Strawberry Zucchini

Mack was born with the face and body of a sweet little cherub, and I could not resist the urge to dress her in over-the-top feminine frocks to match her ruby and oh-so-chubby cheeks. Perhaps because I suspected my window for so doing was to be a short one, I frequently chose outfits that even outdid the level of froufrou I had achieved with Mack’s way more girly-girl sister. But almost as soon as Mack could walk (at 8-months-old, by the way), she started to rebel against nearly every article of clothing I put on her. Her sister and I persisted in our efforts to girly-girl-a-tize our little Mackadoodle, but we ultimately failed…and thank goodness, really. Because looking back on our choices, I realize we certainly did overplay our hands.

By the time Mack was three, she screamed at skirts, ran away from dresses, claimed that frilly headbands “squeezed her brains,” and threw lacy anklet socks in the garbage when I wasn’t looking. But there was that one pink bikini with the strawberry appliques on the top and the little ruffle on the bottom that broke Mack’s no-stupid-superfluities-on-this-body determination and melted her anti-girly-girl grit. That ridiculous swimsuit beat all the tomboy odds against it. Mack wore it with joy. She sported it—big belly and all—with pride. Strawberry boobs, we called that bikini; and it ruled Mack’s wardrobe. She would put it on and smile from sea to sea, checking herself out in front of the bathroom mirror. The too-short bangs, which were just rebounding from being cut off at the root, completed the look of girl toddler magnificence. In her smashing strawberry swimsuit, Mack definitely strutted the preschool catwalk. One day after I helped her into that swimsuit for an afternoon in the backyard sprinkler, Mack proudly stood up, admired herself, ran her hands down her torso, and shared this heartfelt opinion: “I just love this zucchini!!” And love it she did during the entire summer of 1998.

For a long, long time afterwards, we teased Mack a lot about that bikini, and, fortunately, it stayed tucked in the back of one of Mack’s dresser drawers for years. When we packed for the move to St. Louis, it made it into the “keep” pile, because it had become such a funny fashion artifact of Mack’s life. She always thought it quite a hoot that she had once worn strawberry boobs with such panache. I still have the bikini today, tucked into an archival box with Mack’s baby blanket. Funny, these memories we keep. Funnier still the odd artifacts we retain in our human effort to document those memories and to hang on to the happy past for dear life.



The Springfield McDermott family was, historically, a long-haired clan. From about 1997 onward, Kevin, Savannah, Mack and I always wore long hair, and we had the hair-care product budget to prove it. Our family used gallons of shampoo, conditioner and detangling spray and stretched out hundreds and hundreds of hair ties. Savannah did bob her strawberry-blonde mane once or twice. And during a moment of temporary insanity, I had cut mine into a boyish pixie cut; but after crying myself to sleep, I started growing it out the next day. Other than those few exceptions, however, long hair ruled at 709 S. Lincoln Avenue.

Throughout elementary and middle school, Mack kept her hair long, straight, parted down the middle, and tied in a ponytail at the nape of her neck. She was never really interested in styling her hair; and since she was busy with so many sports, longer hair made a good deal of sense. With a tight ponytail and a spongy athletic-tape headband, her face was free of wispy hairs for soccer and basketball, and her ponytail slipped neatly through the back of her baseball cap. In football, a braided ponytail tucked up under her helmet suited Mack’s sensibility and her own personal I-play-sports-but-I’m-still-a-girl style. Savannah tried on numerous occasions to persuade Mack to put her ponytail up a little higher, wrap it into a messy bun, or do away with the center part, anything at all to make it a little more girly. But Mack always rolled her eyes and said something like, “What do I care?”

A Christmas trip to the Caribbean when Mack was nine or ten inspired a new style that lasted about nine months. While in Roatan, Honduras, Mack had sat for two hours while a woman gave her a full-set of beaded, cornrow braids. She just loved those braids, and she wanted to keep them. Therefore, when we returned from our trip, we went to Sally’s Beauty Supply and purchased a spray bottle, a fine-toothed comb and thousands of tiny black rubber bands. For months after that trip, Mack and I would periodically sit down in front of a basketball or baseball game while I braided her hair…for hours. I did not possess the talents to duplicate the cornrows, but she was thrilled with my braiding nonetheless; and much to her sister’s horror, she sported those white-girl braids with considerable pride.


However, when school started again that next fall, she went back to that long, low-slung ponytail. Late in eighth grade and early in high school, Mack finally abandoned her ubiquitous low ponytail by experimenting with the popular side-bang, sporting some layers and trying shorter, shoulder-length styles. But by her junior year, she was losing patience with her hair and also beginning to chastise me more and more for spending so much time on my own. During basketball season that year, she began to talk about getting a buzz cut. And this is where I have to admit that I was horrified by the notion of a buzz cut on my beautiful daughter, and I was pretty well dedicated to keeping her from going through with it. I mean, come on, she had beautiful hair. It was so silky and smooth and glinting with golden streaks. I couldn’t imagine why she would want it all gone; and besides, I would always argue, it needed to be long enough to secure tightly away from her face for sports. My pleas to her only led to more talk about buzz cuts. It came to a point where Mack would say “buzz cut” just to get me all in a tizzy. Clearly, she was starting to equate her budding feminism with a rejection of societal expectations of femininity, and she was trying out these new arguments of hers on her addicted-to-long-hair-and-eyeliner mother.

But Mack never did buzz off all of that gorgeous hair, and when she graduated from high school it was beautiful and long. When she went to college it was beautiful and a little less long. When I sent her back to school for her sophomore year of college after a summer at home, her hair was beautiful and long. She had not stopped talking about the possibility of a short cut, but she had not gone through with it before, and I felt fairly confident she would not go through with it in the future. Lolled into a false sense of complacency, I guess, I was shocked when my cell phone buzzed with a text from Mack attaching this video:

She had given me no warning, had not asked for money to visit the salon, had provided no accompanying text in the message, and did not call to follow-up. She just sent this video, knowing that I would be more amused than upset. Of course, she was correct. So here we have yet another piece of precious evidence of Mack’s unique way of doing things and her incomparable sense of humor.

It took me a little time to get used to, but by Thanksgiving I warmed up to that short hair. It was adorable, it suited her personality, and it represented her new way of balancing the feminine and masculine sides of her spirit and style. She was brave and bold and beautiful…and the length of her hair had absolutely nothing to do with it.

After and Before on Hair Cut Day