Kathleen Norton

It was the strangest feeling.

Since turning 50, at every hair appointment, it felt like I was putting on a mask on my head.

But I tucked those misgivings away and kept using hair color to cover up streaks of silver and white that had been dogging me for  decades.

My pretense was that time was not marching on, though there was plenty of other evidence to the contrary.

Just ask my upper arms.

Every year, the divide between my real age and my hair’s age got bigger while my hair maintenance schedule took over my life.

“Hair Day!’’ was scrawled on every month of the calendar and no social event was attended without a determination of  whether the roots could be seen in public, or in pictures.

I had vowed to “age gracefully” without unnatural interventions but my policy had an unstated hair exemption.

But last year, several friends stopped coloring.

Some whispered that these women looked older, in tones that suggested they’d committed felonies. But the women themselves were thrilled and said they’d never go back.

Then I went to a social function with my parents’ friends. At least half of the women still had dyed hair.

“I’ll never go gray,’’ one woman confided. “It ages women.’’

She was about 85 and looked not a day over 81.

“So that’s where this is all leading,’’ I considered.

Next, I found pictures of my grandmother and her cousin, now long dead, when they were middle-aged. Both had striking salt and pepper hair and were beautiful.

I envied this generation of women, which had far fewer advantages than mine, but never had to endure this catchphrase: “Fifty is the new 30!’’

Right after this, my sister sent me a link to a video of two California news anchorwomen, on station KPIX, who stopped coloring their hair and went “natural’’ in front millions. They looked far better, more like themselves.

I made a commando decision. “Cut it short and ditch the dye,’’ I said to the hairdresser during the next visit. “We’ll deal with what’s under there.

That was nine months ago. A short, layered cut has helped the colors blend during the tedious, growing out process. On bad days, I turned to hairbands or hats.

I almost faltered once, but hung in there. Now, it’s about 85 percent done with salt and pepper in most places and white streaks in others. I use lots of conditioner and need frequent cuts but the new head feels more like me – we’re both in our 50s.

People’s reactions fall into three categories: Positive reactions. No reaction, which means they don’t care or they’re too horrified to say. And then there’s awkwardness.

“That picture they were using of you with dark hair in the newspaper must have been really old,’’ said one person.

“Not really,’’ I corrected. “My hair just looked younger than it was.’’

So that’s my hair story, ladies and gentlemen. What’s yours?

Post it here or email to: kathleennorton1@gmail.com

I am sure we will have plenty to talk about.

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The Ugly American

Americans, on the whole, are nice people. But there is something we need to work on.

Some of us think the way that we do things in our country is the only way to do things and that people in other countries have it all wrong because they are not us.

And, because we are Americans, the “ugly” ones among us are not shy about expressing superiority.

Know what I mean?

I reached this conclusion while standing on line at an airport with lots of Americans and lots of people from the country we were leaving.

It happened to be Ireland, where the national pastime is treating visitors well.

As we waited, an American complained that the line was moving slowly because, as she explained loudly to everyone around us, we were not in America.

Ironically, at the same time she also boasted of her Irish heritage, a tidbit the Irish people on line did not seem particularly happy to hear.

I swear the word “eejit’’ was whispered up and down the line and at least one person “accidentally’’ kicked her suitcase, causing the American to add “clumsiness’’ onto the pile of bad traits she was assigning to this lovely country.

Despite her lineage, she said she was glad that she was a citizen of America, where, she declared, things happen when they’re supposed to.

“Oh, it figures. They’re on their ‘Irish’ time over here. We’ll never get on that plane!’’ she whined.

Really? I wanted to say. An entire country that never gets anything done on time? Sounded like she had never stood on anything but quick lines in America.

I also wanted to remind her that Ireland is an English-speaking country and everyone around us knew what she was saying.

Yet I was afraid to do so and risk the chance that others would think we were together. But that didn’t stop her from speaking to me.

This happens to me all the time. My kids used to cringe when we were in public because total strangers seemed to seek me out for conversation.

Maybe I look very friendly. Maybe I look like I very much need a friend. Who knows? But it happened again at the airport.

Her: “Have you ever seen anything like this?’’

Me: (No answer)

Her: “That guy over there is getting paid to do nothing. We should report him to the authorities. That’ll teach ‘em.’’

Me: (No answer)

Her: “When these people get to America they’ll find out how things should be done.’’

