Vanity led me into new and unchartered territory this week. This time it was my eyebrows’ fault. Before Monday, they were almost invisible after years of plucking (my mother warned me in my teens that they wouldn’t grow back but who takes fashion advice from their mum when they’re 18?).
For a long time, I’d wanted to regain the eyebrows of my youth. It must have become a bit of an obsession, otherwise I probably wouldn’t have told the organiser of a major charity event, a woman I’d just met, that I loved her eyebrows. Maybe she gets lots of compliments as she didn’t seem to mind revealing her secret: she’d had them tattooed on.
It’s a semi-permanent procedure so it’s not forever, which is how I sold it to my bemused husband. And I promised to use all my Christmas money. After a two month wait, I went to get it done this week.
I thought it would take about an hour (maybe twice as long as getting them dyed) so I had loads of time before school pick up. The beauty therapist explained it all, then applied numbing cream to my forehead and wrapped it in cling film. I hoped to be more beautiful after the procedure than I was when I caught sight of myself in the mirror, looking like something someone was about to lob in a lunch box.
Even at that stage, I believed it would be a swift procedure. But then the lady spent a long time measuring my eyebrows and forehead with special rulers and tools before mapping out what she intended to do me. I couldn’t feel my eyebrows and I looked like something someone had retrieved from the back of the fridge when it suddenly dawned on me that I might not be in a fit state to collect my three year old from pre-school. He comes out at 1.15pm.
‘So when do you think we’ll be done?’ I asked casually. They say people can’t hear your heart thumping.
‘You’ll be away by 2.’
Bad words came into my head. I didn’t want to sound worried. With no sensation in my forehead and an architect’s design across my eyebrows, I felt quite committed to the procedure. But the last thing I wanted to do was make her hurry. In fact, I’ve never felt less like hurrying someone than I did whilst conducting a conversation with a person about to do something semi permanent to my forehead. Mono brows floated through my mind’s eye.
‘Oh right, that’s funny because I need to get my son from school at 1.15. Please don’t feel under pressure- work at your own pace- but it would be great if I could be there.’
It should have been relaxing. I was on a lush, squishy bed, tucked under a blanket, with soothing pipe music playing but there were fireworks going off in my head. I prayed fervently. ‘Please can I be out in time for B and please can I not have an eyebrow coming out of my nose when I leave.’
And then the pipe music started playing a hymn. And I loved God so much. Here I was, probably doing something he felt unnecessary (maybe praying about my vanity would have been time better spent), yet he seemed to be telling me he was still going to help me in the midst of my latest mess.
At the end of the procedure, I sat up to look at myself in the giant mirror opposite. There it was. A gigantic monobrow. Like a massive draught excluder on my head. Bad words came into my mind again.
‘Let’s get the cling film off,’ said the lady.
She wiped off the dye and the cream to reveal two eyebrows like the ones I used to have. I nearly wept. This gifted lady appears to work well under pressure.
A few minutes later, I was at the school gates with the other mums. Lovely, lovely. The only problem was that, in my rush to get there, I’d unwittingly stolen the beauty therapist’s phone and I was about to be late for the dentist but that’s another story…
So why share this? I ve previously discussed my vanity here and I could again but this episode actually got me thinking about my voice. Why couldn’t I just have said ‘I need to collect my son in an hour so maybe we’ll have to do this another time’? She was a lovely lady. I’m sure she would have understood. But I didn’t want to mess her around. I didn’t want to upset the apple cart in case she did actually mind.
Being brought up in politically-correct Islington, north London, taught at my all-girls’ school how to be polite and not upset people, I seem, at some point, to have been flipped onto mute. I was part of the generation that had to sing ‘Baa baa green sheep’ so we didn’t offend anyone. And something, somewhere along the way, tapped into my naturally diffident character.
I’m the sort of person whose school reports always used to read ‘needs to speak up in class.’ I’m the sort of mother who will watch, out of the corner of my eye, as one of my children go to break the church’s drum kit and not intervene until they have the drum sticks raised above their head because I don’t want to interrupt the person I’m chatting to. I’m the sort of person who sometimes just mumbles something indecipherable when someone voices an opinion with which I wholeheartedly disagree. I’m the sort of person who gets stressed at a dinner party if the table pauses to hear what I have to say.
This theme of finding one’s voice has been on my mind this week as I’ve watched one of our children discover theirs. I’ve wanted to curb it, silence it, send it to its room. It’s cracked though the peace of our home, announcing the next stage of parenting. I’ve felt unravelled by this voice. How dare this happen? It never happened when I was growing up…
But as I write this, I wonder if it’s actually something I shouldn’t wish away. It needs taming at home, definitely, and it actually needs encouraging outside the home (they are immaculately behaved elsewhere). But at least it means that this little person can express themselves. They aren’t cowed by the PC society we’ve created, where we are sometimes insecure about what we are ‘allowed’ to say. There’s a passion and an energy there that could go on to make this child a mover and a shaker. To do important, brave things. So long as we don’t sit on it in a bid to reduce the noise level. So long as we don’t communicate that it’s more important to be polite more than have a view.
I need to remind myself, mid-teenage outburst, that I want my children to be able to say ‘That’s wrong’ when they encounter injustice. I want them to be able to shout ‘No’ if someone touches them in an unwelcome way. I want them to communicate their beliefs if they choose to.
A friend said to me years ago (something I’d forgotten until I started writing this) that she thought it was important to let our children change our minds. I knew very little about parenting then (not much has changed!) but this sounded wrong to me. Aren’t we meant to stick to our guns? Be consistent?
But my friend argued we ought to allow our children (maybe not all the time) to debate with us, to feel heard, to know that we are listening to them, helping them to develop their own voice. I now agree with my friend. Especially since not every parental edict that springs forth from my mouth is flawless. Sometimes, the children make good points about why I might like to rethink my decisions.
All of us, adults and children, need to be able to find our voice. Some voices will be loud, others quieter, but we all deserve to be heard and we all need to find the courage to say what we think, hopefully kindly and respectfully.
There is such a trend now, especially when it comes to faith, to want to silence opinion, certainly the Christian faith in recent years. And yet I think we create a much richer society if we can share our thoughts on the meaning of life and related ideas, rather than simply sticking to discussions about the latest box set we ve been watching or our next holiday plans, as I usually do.
Jesus didn’t deal in niceties. The ‘gentle Jesus, meek and mild’ of my childhood prayers was actually direct and radical. He spoke out against the prevailing views of his generation, so much so it got him killed. He wasn’t PC and he didn’t try to fit in, yet his message was always motivated by love, so it must be possible to do both things.
This week (the day before the eyebrows), a friend was telling me how hard she sometimes finds compound life. She told me her coping techniques and I listened with interest but I felt too timid to share my faith and the ways I find strength out here in the desert. She may not have been interested in my ideas but I didn’t give her the chance to decide what she made of them. I didn’t contribute fully to the conversation, I didn’t really let her hear my voice.
The sad thing is it’s during those chats, when we speak and when we listen, when we’re real with one another, that we build relationships and deepen friendships. It’s in those chats that a person of one faith learns about another person’s faith and the distance between them has the chance to narrow. It’s in those chats that we grow closer to one another.
I need to give it a go, even if I haven’t got the courage to shout my thoughts from the rooftops…