Earning Gray


A friend and fellow writer shared with me a beautiful piece she wrote about gray hair. She welcomed her first gray hair as a sign of possible wisdom when she was a sophomore in college. Ten years later, she started dying her hair because she didn’t want to be wise, she wanted to be sexy. Now she is dying a full head of gray hair every four weeks. She is exploring the possible, painful process of letting her hair go gray. Her writing about her relationship with her hair was a brilliant mix of personal and political with an honest combination of anger and sadness.

I made her cry.

I pushed her, in her writing, to keep exploring what was going on under the surface. To explore her anger, to explore her sadness. I could tell there was so much more than what she had written. She burst into tears.

She told about her aunt, a powerful CEO in Europe with a regal head of grey hair. My friend used to be on the same path as her aunt. After getting her MBA at Harvard, she went on to run her own company. When she got pregnant with her son, she had a nanny lined up. But she couldn’t do it. She quit her job and stayed at home with her son, and then her daughter. Her son is now twelve, her daughter nine. They are fascinating, gorgeous kids. She has no regrets about walking away from professional power to raise them. But she admitted, “I look at my aunt and know that she deserves her wise, gray locks. I realize I don’t think I have accomplished enough in life to have gray hair. I don’t feel like I have earned it. That is why I am scared of going gray.”

Next week, my father is receiving a legacy award from Cretin-Derham Hall, a co-ed Catholic high school in St. Paul. It is a well deserved award. He went to Cretin, the all boys school. He sat on the board while the two schools, Cretin and Derham, merged. He sent all five of his children to the merged school, and now is the Varsity Softball Coach and a major donor. My mom will not be receiving a legacy award. She stopped working outside the home to raise me and my four siblings. I remember my dad coming home from those board meetings when I was a little girl. While he was creating that legacy, my mom was cleaning up after a dinner that she made us. My graying friend said, “It’s boring, you know. It is boring to be there for every meal. To be there every night to help with homework. It’s mind-numbing.” There are no awards. It sometimes feels like it doesn’t count.

A friend recently went back to work after having her first child and taking her maternity leave. Almost in tears on her first day back she said, “He is too little. He is just too little to leave with someone. It is too soon.”

Another friend decided to stay home with her first born. She feels isolated and under-stimulated. It has put a strain on her marriage. They don’t think they will have another child.

I have started to find gray hairs on my own head. Dan and I have started to talk about trying to have children. Some days, it is all simply petrifying.

  • M

    This story made me unspeakably sad. The days are slow, but the years go by quickly. One day you look closely in the mirror and see the gray hairs and lament the loss of youth and the time spent in repetitive actions for the benefit of your family and their well-being. Day in and day out. There is no work/life balance, but there are smiles and laughter and healthy children and that is what matters most…to me.

    • Ellie Roscher

      Thank you for this beautiful, thoughtful comment.