An Ordinary Day


After screwing up her courage, asking everyone we both knew for “haircutter” recommendations, and looking through hundreds of photographs for something she liked, Gillian finally said ok to the suggestion of a friend who has three daughters. A year and half and 18 1/2″ of hair were at stake. Part of her concern was that a couple of years ago, she decided to donate her hair to Locks of Love and one of the boys in her class took to calling her “coconut head”. Her hair was chin length and none of us could really understand the reference, but it stuck. When she told her friends she was thinking of getting it cut again they all looked alarmed and asked her, “how short”?

I picked her up at school this afternoon armed with a photograph and my camera (as well as my wallet). She nervously explained to me exactly the words she wanted to use to tell Sheila what she like about the photo and what she might like to be different… slightly.


As she watched the locks of hair fall around her, Gillian’s expressions varied from worried, to surprised, to excited and happy. Other women from the salon stopped by to marvel at how much hair she had; how much was on the ground and how much she still had. I’m not sure this helped. The emphasis on the quantity surrounding the chair did nothing to ease her concerns.

All the while, Sheila chatted with me about the neighborhood where we had both spent our childhoods. As it turned out, she had been in my brother’s class, and had a sister in mine. She probably also had siblings in both of my sister’s classes too. She, like many from that old Irish-Catholic neighborhood, comes from a family of 12 kids. We compared notes on her part of the neighborhood and mine, with, of course, the anecdotes about characters we both knew. She’s a few years younger than me, which, at that time, and with that many kids around, meant that I didn’t actually know her. I’m sure I didn’t even know the names of all the siblings of some of my best friends!

That neighborhood has changed. Now, a whole city block might contain as many children as did one household when I was young. The school draws kids from a much broader area. I suppose it would have to. At that time, we had 33 students per class with 3 classes per grade. Almost all of them walked to school. Demographically, I don’t think that’s even possible anymore.

I digress… but, not really, since all of this was a part of the conversation during “the haircut”.

This is the first time in 19 years I’ve photographed a child before and after a haircut. It never occurred to me before. Perhaps its one of those ordinary things that we don’t think to recognize. I photographed the “during” part too, but I missed on the drama afterwards. Initially, Gillian was happy. Tentatively happy. After the volleyball game, that changed. It was horrible. She hated it. Sheila had completely botched it, and there was no redemption. She hadn’t listened at all and Gillian knew from the very beginning that that was what was going to happen. By tonight at bed time, she was once again content. Phew! Major crisis averted. Next time, I’ll have to have a video camera.

On that note, I watched a YouTube video called The Gift of an Ordinary Day again this morning. Someone had sent it to me a while back when I first started my blog and I came across it while cleaning out my email. Its one of those things that makes you cry. So I cried again. Its like the book I used to read to my kids called “Love you Forever”. I’m not sure I ever got through it without tears. Last spring, around the time of graduation, I was driving with Charlotte and a couple of her good friends in the car. I started crying just talking about the book! She gave me a hardback copy this summer before she left for college.

Something about the video got me thinking… uh oh…

I realized that the title an “ordinary” day, is what was calling my attention. The woman speaking does a beautiful job of celebrating the beauty of her role as the mother of two boys. But what I couldn’t help but think was how extraordinary her ordinary days were. And maybe thats what she’s getting at. After spending parts of a couple days in Children’s Hospital lately, with families who would give most anything to have “an ordinary day”, I found myself wondering about what constitutes “ordinary”. I started thinking about families without enough money to pay their bills, and about children without enough to eat or water to drink. It seems to me that in order to feel the extraordinariness of those ordinary days, one almost has to have something to contrast them with.

When I was a little girl and my mom told me to eat my vegetables because the starving children in Afghanistan would be happy to have them, I couldn’t possibly understand why those children would want my nasty spinach. Its not a 35 year old harried mom of a baby and a toddler who’s been up all night with an ear infection who can see the beauty of the ordinary day she staggers into in the morning. I certainly couldn’t. It wasn’t until I was out of “survival mode” that I could appreciate its beauty or the hilarity of some of its moments. It seems that in order to appreciate it, we have to be able to compare it with something else. Knowing that I am a year and a half away from having a second child no longer a part of my daily life, I appreciate each day with my Junior in high school a lot more this time. “Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got ’til its gone…” (Joni Mitchell)

In many ways, this blog is my own “Gift of an Ordinary Day”, but I don’t recommend taking my path. The one in the video is a whole lot tidier.

There’s lots more to say on this topic. In Seattle, when the sun is shining, its an excuse for a holiday. Living in a place where you can count on it being sunny, one doesn’t appreciate those days in the same way.


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