Me: (No answer)

Her: “I’ll be so glad to get back home. What state are you from?’’

Me: (No answer but thinking silently: “Please go away and leave me alone!’’)

Finally, we got to the head of the line where the agents were hospitable to everyone (naturally) and checked us though to the plane that would take us to America.

They appeared to treat everyone in the same pleasant manner, though the Ugly American on our line did seem to get very quick processing.

Maybe the agents were just doing their jobs.

Or maybe, I thought, they were doing their country a favor.

Dreamin' up ways to amuse Grandma

Calling all grandparents.

I’m looking for those funny little stories, those hilarious anecdotes that occur when the “grands’’ come to visit and rock your grandma/grandpa world with their antics.

I should know. I have been recovering from a so-called “rocking’’ and believe me, our three-day visit with our grand-toddler and her baby sister was filled with those experiences.

Like the day after the 2-year-old  missed out on a good night’s sleep because of loud summer thunderstorms.

It was tears, whining and a big “No!” to everything I said. In other words, the Toddler Works.

It prompted me to murmur, “Somebody is ‘Little Miss Cranky Pants today.’ ’’

Bursting into tears and pointing at herself, she cried:

“That’s me Grandma! I’m Little Miss Cranky Pants!’’ as if I had completely missed the point of the meltdown.

Come on Grandma, she was saying. Get with the program!

Maddening from a general point of view. But from a Grandma point of view, it was very funny.

So I said: “Yes, I know you are Little Miss Cranky Pants, my sweetheart. And you’re the best one I ever saw!’’

That took her by surprise, which stopped the tantrum. Then we both had a cookie right before supper, while I whispered: “Don’t tell Mommy!”

Later, I realized I had stumbled on a good crime prevention technique: Lock up bad guys with a roomful of irritable toddlers.

If that doesn’t break a criminal’s spirit, nothing will.

Besides being funny in general, grandkids can even make us laugh about what we see in the mirror every day – evidence that Father Time doing its thing.

One little girl recently asked her grandma, my friend, if they could compare tummies.

So they did, which prompted this question: “Grandma, why is your tummy so ugly?’’

My friend in the Grandma Brigade didn’t yell or cry. She laughed, and so did I when I heard the story.

I’m sure others with an appreciation with the wit and wisdom of children did, too.

Especially if they have their own grandchildren to amuse them while wearing them out to bits during their visits.

We sure need a good laugh when the little ones have gone home with the toys, diapers, sippy cups, animal crackers, plastic blocks, beach pails, little socks, tiny shoes, gazillions of kid books and games and Lord knows what else they brought in and may not have taken out.

(Oops. I just stepped on a stuffed Elmo in the garden.)

So, come on grandparents. Time to share! Post your funny little  grandkid stories here.

Let’s see who can top the Little Miss Cranky Pants Episode or the Incident of the Ugly Tummy.

This appeared Sunday, Father’s Day, in the Poughkeepie NY Journal.

This is the day to honor fathers, and this year I salute Tom, Gerry and Luke – three dads from three different generations in our family.

The first is my dad, the second my husband, and the third is the father of my sunny and delightful granddaughters.

Tom was born right smack in the middle of the Greatest Generation. He grew up during the Depression and World War II and became a dad when the idea of a disposable diaper was science fiction.

His wife labored with their first child (that’s me) while he sweated down the hall in the waiting room. He was expected to be back at work ASAP, and by Child #5, he took to dropping his wife off and waiting for the call.

He did not know one end of a diaper from the other and nobody expected him to know such things. Yet, the responsibility of putting food on the table was his alone.

That’s just the way it was for the daddies of his day, in the place where we lived.

Gerry was born smack in the middle of the Baby Boomer Generation. He was among a new breed of papas called “birthing coaches.’’

He got to see the births of his three children, but was back at work within a day or two. The phrase “paternity leave’’ was being bantered about, but it was not yet in the dictionary.

Gerry probably had never seen a man change a diaper in his life yet there he stood at a changing table in the early 1980s, winging it and hoping for the best.

Many men of his generation have had partners when it came to bringing in the money, but in return they had to shoulder their share at home.

Some said it was grand and that it was about time that the “Mr. Mom’’ era had arrived. Others? Not so much.  They thought it was the ruination of society.

Turns out, they were wrong.

Like millions of other Boomer dads, Gerry paved the way for the daddies of today.

