Hair Care

I was kneeling there on the cold bathroom floor. I had just toweled off her legs. I looked up and bam! I had a great angle. I knew I had to act fast. Now was the time to trim my mom’s pubic hair.

My mom has Alzheimer’s disease. She’s 76 years old and lives in a home in Los Angeles. I’m the only one of my siblings who lives close, so I help with her care.

The first time I was asked to do it was a couple of years ago.  One of her caregivers said that my mother looked down at herself naked and commented on how much hair she had down there. The caregiver said, “It may not be the way she used to have it. You may want to groom it for her the way she used to have it. “

I didn’t know the way my mother used to “have it!” We grew up close, but not that close.  We were the kind of close like, “Oh, let’s share poetry.” “Let’s make up silly puns.” We were not like, “ Hey, let’s compare our privates!”

The request seemed way too intimate. There are certain boundaries that are meant not be crossed. I was pretty certain that trimming my mother’s pubic hair was one of them. Plus, it seemed like a vanity project. It wasn’t medically or hygienically necessary. And, honestly, I felt like I already had enough on my plate.

Alzheimer’s had already taken me into territories I never thought I’d go into with my mother. I’d showered my mom, put lotion on her body, changed her diapers. I even sat on a bathroom floor for twenty minutes with my hand jammed under her “business” waiting to get a urine sample.  I saw her “lady area” up close and personal, and lemme tell you, the situation was unruly.  There was so much hair. I honestly had no idea where the pee was going to come out from.

The whole thing was emotionally intense. When you stare at your mother’s vagina, the source of where you came from, it’s very “circle of lifey.” You’re not just facing your mother’s vagina. You’re facing your origin. You’re facing her mortality. You’re facing your mortality. It’s like the most uncomfortable and horrifying mirror you will ever look into.

My mom knew it was intense too.  Often, in those intimate moments, she would look at me and say, “It’s ok, because we’re sisters.” Sisters? The word would hit my heart like an anchor. “I’m your daughter!” a part of me wanted to scream, but I didn’t. In a way, she was right. I was going way above and beyond my daughter duties. Our relationship was morphing into something else.

Still, trimming her pubic hair seemed like too much, even for a sister. I was fine ignoring the caregiver’s request.

Months later, my mom began getting recurring urinary tract infections. One of her caregivers called my sister and said they’d be able to clean her better if she was groomed “down there.” Apparently, (and this gets graphic), her poop was getting stuck in her hairs and causing infections.  Now, my heart went out to her. It was medically and hygienically necessary, and the caregivers couldn’t do it. They were Pilipino and, in her Alzheimer’s, my mother had randomly become “Asian racist.” If you were any Asian, she would get very aggressive, hit, kick, and yell,  “estupido chino feo!” That’s Spanish for “stupid ugly Chinese.” Yeah, it was harsh. This had to be done by family.

I had to do it, but how was I going to do it, not emotionally, but practically. How was I actually going to do it? I thought about scissors or shaving, but having something sharp around her seemed dangerous. I thought about waxing, but she was way too sensitive. She’d have to be sedated. Maybe there were professionals who were skilled at doing it. I actually googled “geriatric waxing,” but only found stories about the “waxing and waning of the memory.” It was a real “fuck you, internet” moment.

I was talking to my fiancé about the whole conundrum and he said two things—1) can we please stop talking about your mom’s vagina and 2) why don’t you use electric beard clippers? A couple of days later, he bought electric clippers for my mom. God, he loves me.

I took them to her place, hid them under the sink and waited for the right moment. I knew she wasn’t going to like the noise they made and that she might protest out of fear or confusion. My strategy was to find a time when she wasn’t that aware, when I could spring it on her and get it done as fast as possible.

Weeks later, there I was on that cold bathroom floor. I had just finished giving her a shower. I was crouched down toweling off her ankles, when I looked up and saw that great angle. It was show time. I grabbed the clippers from under the sink, turned them on, and started swiping. I had never used clippers before, so at first they were upside down. Eventually, I got it right. I looked down to the floor and saw I was making it rain! Pubes! My mom noticed the buzzing noise and looked down at me like, “What the hell are you doing?” I said, without missing a beat, “I’m helping you with your hairs. It’s ok. We’re sisters.” And she accepted it! Until, a little while later, she said, “Ok. That’s enough,” which was fair.

The funny thing was, it wasn’t the big, scary, intense thing I thought it would be. I actually felt like a rock star, a bad ass. All my dread and resistance were gone. I was just doing it. I felt powerful. Awesome. Invincible. And, mostly, I felt love– love for my mom and love for myself.

They say love can make you move mountains. I don’t know about that, but I do know it can make you trim your mom’s pubic hair.