I was probably 16-years-old or so when my grandfather (my nana) underwent bypass surgery after suffering chest pain. A stubborn man by nature, nana was almost impossible to handle after his surgery. He refused to eat; in fact, my grandmother rescued many a bread roll, pieces of meat, rice, all sorts of things really from the recliner chair he used to sit in during meal times. Nana was stuffing food under the pillows in an attempt to get out of eating it, but nothing slipped my grandmother nanoo’s watchful eye.
My sister related the tales to me since I wasn’t in town then, and told me how she couldn’t help but laugh as nanoo unfoiled another one of nana’s tricks. It was a very stressful time for nanoo since nana was very unwell and was being particularly unobliging. Yet, listening to everything that went on, we couldn’t help but giggle at the comedy.
One day when nana was being exceptionally fussy, my very frustrated and desperate nanoo hissed at him,
“Eat it or I will hit you!”
Totally unfazed, my nana immediately sneered with his arms folded across his chest in the ultimate act of defiance,
“I’d like to see you try!”
Oh it was just too much even for my mother who was still in splits as she narrated the story to me over the phone several hours later.
When nanoo was particularly agitated in those days, it was painfully easy to see the signs — aside of course from her obvious threats to beat her husband up. She wore them on her head – her hair to be more accurate. Nanoo’s hair had this innate ability to shrivel up and stand right at the base of her forehead, straight from one ear to the other, when she was distressed, annoyed or had a lot on her mind. It was really quite comical and you could almost hear the rebellious hair dislodge itself from her bun, ‘ping, ping, ping, ping’ each reaching for the sky as if attracted upwards and forwards through some magical magnetic force. My sister would describe with great panache the state of nanoo’s hair every day. Thankfully though, as nana got better, the hair did too.
Over the years, we have spent many hours teasing our mother about her own ‘troll hair’ as she is bustling around the house, mop in one hand and duster in the other. I have smoothed it down myself on multiple occasions as mama is running out of the grocery store to make it back in time to pick my brother up from school/tuition. It’s a particular mess right before she is expecting guests at home and no amount of combing it back or pinning it up helps. It really was hilarious watching mama and nanoo run around with troll hair.
Not so much though when it happened to me.
I thought I had somehow managed to escape the troll hair gene but it appeared shortly — and appallingly — after I got married. When the responsibility of managing a home and maintaining it well fell on my shoulders, my hair began to show signs that I truly was my mother’s daughter and, of course, my grandmother’s granddaughter. The first time I was preparing to have guests over at my marital home, I wanted everything to be perfect. I spent the whole week planning and with a lot of help from my mother-in-law and husband, we managed to throw a great party. Satisfied and exhausted, I almost died when I caught a glimpse of myself by the end of the evening. Then, looking around me, house spick and span, happy husband, happy life, I wore my troll hair with pride.
Being a woman is tough. To those who don’t actually put in the work to cook, clean, buy groceries, do laundry and all around maintain a home, all these tasks may appear menial and not fuss worthy. They might certainly seem easier than trading stocks or being an investment banker, but when it comes to walking the walk, these seemingly humble chores can be backbreaking – literally. Ask my mother-in-law who has planned a menu focused around three very fussy eaters for over 30 years; ask my mother who has balanced two jobs and has still managed a fabulously clean home with a lovely dinner on the table for her three children and husband every single day; ask my sister who knows exactly how many filets of chicken are still left in the freezer and when she will need to buy some more laundry soap so that her husband and child never run out of clean clothes.
When I see my troll hair now, I take it as a symbol of success. I might have succeeded in making a good meal or mopping the floor till it shines, and oh how good it feels when the task is done, even though I know that tomorrow I will have to start over. My troll hair means that just like my grandmother, my mother-in-law, my mother, and my sister, I can be proud in the knowledge that I have done something selflessly for my family out of nothing more than love for them.