Ibu’s Hair


“All woman are conscious of when they first become objectified. It happens at puberty when our physicality begins to come into focus. And as soon as we are in our teens, we encounter problems with men who only care about the possibility of bedding us …We're so used to being objectified we don't really know how to look at ourselves any other way, especially sexually. In every culture and subculture, the physical ideals for women are far more codified and rigid than those for men.” – Hazel Dooney.

When my grandparents separated, Ninik became the primary breadwinner and my mother, the eldest of five, became Mother. Ibu (Indonesian: mother), from as early as pre-adolescence cooked and scrubbed and dressed her siblings. This collective memory all my uncles and aunts have endearingly shared with us.

Ibu cooked and scrubbed even when she was briefly in Singapore for her slightly higher education. That’s how my father saw her the first time, covered in soot and scrubbing ferociously on the kitchen floor. 

My parents did not have much at the beginning, but they always made love on a luxurious bed of long, soft hair.

You see, until she had our youngest brother, Ibu had very, very long hair. It reached down to her knees, and she used to collect it in a bun, while scrubbing and  cooking. While she was looking after her own siblings. While she was sweeping in the dorm in Singapore, about to catch my father’s eyes. While she was sure that she was going to have three children.

Ibu's hair reminded her that no matter how much she had to scrub and cook, there was a beautiful hope in all of it. There was a set of children to come out of her labors. There was a reason why she enchanted our father long enough with her long, lustrous hair.

For, one day, few months after she had that one-more-child, Ibu cropped her hair, and said, “Udah yah, no more children.”

And that’s where her hair has been growing since; in her children.

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