Luke is a member of Generation Y – which came after Gen X, if you keep track of these things. When his youngest was born three months ago, he took off two weeks to welcome her into the family.

Now, he walks in the door from work and does whatever needs doing – which is a lot in a household of young children.

Laundry, cleaning, baths, story time. He does it all.  Few men his age even know where the title “Mr. Mom’’ comes from, and even fewer question that they should be sharing the child care duties.

In the 50 years that span my dad’s days as a young father, and my son-in-law’s, the role of fathers has changed much.

But in the most important matter, these three are the same. No matter the generation, they have treated their wives and children with love and loyalty.

Those in their care have been lucky, and I wish a Happy Father’s Day to our family’s special dads, and to yours.


Best rest stops in America

When a couple’s marriage is as “mature’’ as the tie-dyed jeans in the back of their closet, the couple wonders: We’re OK so far, but can we go the distance?

And there is only one way to find out. They must get in a car and drive 1,000 miles together and when the trip is over, if one of them has not pushed the other out into the path of a tractor-trailer, they know everything will be OK.

I should know. I just took a road trip like this with my blushing groom of 30.5 years and I am happy to report that we  survived all that time together under one sunroof.

Oh, all right. The truth is we barely survived. We hated the books on CD that we’d brought along. We left the best snacks back on the kitchen counter. And we were sick of our music choices before we got out of New York.

But the bottom line is, we did survive, and there is only one reason: The State of Ohio. Not the entire state, mind you, though I’m sure it is a very fine state in many ways.

Toledo, they say, is just lovely in springtime.

But Ohio, we discovered, has the best GD (gosh-darn in Ohio-speak) rest stops if you happen to be driving along Route 80, which New York Baby Boomers can take to get to Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Every time one of us got a bit cranky and our minor bickering was about to ignite into something bigger, one of these little bits of highway heaven appeared.

We’d never seen anything like it. They were huge, spacious, sparkly clean, offered lots of food and were full of cheery non-New Yorkers who asked us where we were from and where we were going.

They saved the day. They probably saved our marriage. Mostly, they saved us from Pennsylvania, which, frankly, has no business being that wide.

Yes, Pennsylvania gave us the Declaration of Independence and inventions like bubble gum, the Big Mac, the Slinky and TV Guide, which if you put them altogether would be the ultimate American Survival Kit.

But take it from me, Pennsylvania is no fun when you are stuck in a car and your only reason for being in Pennsylvania is that you can’t avoid Pennsylvania if you want to get to Ohio.

I’ll admit that the signs we saw for a town called “Jersey Shore, Pa.,’’ did amuse me for a number of miles being that I am a Jersey girl.

“Copycats!’’ I chortled. “Maybe they thought that little pond over there was the Atlantic and they really were in New Jersey!’’

Oh, I was clever. At least that’s what I pronounced a great number of times. My husband, however, was staring straight ahead at the road and gripping the wheel.

Just as we were about to pull off to the side of the road so we could safely continue our “discussion’’ of my cleverness, we crossed into Ohio and pulled up to one of those glorious rest stops.

They saved us from ourselves more than once on the way out.

On the way back, I practically cried when we crossed back into Pennsylvania again and faced nothing but ordinary rest stops for the remainder of the trip.

Luckily, we had been bolstered up enough by those Buckeye road palaces to make it all the way back home.

So thanks, Ohio. I don’t care if most Americans can’t find you on a map.

These two travelers could not have made it without you.

Say it isn't so!

This is warning for the mucky-mucks at the soap opera “All My Children.’’

You are in a heap of trouble if you think you can cancel that show and leave its loyal fans (read: “rabid soap addicts”) high and dry.

What will we do? Where will we go? Are you going to support us during withdrawal?

Oh, I know. Some of you out there are saying: “Kathleen! We are shocked! We suspected you might be prone to ‘Laverne and Shirley’ reruns. But soaps? Soaps??’’

Sorry, my peeps. This is how I roll. And excuse me, but I haven’t watched just any soap.

We’re talking about THE Soap. (Take that all you pathetic Luke-and-Laura-General-Hospital people.)

Sure. I may have gone weeks, months and even a year without checking on my fave fantasy town. But saying goodbye forever?

Ouch. Major ouch.

It all started back in the day. Nixon (Dick, not Cynthia) was president and “All My Children” was a ticket outside my tiny Catholic schoolgirl Universe.

