I sort of expected it, even though it only really occurred to me when I was watching a documentary about it.
Ben has already asked,
“Mummy, what colour is my hair?”
And when I ask why he wants to know he says,
“The big boys at school say it’s ginger, but I thought it was strawberry blond.”
I know kids get teased for having ginger hair, but I thought it would just be a bit of benevolent joshing among friends, along the lines of,
“You’ve got ginger hair.”
“So? You’ve got brown hair.”
“Shall we play spies?”
But today, at the park, I watch as he trudges back to me looking disconsolate.
I ask if he’s alright and he says,
“Why?” I ask, assuming it’s because he hasn’t any friends with him and his sister has – as always – teamed up with a new pal within thirty seconds of arriving.
“They were teasing me about my hair.”
“Really? Who were? What were they saying?”
“Things like – keep away, don’t touch me, I’m allergic to ginger.”
“Who said that?” I stand up, ready to pounce, and he points to some eleven and twelve year olds bouncing high up on the ropes of the witch’s hat.
My poor little boy. His hair is beautiful. When the sun shines it glints with a thousand different shades from platinum blond to deep auburn. He has highlights you’d pay megabucks for, and hairdressers always say how lovely and thick it is.
His sister, on the other hand, has thin, mousey-coloured hair that hangs in lank, stringy, seaweed fronds just minutes after it’s been brushed.
But I bet in a few years he’s going to wish he had his sister’s nondescript hair.
I’m not sure what to say, whether to underplay it with a breezy nonchalance or to sympathise, thereby accentuating the seriousness of it. I decide to ask how he feels.
“Are you cross about it, or upset?”
How do I tell him those kids are a bunch of mean, insecure low-lifes who aren’t worth as much as his little toe, without seeming like a total cow?
“Just ignore them, they’re being mean because they’re in a big gang and they don’t know you.”
He hangs about me for a while, then goes off again.
I remember feeling worried about walking past the Big Boys when I was little, and I didn’t have the hair to worry about.
For half an hour or so, all is well.
Then he comes back again, asking to go home.
“Had enough?” I ask.
“They’ve been mean to me again. They called me a freak.”
“Why are my eyebrows and eyelashes so much lighter than my hair?”
I forgot to mention his long, to-die-for eyelashes, even paler than his Scottish, cream with a hint of blue, skin; and his almost invisibly fair eyebrows.
“Do you want me to go and tell them how horrid they’re being?”
“No-o!” he insists.
I restrain myself and hug him. He’s going to have to deal with more of this as he grows older; kids don’t get kinder as they get bigger.
If only he could swap with his sister. She’d have what she wants – long, luscious, shiny hair that grows thickly to her bottom and swings from side to side in heavy Rapunzel plaits; and he could just have hair.
It doesn’t help that he likes to keep his hair long, surfer-style, as it doesn’t match the number one skinhead look favoured by the well-hard Plymouth playground posse.
We go home via the corner shop, where I buy them some sweets to perk him up.