A Shade Of Gray

I didn't run to color my hair at the first sign of gray. I started the gradual blonde-ing early, right after my first baby was born. Just a dusting of highlights woven into my thick, long dark hair at first. Then over time, I added more highlights, and more. My second child, a girl, was born with no hair but when it finally arrived, she had a head of soft blonde curls. I started taking her to the hair stylist with me and would ask for the same. "Give me her look!" The stylist would cock his eye and give it his best, but my thick, wavy, very brunette hair with blonde threads now bleached throughout didn't quite measure up. By now, I was living in Los Angeles where blonde was invented, perfected and patented. Friends referred to me as a blonde. The first few times, I looked around for the blonde, and then realized it was I. I had become A BLONDE.

So I kept at it. Finally, around the time I turned forty, I went all the way -- the full bleach. I looked like Madonna and that was not the look I was aiming for. That bleached-the-hell-out-of-her-hair look lasted a year or two and the photos haunt me. A new stylist came to my rescue, took me back to something reminiscent of my original brown and full of "sun-kissed" highlights. That look kept me going for another decade as I moved from city to city and from stylist to stylist. Along the way, I cut my hair shorter and shorter, until I was back to the pixie cut I had sported in college. ut the highlights remained. I was vigilant too about ensuring that I never had those dark roots. Maybe I was concerned that they wouldn't be so dark.

Then last fall, I left the house and drove to my current stylist. I put on the smock, settled into the chair and told Geri to get rid of those blonde highlights. I told her I wanted to see what life was like as a brunette again. In fact, I wanted to see what color my hair actually was. I hadn't seen it since I was 30, twenty-three years had passed by and I had barely seen what was growing out of my head. Would I be gray?

My mother had done exactly this at about the same age. She stopped coloring her hair and showed up at a family reunion -- completely, beautifully gray. That was a bold move! My father has only now at 78 gone gray. What would I be -- would I be a brunette again, or would I be that soft-silver color my mother found on her head?

Well, turns out that before you can return to original, you need to dye the whole head something resembling the original and let it grow out. The suspense continued for a couple more months and then slowly but surely, my true colors came out. Yes, there was gray. Just a sprinkling on my temple and crown. The real surprise was to look in the mirror and see me -- the real me!

Having now lived with my true hair color for the past year, I have discovered a few things:

So many, many, many women color their hair. The world is full of middle-aged honey blondes. Who knew.

To not be one of them is an alien move. It is as if I am from a wholly different ethnic tribe, and I am treated with suspicion.

I look younger.

I look older.

No one recognizes me anymore and walk right past me, unless they knew me in my teens and twenties, in which case I can be recognized from a mile away. I, of course, have taken this to mean that I look like I am 25.

What I have figured out is that a little bit of gray or a lot of gray doesn't really age a person. There are days when I look forty and days when I look sixty. The difference is not the color of my hair or whether I followed some rigorous skin routine; it has everything to do with whether I got a good night's sleep, a bit of exercise and laughed at some point during the day. There are 50 shades of gray to being fifty. I am glad to have found mine.