Mornings at our house pretty much revolve around hair. Mine has mostly fallen out now, so I don’t get to join in on much on the morning mayhem. Nevertheless, there are still three women who jockey for position in front of the bathroom mirrors, the sink counters filled with an assortment of brushes, combs, gels, sprays, dyes (maroon, blonde, and black for Emily), clasps, barrettes, and various geegaws of unknown origin or purpose.
The Sunday morning hair drying ritual usually starts about 45 minutes before church. One hair dryer starts, and then another, and soon the house sounds like a 747 ready for takeoff. Our overloaded electrical circuits struggle to keep up under these circumstances. One running hair dryer is fine. Two running hair dryers are fine. However, two running hair dryers and a running microwave oven are enough to overload the poor circuits. The whirring stops. The house goes suddenly dark. And so I make routine runs to the basement to flip various switches to ensure that the Whitman family is neatly coiffed and infused with hot coffee. I grumble, or worse, every time I do this. We are late for church every single week, and it drives me crazy that in twenty-three years of marriage and almost nineteen years of parenthood we have not been able to get it together sufficiently to make it to church on time. “How tough can this be?,” I ask every week, fuming as we speed down the freeway, in no mood to worship God.
Tough enough, apparently. Lately we have adopted a compromise. I drive to church alone, and make it in time for the opening worship song. The little remaining furze on top of my head sticks out all over, but I don’t care. Kate and Emily and Rachel follow at some indeterminate later time, looking good. Everybody’s happy. Almost. Because for a few minutes there at church I look around and feel horrible, like something’s missing. Like my family.
Now we are entering upon the Great Prom Season, a time in which vast sums of hard-earned cash are spent on dresses, shoes, hair styles (of course) and makeup. Kate and Emily informed me a couple days ago that someone will be showing up at our house on Great Prom Afternoon to personally do Emily’s makeup. He is, apparently, an award-winning makeup dude. And he is coming to our house to personally apply the makeup on my daughter’s face. Cool. To my knowledge I have never met an award-winning makeup dude, and I quiver with excitement and anticipation.
During the past couple of weeks the three women have been engaged in glorious, marathon shopping sprees, while I sit home and watch baseball with the sound turned off and listen to rock ‘n roll. There are worse fates. They come home with bags full of dresses and shoes and purses, then model the clothes for me, agonizing over whether the black purse or the green purse goes best with a particular gown. “What do you think?,” they ask me.
This is the unanswerable question. You might as well ask Britney Spears to explain the notion of One God in Three Persons.
“Looks good,” I offer cautiously.
“But do you think the black purse or the green purse goes better with the gown?”
“You know,” I say, struggling to find my inner Gucci, “they both look great.”
I am no help. I know it. In twenty-three years I have never adapted to this whole confusing, bewildering world. And it goes far beyond fashion. Just when I start to think that I’m getting the hang of this husband and father business, it changes on me.
On Monday evening Rachel’s boyfriend Matt stops over. He informs us that he has ordered his tux for the prom. No word on whether he will have a matching purse. Matt is a good kid. He is sixteen, a big, easygoing, bright, articulate young man whose world seems to revolve around school, band, and video games. And my daughter.
“So,” I say to him nonchalantly, “any thoughts about what you might like to do for a living?”
As soon as the words are out of my mouth I regret them. I cannot believe that I have asked the question. The kid is sixteen years old. When I was sixteen years old my principle concerns in life were scoring some weed and getting rid of acne. And Matt appears to be farther along the path of social development than I was.
He takes it as a joke. Good. “Oh,” he says, “you know, I was thinking that maybe I’d start out as a small-time drug dealer and work my way up. Or join the Mafia.”
Heh. Smart ass. Not with my daughter, Don Guccione.
Emily is a seasoned veteran of the coded, heavily layered world of high school relationships. She finds a way to navigate the intricate maze of popular and unpopular kids, in groups and out groups, preps and skaters and punks and Goths. She has friends in every camp. She has a boyfriend – one Jordan, whose career aspirations are even more inscrutable than Matt’s – and a posse of girlfriends who finish each others’ sentences. Lately she has been coaching Rachel on the fine arts of fashion, makeup, and musical coolness. She is the funniest person I know; quick witted, sharp-tongued, exasperating and loveable. If she manages to live through her twenties, she will be one hell-raising, unconventional, delightfully self-assured adult. She also graduates from high school in five weeks. In four months she’ll be gone, off to college in another city. Welcome to parenthood. Just when I’m starting to get the hang of it, they leave.
This is what is supposed to happen, I remind myself. It’s good. Leave your father and mother and go off to college and study fashion merchandising and find some heterosexual makeup dude, if he exists, and become one flesh. But it doesn’t feel good. I will look over at church and see an empty chair that is missing a well-coiffed young woman. I will miss the stereophonic sounds of dueling hair dryers. I won’t have to run down to the basement to flip the breaker switch. We may get to church on time. But I will look around and feel like something’s missing, and this time it will not arrive fashionably late.
We are coming down to those days. I pray that I will be alive enough and awake enough to cherish every Braidy Bunch moment.