Yesterday I went to Trader Joe's in San Rafael, in Marin County, where we've been staying for the last few days. Chinua had the kids at home and YaYa was napping while Kid A was colouring. I was glad for the chance to shop without pulling them in and out of their car seats, which is getting harder and harder as my belly is getting bigger and bigger. (I am so ready to be done being pregnant. I've done this, I keep thinking to myself, as I struggle to pick things up off the floor. Recently.) So, as I was walking around the floor, discriminately throwing things into my cart (and indiscriminately--for some reason I ended up with four different kinds of breakfast cereal, even though we already had some--another reason I shouldn't shop alone while I'm hungry and pregnant) I noticed that every other woman there had one or more kids with her. I mean, the store was filled with children.

This may not seem strange to you. But, to understand what I was experiencing, you'd have to know that I just spent almost two years living in San Francisco, shopping at the Trader Joe's on Masonic and Geary. Where there were never any children. On the days that I'd venture out with my kids, I'd receive a lot of quizzical looks, some downright hostile looks, and a sympathetic look from the one other mother in the store. So, when I saw the grocery store full of children yesterday, I thought, so this is where all the families in the Bay Area went. Mystery solved.

Then, while I was standing in line at the checkout, a strange thing happened. I was in a conversation with the woman in front of me in line, who had complimented me on my necklace, a Peyote stitch that my friend Elena made for me, when I felt the unmistakable sensation of someone behind me playing with my hair. Thinking I must be imagining things, I waited a minute before I turned around. Behind me stood a woman with dyed brown hair who looked like she must be in her early sixties. Her fingers were entwined in my hair. For a minute I absurdly thought that she was enthralled with the beautiful Peyote stitch bead with the turtle on it that is strung on one of my dreadlocks. But she wasn't.

"Is that real hair?" she demanded. I smiled sheepishly. "Mmm Hmm," I replied. She looked closer. "Your hair?" "Um, yes." I said again. She shook her head. "You're never ever going to be able to get that mess out," she mourned. "Nope," I replied, pretty cheerfully, starting to feel a little uncomfortable. She shook her head again, slowly. "Why would you ever mat your beautiful hair together?" I started to say that she sounded like my grandmother, but changed it at the last minute to mother, afraid that I would insult her about her age.

Then the lady standing in front of us joined in. "You know, they have those dogs, with the matted hair?" The lady behind me jumped in her excitement. "That's what she looks like!" They exchanged a knowing nod. In an attempt to change the subject, since by now I was thoroughly embarrassed, I began expounding on my theories about Bay Area families moving from the City to Marin and surrounding areas. The lady behind me shook her head. "I'm from Dallas," she announced. "All of this is strange to me. Just completely strange." She made a sweeping gesture that took in the gourmet packaged food of Trader Joe's, the packed parking lot outside where people were waiting for a spot for half and hour or more, me and my dreadlocks, and the little boy in front of us who had long blond ringlets and had fooled us into thinking he was a girl. If the rest of my multiracial family had been there, I'm sure she would have included them, too. I understand that. It's culture shock.

I've had lots of strange comments on my hair. Especially if I'm traveling, and I end up in a place like, say, Dallas. I have so many good reasons for having dreadlocks that I can usually ignore all that. I have a hippie lifestyle. I have terribly curly hair that I don't want to waste time putting hair products in anymore. I know that having a hairstyle that is kind of extreme opens you up to all of that. But, Mrs. Dallas, you're in California now. Still, I can forgive Mrs. Dallas. The real betrayal came from Mrs. California, the lady in front of me; the one who knew about Peyote stitches and was wearing a brown skirt and sandals, a beaded necklace and had long graying brown hair. The one who had a son with long blond ringlets, who was reusing her old brown paper bags to carry her groceries away. Did she really compare my hair to a dog's coat? I must have heard her wrong.