A Household Word
Take 3 to 5

I went to the beauty parlor last week for a wash, cut and blow-dry. After the hairdresser scrunched, spritzed and sprayed, I have to admit, my hair looked pretty good. The stylist handed me a mirror. While I was admiring the back of my head, he said, "You should really use a good conditioner in your hair. Try this."

He handed me a bottle that looked like it had been designed by NASA. It was white and chrome and sleek. It was tiny and it cost $22. But my hair looked great and I was willing to pay big bucks to keep it that way. "All you have to do," the hairdresser said, "is leave the conditioner on for three to five minutes."

"Whoa!" I thought as I ran my fingers through my newly silken locks. "Who has time to wait around in the shower for three to five minutes?"

"Women with nice hair," he retorted, as I shelled out the cash.

Not moms, I thought. And not me. Iíve got three kids and no time for a beauty regimen. I keep all my makeup in my car and I blow my hair dry by driving to soccer games with the windows open.

I thought about the three to five minutes and what I can usually accomplish in that amount of time. In three minutes I can make school lunches, clean the bathroom for company, read the entire Sunday paper, attend a parent-teacher conference, and have sex. Who knows what I could do with five minutes? Maybe create diamonds out of coal, grow bonsai or cram in an entire nightís sleep. Twenty-two dollars I could manage, but three to five minutes would be hard to finagle.

At the dinner table that night, my new coif shone under the kitchen lamp. "How do you like the new me?" I asked. My husband and oldest son said I looked the same as ever. My daughter told me I looked more normal (I think thatís a compliment, coming from a middle-schooler) and my 8-year-old son, who is so opposed to change that he wears his socks for a week, said, "I liked you better before."

Not me. I thought my hair looked great. It swung against my cheek as I loaded the dishwasher. It tickled my neck as I broke up a brawl between the boys and it stayed in place as I did two loads of laundry, cleaned out the cat box, went through the kidsí backpacks, took out the garbage and ran out to the convenience store for a gallon of milk. When I collapsed in bed at midnight, my hair didnít. It was still shiny, swingy and, dare I say, ... perky? It was Stepford hair and it was fabulous.

The Awakening

Until the next morning. When I got up, I rushed to the mirror and my shiny, blow-dried hair looked like bad topiary. It was stiff and sticking out at odd angles all over my head.

"Iím taking a shower," I announced to my family. "No one can come into the bathroom or yell for me until I come out. If someone is bleeding, you can slip me a note."

I closed the bathroom door, took off my watch and took the $22 bottle of conditioner out of the medicine chest. The phone rang in the hall, there was a crash from the living room and I thought I heard someone call out "Mom!" But when I turned on the shower all I could hear was the sound of rushing water. I poured some shampoo into my hand and worked the lather through my hair. I rinsed. I repeated. Then I reached for the tiny $22 bottle of conditioner.

Four minutes, I vowed. I will leave the conditioner on for four minutes. As I uncapped the bottle, the heady scent of oranges and cloves filled the shower stall. I squeezed a tiny blob onto my palm and rubbed it on my head.

Then I waited. And waited. And waited. I tried to meditate (12 seconds), I shaved my legs (35 seconds), I examined my fingernails (2 seconds), and practiced holding in my stomach (11 seconds). I checked my watch. I still had three more minutes with nothing to do but wait. I thought about productive things that I could do with conditioner on my head. I could re-grout the shower tiles, scrub the inside of the tub or practice Kegel exercises. I could just rinse the stuff off and go out and referee the certain chaos in the living room.

Instead, for three full minutes, I did absolutely nothing. I just closed my eyes and enjoyed every fragrant moment of the wait. When I stepped out of the shower, there was a note signed by my kids. It said, "Happy Motherís Day." Sometimes the best presents are the ones you give yourself.

My hair doesnít look as good as it did the day I left the salon, so I guess the conditioner isnít magical Ė just expensive. Iíll keep using it though, because $22 for those three to five minutes of solitude is a bargain.

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Carol Band has installed a low-flow shower head in her tub and a lock on her bathroom door. E-mail her at