Time passed and Alice became accustomed to the pattern of her new world. Mom was working full time now, so many of the daily activities fell to Alice for attention. Cleaning, laundry, cooking, all of the things that her Mom had defined herself as a wife with were left in Alice’s lap as if it were a present.
“Now that you’re old enough Alice, you can help me with these tasks” her Mom would say. Alice tried not to complain, but when she had to stay inside to make sure the wash got finished while her friends were screaming up and down the block on their bicycles, it became harder and harder not to feel badly that she couldn’t join them.
Lots of girls Alice’s age were learning how to help with the household duties, so Alice knew that at least in this situation, she was normal, but when helping turned into sole responsibility for all of these chores, she knew that wasn’t normal. Alice did her best to keep up with everything. She knew how hard Mom worked during the day and how tired she was when she got home. Every little bit helped so she each day she did as much as she could.
The roles in their family became very different then. Mom went to work and was the bread winner of the family. Alice went to school during the day and played the role of the wife after school and in the evenings. Many times she would have a hot meal on the table when Mom got home from work. She lived for those fleeting smiles that her mother would give her when she arrived home to find the house clean and dinner on the table. “You are such a good girl” Mom would say. “What would I do without you?”
Things became more familiar in her visits with her Dad as well. Every other weekend, like clockwork. Dad would come pick her up and take her back to his house. She would spend the weekend doing chores at Dad’s house too. Chores like pulling weeds and sorting screws, mindless work that was geared towards keeping her quiet and out of the way. Dad paid her for her work, a quarter per pail for weeds and two quarters for a coffee can of sorted screws. She didn’t mind much as it seemed to make the time pass faster.
Spring gave way to Summer, then Summer to Fall and Alice was unusually glad to be back in school. She was going into the sixth grade this year and just knew everything would be different. Better somehow. Mom even promised to trim her hair for her before the first day of school to make sure she looked her best.
The trim started out great. Mom whizzed around with her scissors, making all of the right cuts while humming to herself. This was the happiest Alice had seen her in quite awhile. All of a sudden the humming stopped and Mom said “Uh-oh, Hmmm…I think I need to even this spot out, just a bit over here”. Alice froze in place. She didn’t want to move a muscle. She didn’t want to distract her Mom from fixing the tiny error in the hair cut. Little by little, Mom trimmed away and was “just making it even over here” until Alice couldn’t stand it anymore.
All of her precious, long hair that she had brushed and brushed for hours until it was as shiny as gold was there, lying on the floor. She was left with what could hardly even be called a Bob. It was uneven in the back, in the front, on the sides. She looked like a boy. As she stared into the mirror above the sink, giant tears slid down her face. Gone were here dreams of the new school year being better than ever. She was horrified, knowing that tomorrow she would have to go to school and face all of the friends she hadn’t seen since the Spring. Horrified at the laughter and finger pointing that she knew would come.
Mom came into the bathroom behind her, with tears in her eyes. Apologizing over and over. “If I only had the money to take you to get your hair cut, this would never have happened” she said. Alice knew there wasn’t any money for a hair cut. There wasn’t any money for new shoes or new clothes or new anything at all. Then Mom began to cry. Real tears of sorrow and heartbreak for what she couldn’t give to Alice. She laid all of her worries and troubles out on the table where Alice could see every ugly truth. Every bill that wasn’t paid, every debt that was owed, every broken thing that couldn’t be fixed.
Alice wasn’t sure what to do with all of this information. How could she be so shallow as to worry about what her hair looked like when Mom had troubles like these? She put her arms around her Mom and told her not to worry. “Things always have a way of working themselves out.” And they did. She went to school the next day and nobody laughed or pointed at her. The few people that did notice said how cute her hair looked in the pixie cut she had and why hadn’t they thought to do that with their hair.
The relief was immense. She smiled the rest of the day. The rest of the week in fact. It was all going to be fine and this year was really going to be different. Better. Fabulous.