In the third grade, I had two long braided pigtails, a penchant for Hypercolor Body Glove shirts, and proudly wore Swap Meet sweatshirts. I remember watching The New Kids On The Block on MTV for the first time at my grandparents’ brand-new house. We never had cable TV growing up, and I remember being unimpressed. I had no idea why all the girls screamed for Jordan, Donnie, Joe, Danny, and Jonathan (and yes, I had to Google that). Instead of playing house, I played office, dreaming of a career as a high-powered executive named Rene, with a corner office and an incredible view.
My third-grade teacher was pretty amazing. Mr. Peters was in his mid-thirties and had a (creepy now) mustache and wavy eighties hair. For each unit of study, he would create elaborate themes for our classroom. When we studied the judicial system, we held a trial, with lawyers and judges and a jury. When we studied Congress, we held votes, wrote bills, and made laws that governed our classroom. My favorite theme though was the unit on entrepreneurship. For weeks our classroom bustled as we created business plans, earned money, and studied consumerism and supply and demand. My favorite part was the advertising and marketing portion. I created posters for my classmates’ businesses and developed campaigns to appeal to the market. We transformed our classroom into a town with real businesses where we used our hard-earned (play) money and purchased little trinkets and candy that the various shop owners proudly displayed in their storefronts. One boy, Issac, actually created an arcade with real video games like Pacman!
I was eight years old. I lived with my mom, dad, and all four grandparents. Third grade was the year my Grandmother died, I met my childhood best friend, Heidi, and I got a perm.
Yes, you read that correctly. I.GOT.A.PERM.
My long, beautiful, stick straight and easily tangled black hair that trailed past my little, flat Asian booty had to be painstakingly combed out nightly and lovingly washed by my Grandma, a frail Japanese lady who used to make the most exquisite mosaics out of vegetables on my favorite baked egg soup. One day, my mom decided that it was too much for my ailing Grandmother to care for my hair and so I found myself in the middle of fumes and rollers staring at my two newly detached braids. The next day at school was “Hands Across America” day, and we all had to join hands on the playground for some cause or another. I walked in with my very curly, sixty-two-year-old lady hairdo. I remember my classmates standing there, staring at me as we awkwardly held hands and exclaiming about my hair. My Grandma died in her sleep the day after Christmas, a few months later.
It took a long, long time to not be sad when I looked at my newly shorn hair. Each curly strand reminded me of my Grandma and how she used to sing to me as she sat on her little stool and tugged as gently as she could before winding each side into their long braids. I had perms up until my junior year in high school until one day I got sick of it and bough perm solution at the store and spent hours just brushing the curls out (honestly, I can’t believe that worked).
Today, I still don’t understand the “New Kids” obsession, I’ve updated my wardrobe choices, and am working in advertising and marketing (without the corner office though) but I never again have gotten a perm, and I don’t think I ever will. Even when I am sixty-two.