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I felt a hand on my shoulder.

“You are so brave.”

The young woman in white pants and cold shoulder top said those four words emphasizing each syllable like she was going to pin a Purple Heart to my wrinkled t-shirt. I started to ask why.

“You are so brave for not dying your hair.”

And then she slipped away. I am assuming she went to her $400 highlighting appointment or aisle four for gluten-free bread. I was headed to aisle six to break up a canned corn fight directly from the movie Brave.

I am a hair coloring virgin. I have two kids so obviously not a virgin-virgin. My hair has run the gamut from to-my-butt to cut-it-short-break-up-revenge pixie. I didn’t have kids until my mid-30s so while they look young, my hair keeps no secrets. It is increasingly saltier in part because of the hubby and kids.

My spouse desperately wants to have silver-tipped temples. At work, he suffers through not looking his age in part because of his 20-something-looking, but really 40-something dark hair. I joke when I half-prayed I would love curly hair instead of stick-straight, I should have specified all at once. The new white hairs are coarse and curly and stand out in stark contrast to my stick-straight dark brown hair.

On the other end of the spectrum, my tween daughter wants a hair change color, but of the blue variety. Ironically, the day before the “you’re brave” woman arrived on the scene, the blue hair came up in a way that got someone giggle/grounded (you know the mom moment – when you have to punish but need to look away).

“Mom, if you dye your hair and won’t let me get blue streaks – that makes you a hypocrite.”

The irony. If I wanted to look younger, I needed to dye my hair but in doing that would invoke the wrath of the younger crowd and apparently lose my “Brave” card in the process.

After I pulled both kids out of the produce section and took their banana weapons we entered more dangerous territory. The hair coloring aisle. Kid Two immediately pointed out the blue dye. I pointed out the ice cream that could go back in the freezer section

Once we got home from our three-hour grocery store tour, I had time (alone) to think about the well-meaning woman in aisle four and what I should have said to her. It all went back to one main question.

Does not coloring my hair make me brave? Does it make me less successful? Less determined? Less of a mom?

The flood of responses filling my head outside of the grocery store all ended with: no. While the implication was that going out in public with salty hair was in itself a brave fashion choice, there is nothing intrinsically brave about not dying your hair.

After I got over initial moment of clarity, I made a list of what does make a person brave. Not one involved hair dye.

My 40-something mom friend in the midst of Stage 4 cancer. Worrying about her family. Facing her own mortality far too soon. Finding wigs to cover up scars and bald heads. Brave.

The family of my mom friend who just lost her colon cancer battle. Brave.

My mom friends taking their kids to cancer treatments wondering if they will survive. Praying for clear scans. The moms who have lost a child to cancer. Brave.

Single moms going back to work. Brave.

Recently divorced moms escaping domestic violence. Brave.

Moms in blended families making it all work for new kids and new spouses. Brave.

Moms in the military serving their country. Brave.

Families I saw in Costa Rica this summer with nothing trying to make happy lives for their children. Brave.

The woman with a screaming baby AND a toddler in the grocery store. On a flight. In the library. Brave.

Women who run for office and try to change the world. Brave.

Teachers. Brave.

Nurses. Brave.

Firefighters. Brave.

You are all determined. And brave.

The list is never-ending. That white-panted woman probably thought SHE was being brave for pointing out my un-dyed hair. Using the word brave as a flippant badge of honor for fashion or hair choices or even normal parenting cheapens it in a way that dishonors the people I do truly think are brave.

And so I offer an apology to those brave women (and men) for my momentary, misguided shift into your category. True bravery should be recognized and celebrated and exalted from the highest rooftop. And even on occasion in aisle five. You are brave. I am just in need of a new hairstyle.

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