As I got ready to take the girls out to the school bus this morning, Kallan stopped me as I headed into the bathroom. She needed help (again) with something she is perfectly capable of doing for herself. This time it was packing her backpack for school. She grew instantly annoyed as she watched me apply toothpaste to my toothbrush and not immediately do her bidding.
“What are you even doing?” she demanded testily.
Through a mouthful of toothpaste, I replied, “Listen, if I’m going to walk you out to the bus stop, you don’t want me out there all sleep-faced and stinky waiting for the school-bus, do you?”
To which she responded with a nasty sneer and a sarcasm that seems somewhat advanced for 8, “If you are so worried about making a good impression with the neighbors, seems like you would have done something about your old lady hair by now.”
So dyeing my hair to a single uniform color is on the list of things to do today.
Because I am all about the good first impression.
I remember a long time ago, the night before I was to start a job as a Psychology 101 Instructor (my very first time in front of a class), I was worried about making a good impression. I had all of my notes organized, my lecture prepared, my outfit picked out. And then, at some point in the evening, I walked into a window. The frame actually, on one of those crankable windows that open outwards and flush against the house if you open them all the way. But this one was not open all the way, but instead just far enough to catch me as I came around the corner unaware. Opening up a long deep gash along the top of my head.
Head wounds bleed a lot.
It clearly needed medical attention, and probably about 10 stitches. It was pretty bad.
But all I could envision was showing up in front of my very first class with a partly shaved head, fat black Frankenstein stitches running along my skull, and a huge bandage wrapped under my chin and over my head. No fucking way. So I didn’t go to the doctor.
I showed up to teach my class the next day with a serious headache, a very strange hairstyle that I devised to cover up the large bloody matted section on the top of my head, and what my students must have thought was a strange nervous tic — I kept having to reach up to reassure myself that the wound hadn’t reopened. What hadn’t occurred to me was that most of my students (college freshmen) would be significantly taller than I was. As students came up to talk to me after class about registration issues, book purchases, and the class syllabus, I could see their faces change as they became aware that their brand new teacher was matted and bloody and potentially seriously mentally ill.
But no one said a word.
I was actually a very popular instructor. I think the prevailing wisdom was that I had been in a bar fight, which they thought was pretty awesome. I may or may not have been the one to put that idea out there.
If you run your hand along the top of my head (which I am not inviting you to do), you can still feel the scar. Which makes for interesting questions when I get my hair cut. I go with the bar fight thing.
Yes, I am all about making a good first impression.
I remember when Maj was set to start preschool. We didn’t know any of the other kids in her class, so both Maj and I were excited about meeting new people and making new friends. It was a big deal.
Two days before Maj was to start school, I took the girls and our Labrador Persie to the park to play. The girls ran around and played while I walked Persie up and down along the sidewalk that wound through the adjacent hilly grassy area. At some point Kallan joined me and began to toss a tennis ball she had found for the dog. Just small throws, so the leashed dog was able to retrieve the ball each time with just a few steps. Persie was on one of those extendable leashes, so it was no big deal to let her prance off a few steps to get the thrown ball. Kallan was 2 years old, and not a very big thrower.
But then a few things happened all at once. Persie and I began to jog down the hill, the dog trotting happily ahead of me on her leash. Kallan stayed behind us at the top of the hill and (with surprising strength and accuracy) threw the tennis ball past both me and the dog. Which caught Persie’s attention and triggered some hunting/retrieving instinct in her Labrador brain. The dog took off like a shot down the hill and quickly reached the end of her extendable leash.
If I had only let go of the leash. If only I hadn’t been running down the hill and unable to stop my momentum. If only Kallan had thrown the ball up the hill instead of down the hill. It all would have been ok.
But instead I was taken down hard, into the sidewalk, face first.
It was a big deal. I went to the doctor this time. A mild concussion. Which wasn’t so bad.
But hitting the sidewalk at top speed with your face is not a good idea. Because I felt and looked . . . well . . . hideous. I went to bed and tried to avoid mirrors.
When I awoke on the day of Maj’s first day at preschool, almost 36 hours had passed, and I looked amazing. I had a huge fat lip, two purple-black eyes (one swollen shut), and cuts and scrapes all along the side of my face. But it was Maj’s first day of school, and there was no way I was going to make her miss it because of my appearance.
As we arrived at the preschool, the moms (potential friends!) gathered round me, eager to find out what had happened to me. I should have gone with the bar fight. I could have gone with a car accident. But I opted to go with the truth, which, as I heard the words coming from my own fat lips, I realized sounded completely unbelievable.
And so I became the woman who told a ridiculous lie about being taken to the sidewalk by her two year old daughter and a friendly Labrador. The woman who was clearly in an abusive relationship with some sort of monster, and who had been beaten badly. I could see the pity and embarrassment and avoidance in their eyes.
I should have just pulled Maj out of that preschool right that moment and started anew somewhere else with the bar fight story. But no . . . we stuck it out for the entire year . . . the abused mom and her lovely oblivious daughters. Sigh.
Maybe I’m not as good at first impressions as I thought.
Because now I am remembering explaining to a new acquaintance at a friend’s wedding that Mark and I had been “separated for a while.” What I meant to do was introduce a self-congratulatory discussion about how I had been living in Davis, CA to attend law school while Mark stayed behind in San Diego to sell our house. But then I turned to talk to a waiter, my conversational partner turned to talk to someone else, and what I inadvertently accomplished was the announcement that our marriage was on the rocks. That bit of gossip spread through the wedding like wildfire.
And the time I scheduled a dental appointment a few hours before a meeting with a Scholastic Books representative at the girls’ school. A dental appointment at which I had some weird 24-hour allergic reaction to the anesthetic, resulting in complete and total loss of muscle control over one side of my face. Which means that I sat across the table from the Scholastic Books guy that afternoon with one half of my face drooping down into my lap as though I had just suffered a stroke.
I should have stayed home that day. I know that now.
I need some hair dye.