Scratching My Mother’s Scalp By Cheryll Boswell

A compliment from a parent is something a child never gets tired of hearing, no matter how old or young, especially a compliment that comes from mom. Hearing a flattering remark from mom can be something as simple as “I’m proud of you”, or “your hair is cute.” That simple compliment will erase all the woes of a bad day in a matter of seconds.

Standing behind my mother’s wheelchair and combing her hair, this daily practice also includes scratching her scalp. I’m mentally transported back to a little girl allowed to play in her mom’s hair. My memory travels back to a seven-year-old sitting on the couch and my mother on the floor. Her back is pressed against the sofa pillows with her head tilted back while I attempt to make her comfortable and beautiful after a long day of work. Making parts in her long black hair and going down each one of those parts gently scratching her scalp with the comb, I hear my mother say, “that feels good to my head.”

Not sure if scratching the scalp is a cultural thing based on one’s hair texture. Curiosity led me to do a little bit of research on head scratching. After Googling head scratching, several topics from head lice to dermatitis, psoriasis, and just plain old dandruff popped up. None of these seem to fit the reason my mother likes to have her scalp scratched. Now, as an adult with dementia, she seems to enjoy this daily ritual of scratching and massaging her scalp even more. It’s one of those small comforts that makes her feel safe and beautiful at the same time. With the role of mom and daughter reversed, scratching her scalp is also a good negotiating tool when we are coaxing her to do something.

My mother and I are sporting silver and grey hair. Her hair is this beautiful silver, almost white color. A color Clairol can’t bottle up and sell. But for COVID, my hair probably wouldn’t be this grey. No hairdresser, no hair color, nothing for over a year. Today, while combing her hair, my mother looked up and complimented me on mine. Not implying that today was the only day my hair looked good, and all other days my hair looked a complete mess. But today, she liked how it was combed; two big French braids that I’ve termed COVID hair. Take the braids out, and I’m back in the 1970s, sporting an Angela Davis afro all over again, only this time grey. Mom smiled when she said, “your hair looks good.” It made my day.

Many of us are fortunate to have our moms with us to celebrate Mother’s Day. Alzheimer’s has erased a lot of my mom’s memory. She no longer knows days of the week and holidays. Even this one day of the year that moms are acknowledged for the stuff they do the other 364 days of the year, she no longer remembers. As I comb Mom’s hair, I watch how her body relaxes from the anxiety brought on by Alzheimer’s. She does remember how she feels when her scalp gets scratched – Loved.

This Mother’s Day, many will be searching for that perfect gift for those who have mothered us on and beyond Mother’s Day. May we all find a gift of compliment. A compliment is better than any store-bought gift. It’s worth a lifetime of priceless memories.