This article was originally published on Better After 50.
My niece, my mother, and I were sitting relaxed in my mother's backyard by the pool for a before-dinner drink. The sun had just started to lower at the end of a hot and humid June day. I was sipping on a glass of Chardonnay. My niece was sipping on an iced tea; my mother was drinking water -- apparently the "unfiltered" kind.
"And if I were going to be honest with you today, Ronna, what do you think I would tell you?" my mother asked me, nonchalantly.
"Uh oh," I thought, "here it comes. She's about to be honest with me about my hair." It's always about my hair. And it's usually not good.
My mom never mastered the art of conversational foreplay. She never learned that she was supposed to ask if I wanted her opinion before going in for the big bang.
I sighed. "It's got to be about my hair, mom," I replied.
"How'd you know that?"
"Because it's always about my hair."
Apparently, otherwise I am pretty perfect, because if I weren't, clearly my mother would have told me.
"Well, you're right..."
She took a small breath, as if this were a little hard to get out. But I knew otherwise. It really wasn't difficult at all.
"To be honest with you... you look like a bleached out old whore."
My niece almost spit her iced tea all over the table.
I simply took another sip of Chardonnay, and braced myself for the fuller explanation. Because I knew my mother was just warming up. Nearing 80, she was not about to develop the art of tact.
She went on: it's not the color; it's the style -- too young for me. It is stringy. It is too long.
"But, really, mom, a 'bleached out old whore'? That's kind of harsh, don't you think?" I had actually blown my hair dry that very morning. The last time I had looked in the mirror, around noon, it had looked pretty good. Or so I thought.
"Maybe it's just a mess because it is so humid today, and it's extra frizzy." Actually, I had been experimenting for two weeks with not shampooing at all in an effort to tame the frizz and keep the color intact. Apparently, that was not working out so well. I made a mental note to pick up a bottle of non-sulfate shampoo on the way home.
"It is definitely not the frizz. And no, I'm not being harsh. I am just being honest."
My mother is fiercely proud of her brute (some might say "brutal") honesty. She explained to my niece, a rising high school senior, how she is the only one in the family everyone can count on to be completely honest with them.
She gave a few examples of her past honesty, though I didn't need those -- I could write a book. She has given her unfiltered opinion about girlfriends and boyfriends of her children and grandchildren, unfiltered opinions about their choice of clothing and home decor (and yes, the pool table is still in my living room.)
She certainly gave an unfiltered opinion when I came home from college with a third hole in my ear, and I was saved from relentless nagging only when my brother came home from college with one in his.
Recently, she has told my beautiful niece -- over and over -- exactly what she thinks of her new nose piercing (you can imagine.)
It's interesting to have a mother with no filter. On the one hand, I just love knowing what she thinks. I can always count on her honesty, and that's important. On the other hand, it's often plain old mean.
In any case, it was time to end this conversation.
"Mom, did you ever think that's the look I'm going for? Mike just told me last night that he likes it when I look like a bleached out old whore. It's sexy."
"Great. Well, you've nailed it."
Later, I wondered what she might have said if she had actually had a glass of wine that day. Really, how much more unfiltered can you get? Then I picked up the phone and made an appointment with my hair stylist.
After all, bleached out old whore is not really the look I'm going for.
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