Tag Archives: conversations

Overheard – and Understood: “Syria” at the Hair Salon


I always enjoy going to get my hair cut – but likely not for the reasons you may think.

Although I adore my fabulous hairstylist and champion colorist, Katie (who is guiding me through the just-started process of letting my for-years-dyed-brown hair go “natural” – a story for another blog post – although if you see me on the street and notice my blindingly obvious rapidly-growing-in white/gray roots, do feel free NOT to comment) –

Wait, where was I?

Ah, yes, I was talking about one of the reasons I like going to the hair salon.

Because of the excellent eavesdropping opportunities!!

NOTE to the wise: I have very good hearing – and if you are sitting next to me at a restaurant, on a plane or at the hair salon – I will be able to listen to your conversation. Apologies in advance.

There are often some wonderful tidbits of life to be over-heard.  That perhaps will make their way into this blog in a slightly-disguised fashion – or into a piece of fiction that I write (this fall I am taking a graduate school class on “Techniques of Fiction”).

Yesterday at the hair salon a woman came to sit in the next chair who looked familiar. I glanced her way several times and realized that yes, she was the wife of a lawyer with whom I once worked. Or more accurately, for whom I once worked. Because I knew her –  although I’m pretty sure she had no idea who I was – I tried my hardest NOT to over-hear her conversation with her stylist.

I failed.

I learned (not to my surprise) that Lawyer Wife (a) is still happily married, (b) travels to nice places (c) has adult kids doing well and (d) has grandchildren.

Lawyer Wife wasn’t bragging or being snobby about her contented-sounding-life. You probably also know people who, from the outside anyway, seem to have fewer problems than the rest of us.

After Lawyer Wife’s hair was finished, she left the salon. I was not yet done because trying to go from having dyed hair to letting the white/gray grow in is a more arduous process than I had realized. Involving significant use of those crispily-irritating, little silver foil squares to highlight the few non-white/gray strands that are left to make the quickly multiplying white/gray strands less noticeable. If you have questions about this process, let me refer you to Katie.

The woman who followed Lawyer Wife into the chair next to me, let’s call her Attractive Middle-Age-Woman – started to tell a story to her stylist about one of her adult kids, or maybe it was about a niece or nephew. Sadly, I couldn’t quite hear every word of Attractive Middle-Age Woman because as she began to talk, my own hair was being blow dried, which hindered my ability to eavesdrop.

(I did briefly think of asking Katie to put her blow-drying of my hair on pause so I could better follow the interesting conversation of Attractive Middle-Age Woman, but decided not to do so, knowing that Katie, quite the stickler for salon etiquette, would not be amused by my request. And I like to keep Katie amused.)

From what I could hear above the noise of the loud blow-dryer:

The adult child that Attractive Middle-Age Woman was discussing had “issues” – he or she was troubled,  a source of distress to her family.  Another member of the family kept asking questions of Attractive Middle-Age Woman about the troubled adult child which her mother was reluctant to answer. This member of the family was rather persistent, she kept “probing for pain” (as a psychologist I once heard at a lecture describe it.) Finally the mother of the troubled adult child told the other family member to stop asking questions, explaining something like this:

She’s like Syria, get it? A messy situation of long-standing. Lots of conflicts, brief flare-ups of peace, but mostly ups and downs. Too many factions involved trying to figure it out who don’t have effective solutions. And it continues on and on.  Painful. Sometimes I don’t want to be asked or talk about it. It’s hard enough to have to live through the situation without being asked questions that have no good answers.”

At this point, Katie had stopped blow-drying my hair and was applying the finishing touches, whirling me around in my chair so I could admire her lovely results. I had no choice but to pay the bill and leave the salon so did not get to hear the finale of the Attractive Middle-Age Woman’s conversation.

But wow, how I identified with her analogy of her adult child’s situation to a constantly war-torn nation.

There are times when I do feel like talking about the young-ish adult in our family who causes us major concerns, and other times when I get angry if family and friends do not ask questions – and do not offer to help — but there are also many, many times when I don’t want to answer any questions!  Similar to the ongoing conflict in Syria, a trickily difficult situation with no clear solutions.

My Message to Attractive Middle-Age Woman:

———if it seemed like I was eavesdropping, yes, I confess I was. But particularly because what you were talking about resonated with me. I so get your analogy to Syria. And likely others do too. It is hard enough to have to “live through it” without having to answer questions.

That is one of the reasons it is so soothing to escape to the hair salon. To have your head ministered to by hair wizards like Katie. To try to forget all about your Syria while your hair is being washed and your head massaged. To admire the results and have people tell you as you are leaving how good your hair looks.

A brief and welcome respite.

Which is (one of the reasons) why I like going to the hair salon.







Filed under Adult Kids, Communications, Law firm life, Lawyers, Mental Health, Parenting, Talking, Women, Writing, Young Adult Mental Health

Are You Only As Happy as Your…



Last Friday we had dinner with old friends, Larry and Sarah. Old in that we met them before we had children. Also old in that we are now parents of grown-ups.  We have two, they have two; adult “kids” in their late 20’s and early 30’s.

What was remarkable about our evening was that we did not discuss our kids. No talk about their jobs or lack thereof, or their choice of partners/spouses or lack thereof. Or their latest triumphs or set-backs.

There was – being 100% honest here – a brief intermission where we did verbally acknowledge (a) the existence of our adult children and (b) their general welfare.

But we did not dwell on them.

Only a few years ago we might have filled our dinner conversation with the latest news about our kids – so how is it that now we no longer need – or want – to do so?