It’s not like I had no clue what soap operas were.

My mother locked us out of the house every summer afternoon so she could “iron,’’ which was Mom Code for: “Scram! My soap’s on!’’

Later on, I got my own soap education. If I hadn’t visited Pine Valley with my pal Mary Lynn when we were supposed to be babysitting her brother in the summer of 1972, how would we know about evil twin sisters?

About people really coming back from the dead? About disturbed brothers living inside secret tunnels of family mansions? About looking Erica Kane-a-licious while repeatedly on trial for murder?

AMC’s been with me through thick and thin. I scheduled college classes around Pine Valley, and it helped me through childbirth, when after a gazillion hours of pain, I abandoned Lamaze, took the meds and focused on that week’s AMC plot.

“If I can get this baby out before lunch, I can find out if Erica goes to jail or goes free,’’ I huffed and puffed.

My husband, an excellent labor coach, kept one eye on the TV in our room and fed me updates.

The teamwork continued when he worked nights and I worked days. This was pre-VCR and soap opera digest. At home during the afternoons, he was expected to do two things: Nurture the kids and watch AMC when they napped.

“The baby’s sniffling and we need milk,’’ he would say as we passed in the driveway, him going to work and me coming home. “Oh, and Erica’s fifth marriage is kaput but Jenny may be back from the dead.’’

Eventually, our teenage daughter gasped through AMC while at my side. This was much better than the alternative for us at that stage – not talking to each other at all.

These days, I seem to be at the gym weekdays at 1 p.m. to catch AMC while I work off a mid-life crisis on the treadmill.

See, AMC bigwigs? Going cold turkey is unthinkable.

As you get ready to yank that soap, I pray you’re breaking ground for the Pine Valley Rehab Clinic. And there had better be a bed with my name on it.

(How about it folks? Is AMC the best soap ever? Is there one better? Add your two cents and your favorite soap memories).

Shock and awe

Our wool hats and scarves are barely tucked away and KAPOW!

Every clothing store on earth has put out racks of little, bitty, colorful bathing suits that assault us when we walk in the door.

It’s the fashion version of “shock and awe’’ and I ask:

Must they remind us that soon, all women no matter how tall, short, narrow or wide begin a period of ritual self-loathing also known as Swimsuit Season?

If a woman’s hefty, she thinks every suit makes her look heftier. If she’s scrawny, she thinks they make her look scrawnier.

And men do not get it why bathing suits make us suffer so.  They just don’t.

Oh sure, they complain about a little flab here and there. They may look in the mirror when they are 62 and come to this startling realization: OMG! I am not a young man anymore!

But for the most part, they float along, not caring how they look in a bathing suit except for when at 20-year-old chick walks by at the beach.

This concern passes quickly and soon they are back to bathing suit la-la land, which explains why you see guys in little Speedos when their little Speedo days are obviously over.

A man would wear the same swimsuit from age 20 to 70 if his wife did not stop him.

“You’re not getting on that ship for our anniversary cruise in the bathing suit you wore on our honeymoon!’’ the woman says.

“But those trunks are only 35 years old!’’ he replies.

“I have crow’s feet older than that. Get a new one,’’ she orders and he goes to the store and buys the first one he sees.

For the woman, it’s not the same.

She would not be caught dead in an old suit because she thinks that like every other one she’s owned, it looks bad on her.

So the woman goes to the store for a new one and tries on 483 swimsuits.

She repeats this ritual in 13 other stores, which if you are keeping track, is 6,279 swimsuits taken on and off.

Then she orders 146 more online and has to pay to send all of them back because none are right.

Now she has tried on 6,425 suits, spent $1,460 on return shipping, and adds “buy wig’’ to the To-Do List because she’s pulled out her hair in frustration.

After a good cry and a vow to undo damage from a late-winter delivery of Girl Scout cookies, she starts again.

Eventually, she finds a suit she likes. Loosely translated in women-speak this means she hates it less than the others.

On the cruise, he thinks he looks great – guy gut and all. She hardly dares to breath and let out her stomach.

Turns out the “tummy control’’ tag that came with her suit, and every suit these days, is propaganda worthy of the old Communist Party.

Which takes us back to those racks of bathing suits in all the stores.

Ladies, we could let them get the best of us again this year. Or, we could buy them up and have a spectacular polyester bonfire.

Matches, anyone?

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