Harriet the Harried Housewife: A Hair-Raising Tale

In installment 5 of N’shei Chabad Newsletter’s nostalgic Harriet the Harried Housewife, we take an adventure into a trip to the hair salon with a mother of a number of daughters; an endurance test at its best, and a definite recipe for a high-stress afternoon.

By Rishe Deitsch
Originally published in the 1980s in the N’shei Chabad Newsletter

Many years ago, when my first daughter grew needful of her first real haircut (as opposed to the homemade variety), I found the whole thing lots of fun. Calling for an appointment, taking her there, seeing her adorable little body draped in that shower curtain with just her head peeking out…she looked so cute!! I gave her a lolly to keep her sitting quietly, and I kept on cooing, “Ooh, I wish I’d brought my camera!”

Now, quite a number of daughters later, ka”h, my children now have to bribe me to take them for haircuts, and I don’t give lollies, either. Maybe years ago, it was fun; now, it’s an endurance test.

First comes the problem of where to go. The lovely and talented shaitel machers of Crown Heights do not really want to spend their time giving haircuts to little girls. So we look to the world of beauty salons. Now the drawback to these establishments is that they are geared to adults. A particular kind of adult. Gentile. Heavily made up. And, with two-inch, wet, purple nails which must be continually waved around in order to get dry.

The entire place is usually mirrored floor to ceiling, so there is no place to hide. Instead of old-fashioned walls (remember sheetrock and plaster?) there are only glass blocks. Add to this the fact that nobody who works there has ever really met anyone with more than three children… and you have a recipe for a high-stress afternoon.

(Why do I seem to collect recipes for high-stress experiences? Sonya knows ten ways to make apple strudel; Harriet knows 15 ways to raise your own blood pressure, right at home without even a doctor. Let’s see, there’s waiting until two hours before Shabbos to start cooking; offering your house for the birthday party of the most popular bachur in 770; allowing your teenage nephew to replace the faucets in your bathroom by following the instructions…but I digress.)

So there I am, trying to get all my daughters shorn and blown. I have already resigned myself to the inevitable: at least two out of the bunch will weep with real tears, all night, no matter what I tell the hairstylist (they don’t appreciate being called barbers). At least one will not go to school for a week or until her hair at least touches her ears, whichever comes first. Hopefully, this time nobody will insist on wearing a hat for two months. Naturally, one-year-old Leah is already tearing around the place like a speeding train, and I am trying to control her through gritted teeth. All the while I am busy showing all the interested observers how truly wonderful it is to have a large family, hence the gritted teeth – it can pass as a happy smile, in a mirror reflection through glass block. 

At the very same moment, each and every one of my daughters wants Mommy  stationed firmly at her side, bodyguard-style, through the shampooing ordeal and the decision-making. Of course, the teenager would like you to pretend you are not at all related, even though her hair is going to stand straight up on top of her head for the next six week unless there is prompt and aggressive maternal intervention.

Now, do the kind people who run the place try to place all your kids near each other, so that staying with them all is at least a physical possibility, if not an emotional one? Why, no, dear, I’m sorry, but Theresa is booked and Heather can take you now and Sandy is washing today, and Vicky is taking her break in five minutes. (She’s going to need more than a five-minute break when she’s through with us but she doesn’t know that yet.)

You can see why, by the time the whole thing is over, I’m happy to fork over the money and run, even if the bill does run to $216, not counting tips. (Why can’t they count what my two-year-old did to the pedicure bowl?)

When the kids were little, life was simpler. You’d point your scissors at your kid and say, “Me Delilah, you Samson,” and snip away. But now, they’re older, and clearly getting their hair cut to everyone’s satisfaction is a very elite concept indeed. [Concept Elite was a popular haircutting spot in the 1980s. -Ed.]

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