My oldest daughter, age 5, had been asking me to blow dry her hair “straight”, and curl it with the curling irons, for some time now. Though it seemed like a simple request, I dreaded the amount of time and work that it would involve. You see, my daughter has a very thick head of big hair. While it isn’t the least bit coarse, when dried, it’s just BIG… “I’m Every Woman” Chaka Khan big! Did I say it’s big? It also sucks up moisture better than the best Oreck vacuum cleaner. I ran through the mental checklist of all the reasons why she could wait. Then I heard the small voice inside tugging at me to remember that “every girl needs to feel special no matter what their age”; to feel that they matter enough for someone to take the time, love, and care for them. This is what a girl wants!
I grabbed her by the hand; reached for the bottle of No-Tears shampoo, and commenced to wash that coif! I assured her that this would be the easy part. The heat would come later! After the repeated patterns of sectioning, combing, drying, and moisturizing, I took to the delicate work of curling her hair with the hot curling irons. I wanted to be really careful to avoid burning my baby’s ears, skin, or hair. Then she said, “I don’t just want my hair blow-dried and straight, Mom, I want it curled too, like a princess!” She also wanted style and a little bit of pomp and circumstance.
What I wanted was not very different from what she wanted. It was a yearning for us to spend more special time together. Oddly enough, I felt like I was getting her ready for a big event, and was nervous about the “big reveal”. Would she like it? Would I be comfortable with seeing her look slightly more grown up? Would she ask me to do this more often than I’d care to? Would I then have to share with her my opinions on why she shouldn’t? We got to talk about what was on her mind, and I got to revel in her excitement and anticipation about what her hair would look like and how she would feel, once finished.
Then a rather different mood hit me altogether. My mind fast-forwarded to her teenage years and young adulthood, and the various mirrors into which she may look as she morphs into the various stages of becoming the young woman that I imagine she will become (First Day of Middle School; High School; Sweet 16; Prom; Going off to College; Her First Heartbreak). My eyes hold back the tears that my heart is generating, and my heart becomes full of a longing for the return to her childhood, though she still sits before me as a five-year old child. Each stroke of the hairbrush and release of a new Shirley Temple-ish curl becomes deliberate and contemplative.
I tell her stories about how my grandmother would secure me between her knees to comb and grease my wild and woolly hair, and that though I appreciated her taking the time with me, I wasn’t too keen on the big old plaits and pigtails that I got for enduring all that pain. That just didn’t feel like a fair deal. I was surprised by my daughter’s sensitivity toward my grandmother, whom she met only once at just six months old. My grandmother scoffed at the notion of elaborately styling a child’s hair, or applying heat to such a tender head. She often displayed a growing disgust about our girls growing up too fast, even then.
I contemplated how my five-year old would remember these moments. Were my responses affirming? Was my touch gentle enough? Did I celebrate her, and more importantly, did we both share in the moment that I hoped would be bottled forever. I was doing my best to create what I hoped would be a sweet memory. She approached the mirror, looked at her hair, smiled at herself, and remarked, “I look beautiful, mommy”. Her words needed no chorus or symphony, no backup, no response. Though I was happy to provide one, she was sure of it, as she continued to exchange smiles with her reflection.
My heart smiled now, wider than my face could manage, as I held back tears of joy. She felt confident, radiant, special, beautiful! I hoped that she would hold on this remarkable confidence and always see herself as worthy of mommy’s love and care, without hearing the threat of “next week” or “maybe tomorrow”.
I now realize that every little girl needs to feel that they matter enough that someone would take the time, love, nurture and care with them. “Every girl needs to feel special…no matter what their age.”
And now I need a Kleenex!
Some musical inspiration on the subject:
“Grandma’s Hands“, by Bill Withers; and,
“The Thickness (Let her be elevated)”, by Jill Scott. (Rated: GFO (Grown Folks Only)