My daughter was nearly bald until she was two.
She’s never had more than an inch and a half cut off of her hair before. It has taken us a long time to get to this point (if you’ll allow me this gratuitous number of long-hair photos):
Her hair goes almost to her waist when it’s down, and for a while now she has loved having long hair. My own little Rapunzel (without me as the witch, she assures me). She said repeatedly that she wanted to grow it as long as possible, and I said she could obviously because it’s her hair and she can do as she likes. The only caveat was that brushing and washing it shouldn’t be a huge dramatic battle. We’ve mostly kept to that. Ahem.
Some friends of ours, Ruth, Everett, Avery, Sean, and Seamus are shaving their heads or donating their long hair on March 15th to raise money for children’s cancer research. They are doing it in memory of their friend Rebecca who died last June due to anaplastic astrocytoma (a type of brain cancer) While they are not on the same team as far as St. Baldrick’s is concerned, these kids have been playing together since before they knew what playing was. At this event they will join together to raise money to stop the thing that killed their friend. I am honored to be in the presence of such bravery and solidarity in our children.
A few months ago Elizabeth asked if she could take all the money in her piggy bank and give it to doctors so they could figure out how to help people better. I think it was about twenty three dollars and eighty-five cents. When it was first mentioned that she could cut off her hair to raise money she replied immediately, emphatic and wide-eyed. “NO!” I figured she loved her long hair so I dropped it. Then she said she wanted to get her hair cut short. I explained that some of her friends would be doing a meaningful thing. After a lot of conversation she finally whispered with her head down, “I’m afraid of St. Baldrick’s.”
I pulled her into my lap and thanked her for sharing a hard thing with me (she read and approved this post before publishing, lest you think I’m breaking a confidence). As we continued to talk it through, I made sure she knew that whatever she decided would be ok with me, but that I didn’t want fear to be in charge of her and push her to make decisions. I continued to offer her information about what would happen at the event; who would be there, what they would do, who might cut her hair, etc. I admitted that to be honest, St. Baldrick’s scares me a bit too. These days large groups of people I don’t know (and sometimes even large groups of people I do know) make me nervous. But we can do hard things.
There are lots of ways to remember Rebecca without cutting one’s hair. When we are at a party with other families and there are two little girls playing picnic by our feet instead of three. When we get together for playdates that used to be evenly matched and instead it’s one big sister and two little brothers. After more than half a year it feels more accustomed but no more right. Sometimes I catch my friend’s eye in a group conversation and I think, I see you thinking about your girl, and I am too. Cutting hair and donating money are two of many possible ways to show solidarity; ways to say, “We went to a funeral and then we went home….but we are still nearby. We still care about you.”
Elizabeth has decided that she wants to donate her hair to help the doctors find “betr medicin”, as she typed it in her thank you emails. Because while people are working so hard and we have come so far, the best medicine we have right now is not nearly good enough.