragging about my superior insights into children, let me share the following with you: My husband has been travelling back and forth to London over the summer, which means I do the heavy lifting with the kids in his absence. I have a heaven-sent lady who pronounces four as 'faw' and sure as 'shoewa' (I love the Long Island accent) come and help me for a few hours in the afternoons during the week, but the rest I am doing solo. And you know that's fine because let's face it, the majority of the world's population survive looking after their kids and doing housework and it doesn't scar them, well, not too much.
Anyway, so I am at the beach, it's a Sunday, my husband has flown off to London and I'm taking the kids for some late afternoon fun before we start the evening routine of dinner, bath, stories and bed time. So one of them, my daughter, is on this really precarious (surprisingly so for Über cautious litigious USA that is), climbing frame living out some kind of circus girl/ferret fantasy, and my son is slowly disappearing up a grassy knoll that the local dogs favour for their toilet, while simultaneously, I hasten to add, attempting to take off his nappy.The last clean one I have with me.
Me: "Please don't climb any higher, I have a bad back and I cannot come up there after you. Don't go any further! Dammit, do not walk over there, there is doggy poo-poo. For Christ sakes, do not remove your nappy. No!!! Please get off that bloody thing, you are going to hurt yourself. No, we are leaving now. Come back here, come back here, do not go any further. No! Dont' take off your nappy. For god sakes, will you please stop climbing that bloody thing!"
I am not exaggerating. A relaxed, tanned father stood by with his mouth open in what was obviously shock. I'd like to say awe, but even I am not that delusional. I felt like saying, 'Really I'm not usually like this, it's just well, it's been a long day, and my husband travels a lot, and well, it's really tough keeping an eye on two in a place like this.' But I thought, no, one of these days he will be minus his (very attractive and suggestively dressed, in a cut off jean shorts and small T-shirt-kind of way) nanny, and he will know exactly what I am going through. Or maybe he won't and I really am just neurotic, impatient and profane.