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Locks of Love donation from the heart

Mar. 07, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

Four years, 48 months, 1,460 days and then some, is a lengthy (pun-intended) commitment to one project.

My daughter, Madelyn, recently saw one of her projects come to fruition: 13 inches of hair donated to "Locks of Love." She began the project during the winter of 2009. It all came to an end on Feb. 22, 2013, with just four snips of the scissors.

Locks of Love, according to their website, "is a public non-profit organization that provides hairpieces to financially disadvantaged children in the United States and Canada under the age of 21 suffering from a long-term medical hair loss from any diagnosis. However, most of the children helped by Locks of Love have lost their hair due to a medical condition called alopecia areata, which has no known cause or cure. The prostheses we provide help to restore their self-esteem and their confidence, enabling them to face the world and their peers."

For the record, let me state that Maddie decided from the beginning of this project that her hair had to be long enough so that she would not be left with extremely short hair. This fact made my husband, John, and me chuckle. We had an on-going joke, "Maddie wants to help others, but preserve her pride as well."

Truthfully, I found her thought borderline selfish. After all, Madelyn had her health. Many of these Locks of Love kids did not. Why should she put her self-esteem on level with ill kids? Three years later, I began teaching middle school aged students, and I humbly "got it."

We all think we remember our teen years well. Certainly, there are specific moments I do recall. However, the older I get, the fuzzier my memories become. Teaching eighth-graders, same age as Maddie, has really grounded me this year in the total uncertainty and awkwardness possessed by teens -- especially those younger teens. Their bodies are growing and shifting almost daily. The media, so influential and pervasive, tells them what is "pretty, hip, and trending." Meanwhile, growth spurts, hormones, acne, fatigue (let's face it, all that growing is taxing on their bodies) directly conflicts with the boundless energy teens think they possess, as well as the demands of school, extra-curricular and social commitments that often compound, compress and compact into a certain intensity as to "what" they should "be," without the wisdom or life-experience to "know" and "understand" who they truly are.

Therefore, when I read the fact that Locks of Love wants to help restore "self-esteem and confidence, enabling (kids) to face the world and peers," coupled with my new understanding of teens, I decided I should quit teasing Madelyn about wishing to possess a certain length of hair. Her desire to help another hurting child was real. However, she was, in fact, a self-conscious teen (child) too, who also wanted to face her world and peers with a preserved self-esteem and confidence. Maddie would have to decide upon the "right" time to cut her hair.

As it turned out, the decision came quite suddenly and out of the blue, beginning around this Christmas 2012. One day, Maddie began showing me pictures of of celebrities with shorter hairstyles that she liked. This time, I kept my joking to myself while I looked and listened, replying, "whenever you're ready." In the meantime, my mother purchased a short-hairstyle magazine for Maddie. Again, she pointed out various styles that were popular with celebrities while I kept criticism to myself -- which was challenging, as I am not fond of young girls comparing themselves to pop-culture figures.

Then, it happened.

Toward the end of January, I was at the salon getting a hair trim, when Maddie began talking to my stylist, Rita Stutler. I should add that Rita and her husband Kent have cut my hair for the past 24 years; and, have cut Maddie's hair since she was a toddler. Going to Runway Salon, where Rita and Kent work, is like visiting family. If Maddie is with me at the salon, Rita and Kent invite her back to their side-by-side stations, and include her in our conversations. Therefore, on this date in January, Maddie began showing Rita pictures of hairstyles she would like, once she cut her hair for Locks of Love. Next thing I know, we are scheduling her appointment.

Feb. 22 arrives. Rita, Kent, and the entire staff of Runway, welcomed Maddie excitedly into the salon. Madelyn's face and neck became red and splotchy, as she talked to all about the impending haircut. Still, I'm scheduled first, forcing Maddie to wait an hour while she ruminated on her decision. My mom joined us as Maddie sat in Rita's styling chair. Long, flaxen hair became sectioned into four large clips. Hair is measured. Locks of Love needs a minimum of 10 inches. Maddie had a full 13 she could donate, and still have shoulder length hair. The time had arrived.

Maddie, still as red as the front of a Campbell soup label, hid her eyes with her hands. Rita cut one section and another stylist held it up for my mom and me to see. The next three sections were cut, and Maddie opened her eyes to take in her shoulder-length hair with a broad smile. Meanwhile, tears sting my eyes -- I am a sappy mom. Then, Rita, without charging us anything, treated Madelyn to her first "grown-up" wash, cut and styling session.

Holding her long ponytail for the last time as I prepared it for mailing, I thought of all the time that had passed since Maddie committed to this as an elementary student. Yet, for the kid who receives her hair, how much time will they have? Are they guaranteed four years of healthy life? Maybe, maybe not.

Of course, there are no guarantees in any of our lives. Still, I am proud and happy to know that somewhere, in the United States or Canada, there will soon be a kid touting four years' worth of the flaxen, wavy hair, that once grew on my daughter's head.

May we all find our own ways to help another human being.

Stephanie Hill is a freelance writer and an eighth-grade reading and writing teacher at South Point Middle School. She is a lifelong resident of Lawrence County. She can be reached at hill992@zoominternet.net.