CHICAGO – The parade of pink clothing stretches along the baseball field’s perimeter from the deepest reaches of centerfield down past third base.
Thing 1, halfway through the annihilation of her first box of chips drowning in industrial DayGlo orange cheese sauce, clears an airway, “Who are those people?”
“I think they are people who had breast cancer. Since this is Mother’s Day, the White Sox are trying to raise awareness of a disease that tends to affect women and give people hope for a cure,” I say.
She digs back into her nuclear lunch and I return to filling out the lineups in my scorecard.
A few minutes and layers of glop later, Thing 1 has a new question.
“How long does your hair need to be to cut it off and give to kids?”
I set down my beer.
“You mean like Locks of Love? Where they make wigs for kids who lost their hair from cancer treatments?”
“Yeah,” she says.
“Do you want to do that?”
She nods and the Midwestern spring sunlight shimmers off the drops of florescent goo on the corners of her mouth. “My teacher said she’s going to cut her hair for kids," she says.
As we talk, I’m internally dumbfounded. Thing 1 has been avoiding a true haircut for several years to the point that it’s approaching the middle of her back. This has led to endless demands for her to pull back her dirty blonde locks so they will stop falling into her food, which is followed by calls for her to wash it and comb it more often to extricate the collected bits of breakfast (maple syrup, you are thy enemy!), lunch and dinner from the tangled strands.
In addition to her teacher’s decision and the sight of all these cancer survivors and their families proudly treading around the White Sox’ warning track, I’m wondering how much just being here in Chicago is influencing this discussion. We have been trekking here every few months now for more than seven years for her to met with specialists who make her stretch and crawl, and draw dozens of rubber-topped vials of blood and study her muscles and bones with magical machines that see so many things we still do not understand. I think back to that first solo trip the two of us took, on a wet late winter day, and how right before the appointment Thing 1 fell limp and feverish in her stroller, a staph infection coursing through her steroid-swollen body.
“… so I think you only need to let it go a few more inches if you really want to do it,” I hear myself say.
Without even the pause of half a heartbeat, she asks, “And how much do they pay?”
“How much money do they give you for your hair?”
“It’s a donation, honey,” I say. “You give it to them for free so they can help a needy child.”
“Dang,” she says, looking at the nacho ruins in the cardboard holder on her lap. “I wanted to make some cash.”
+ + +
As I’m typing this, several hours later in a hotel room two blocks from the twinkling lights and retail holyland of The Magnificent Mile, I interrupt Thing 1’s viewing of a third episode of 19 Kids and Counting about the Duggars’ attempt to bring their premature baby, Josie, home.
“You still want to donate your hair?”
“Even though you don’t get paid for it?”
“Yeah,” she says.
I don’t ask why. I stroke her long, grubby mane -- just once because my ring finger gets snagged in a knot of sunscreen, sweat and sugar -- then tell her to hit the showers.