Instead we had a refreshingly kid-talk-free, empty-nester-type conversation about food, music, books, travel, politics, current events and then back to food again. (My friend, Sarah is a fabulous cook.)

We are still parents, and will perennially be so, but the needs of our kids are no longer top of the mind, crowding out our own. While I speak to, text, email both our kids – sometimes IMHO too often with one of them, sometimes IMHO not often enough with the other  –  I no longer know what they eat for dinner, when they went to bed or what they will be doing tomorrow.

Their details belong to their own lives now. And that is how it should be. Mostly.

Admitting here that sometimes the challenges of one of our adult kids tends to encroach on this philosophy.

And when these mental health challenges are at a high point (or a low point, you get the idea; many ups and downs) these challenges could – IF WE LET THEM – take over our adult lives too. Which could easily cast shadows on the pleasantness of a nice evening out with friends.

Luckily (and truly not everyone gets this) our friends do let us talk about the unpleasant times we go through. And they can offer advice (if we are in the mood to hear it) or just be sympathetic sounding boards (sometimes even better.)

But as empty nesters we are learning – slowly but surely – to set aside our parenting selves and focus on our adult selves as often as we can.

Are you, as a parent –  “only as happy as your unhappiest child?”

I think I once was. Now I try hard not to be.

There was a wise mom in the parenting group I facilitated years ago who railed against this expression.  One time – and this made quite an impression on me – this wise mom pounded her fist on the table we were gathered around to emphasize that our happiness as parents must be de-coupled from that of our kids. Not everyone agreed with her.

Our adult kids retain their power to alarm, upset and worry us. What we do with that worry is a matter of choice and frankly, very hard work. It is a battle to stay afloat on those days when your child appears to be sinking. Battle on!


























Filed under Adult Kids, Baby Boomers, Empty Nest, Family, friendship, Letting Go, Parenting, Relationships, Talking, Women, Young Adult Mental Health

Why Are You Listening to Our Music?



Driving home yesterday after a meeting, I stopped at a local farmers’ road-side stand, a wonderful little place that sets up shop about a mile from my house every summer where I like to pick up fresh corn (my husband can easily, if not stopped, consume six ears of corn in one short sitting) and stock up on local tomatoes for our nightly summer favorite salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, onions and basil.

As I was looking over the fruit and vegetables, a woman standing a few feet away from me was asking questions about the peaches.

I over-heard her (I admit it, I enjoy eavesdropping; I learn a great deal that way.) in conversation with one of the high school students who staff the summer stand.

Were the peaches local? What was the difference in the two varieties? And then I heard the woman explain that she was trying to help her son eat more healthily, that they had just been at a nutrition counseling session.

The peach-shopping woman and I stood together to check-out, I was first in line, she was behind me. At the counter, both of us could hear the music coming from whatever device it was that the high school students had put by the scale they used to weigh the produce. A  recognizable Motown song was playing, one by The Supremes.

The woman (who, it wasn’t relevant until this point so I didn’t mention it, happened to be African-American) turned to the two high school students at the counter and remarked –

What are you doing listening to our music?”

One of the (both White, mentioning it here only because it seems relevant) high school students responded:

Oh, we like that music too.”

It was a quick exchange, no apparent rancor, seemingly just chit-chat but it stuck with me, left me wondering.

When I think of The Supremes, I think first of my husband  – who also happens to be White and who is from Detroit; he grew up there in the 1960’s so if you were to ask him about The Supremes, The Temptations or The Four Tops, he would likely call it “his” hometown music.

Yet the peach-shopping woman at the farmer’s stand had claimed Motown as “ours”, that it belonged to her group of people.

Ours vs Yours?

Can we ever truly bridge that divide?

Yesterday at my DC women’s writers group, we talked, as we always do, about what’s in the news, and we got into a discussion about the recent events of racial tension – Baltimore and Ferguson – and the horrific killings at the Charleston church.  I wanted to know what my women friends thought about my overheard farm stand conversation in the context of better understanding other people’s points of view.

(not sure it is relevant, but the women in my writer’s group, also happen to be White like me, but also happen, to be mostly former journalists, very socially aware, smart, kind and thoughtful people).

Dare I discuss this in my Blog, I asked them, without sounding like a naïve yet well-informed White, suburban woman who treads on the edge of things she doesn’t understand?

Well, yes I dare, because I will be the first to admit what I don’t understand. I was taken aback, honestly, when the woman at the farm stand labeled  Motown music as belonging to only a specific group of people, even if it was just a tossed off comment.

Perhaps she meant it only in a factual way.  I know that Motown music originated in the African-American community of Detroit, with Berry Gordy and the record label he founded in 1959. It was music that crossed racial lines to achieve national popularity. I remember dancing to many Motown songs at the Bar and Bat Mitzvah parties I attended as a young Jewish girl growing up.

I had always thought, without giving it too much thought, I admit, that Motown music was something that we universally shared – that African-Americans created it but that both African-Americans and Whites (not to mention people of many other races and ethnicities in the U.S. and abroad) could appreciate and love it.

So maybe I am making far too much of  a lightly meant, innocently overheard, remark. But it did stop me in my tracks. It forced me to delve more deeply, always a good thing – about how much I don’t get, how wide the gaps are, how many more conversations need to be had, how much more listening we need to do to bridge the barriers to racial understanding.

Surely though, we can all enjoy the same music? Perhaps not in the same way. Much to ponder here beyond the freshness of summer fruit and vegetables.






Filed under Communications, Female Friends, friendship, Women, Writing