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My Daughter's Hair

People stop us in the street every day to admire my daughter’s hair. Also in the mall, the grocery store, the playground and the doctor’s office. They exclaim about its beauty and perfection, it’s shiny, gorgeous, bouncy black curls that are so amazing, they almost look fake. But fake they are not. Evelyn was blessed with her father’s hair, thank goodness. She was born with just a few wisps of dark brown fluff. Even then, it was nicer than my hair. It took about a year, but when it started to grow, a little loop of a curl appeared over each ear. It slowly filled in, darkening and thickening with every day. By the time she was three, my sweet daughter had a full head of glossy hair that hung in curled perfection down her back. Every day in the bath she reaches behind her and feels it cling wetly to her back.

“Is it as long as Rapunzel’s yet?” she asks, and smiles when I tell her it’s almost there.

The idea of cutting it has never even been a passing thought. I cherish her hair, knowing that it is a rare and wonderful gift that most people don’t get.
My hair is sadly lacking in the shiny, bouncy, and curly departments. Limp, thin and pin straight, my ordinary brown hair has been a disappointment every single day of my life. I was positively bald until I was two years old. I looked so much like my older brother that everyone thought we were twins and my mother put lacy bonnets on me so people would know she had a daughter. When I think of the amount of my life I have spent working on my hair, it makes me wonder what else I may have accomplished. Medical degree perhaps? Every day—wash, condition, mousse, root-lifting spray, blow dry, curling iron, hairspray. If not, it’s a slicked back ponytail gym-style with no hope of recovery until the next washing. When I was old enough to care, some cruel person told me I looked like a boy when my hair was pulled back so I’ve avoided ponytails as much as possible. That means spending at least an hour a day on hair maintenance if I want to leave the house. And all that work really only leaves my hair barely passable. Rain or wind will ruin me. It’s a sad state to live in.

When Evelyn’s hair started to get longer, I had to learn curly hair maintenance. She actually has as many, or more hair products than I do. If left to its own natural state, her hair ends up gigantically frizzy and tangled. So some leave in conditioner and spray-on gel are necessary just to head all the curls in the same direction. We’ve perfected a quick scrunch technique that dries into the perfect spirals that strangers so admire. On non-bath mornings, a quick wet down with a spray bottle of water and a wide toothed comb send her on her way. When we’ve got a bit more time, I am able to relive my Barbie-playing days and practice my styling skills. Pig-tails, French braids, twists, buns, clips, ribbons, and headbands abound. Luckily I have a very patient little girl.

Though I, genetically, have contributed nothing to this startling feature of my daughter, I take a great amount of pride in it. I wonder if there is anything about myself for which I have ever felt that kind of pride. I am tall, which some people admire. But there is also a requisite discomfort associated with being taller than a lot of men, as if you are somehow out of proportion with the rest of the world. I have pretty eyes, I suppose. Pale blue, as opposed to my husband’s and daughter’s deep brown. But I’ve never been stopped on the street and marveled at.

While I do admit a certain amount of jealousy, I couldn’t be happier that Evelyn did not get my hair. I imagine it will change her life in miraculous, positive ways but I’m willing to acknowledge my optimistic overestimation of the power of hair. In the meantime, I am happy to bask in the happiness that Evie’s hair seems to bring to the general public. And why not? She is pure joy to me. I take every opportunity to hold her and breath in her little girl smell, lightly mixed with the scent of Pantene. I curl her hair around my finger, over and over and over. I gather the big bunch of it into my hands and love the delicate curve of the back of her neck. We sit together sometime and talk about crazy things we would like for our birthdays, even though they are months away. I wonder at the amazingness of her tiny mind that absorbs everything around it, and then remind myself to watch what I say. I hold her tiny hand up against mine and we discuss just how long it will take until they are the same size. When I was pregnant and found out I was having a girl, I was euphoric. Oh, the things we could bond over! And we do. But what came as quite a shock to me, is that she is not me. We couldn’t look any different, to start with. Those strangers on the street smile at Evelyn, then look at me, puzzled. They are probably wondering if I am the nanny or perhaps stole her from some gorgeous dark-haired mother.
Though I knew my child would not be an exact replica of myself, I figured a daughter would be pretty much a smaller me until she got old enough to develop her own personality. But Evelyn was born with personality in spades. We were working on writing her alphabet recently and I was checking in with her on occasion. When I gave her one too many suggestions, she sighed and said, “Mom, you just focus on what you are doing and I will work on my M’s, ok?”

Even as a baby, Evelyn was in charge. A happy baby, yet determined that everything should go her way; a trait that seems to multiply as she grows. My little firecracker surprises me, challenges me and intrigues me daily. What a mystery to have a little part of yourself running around, choosing sparkly orange skirts to wear and manipulating every grandparent she sees into giving her “just one more M&M.” She’s always just one sweet smile away from making you forget her latest tantrum.

I know, without a doubt, that Evelyn is destined to break my heart, as only a daughter can do. One day she will come to me and ask to change her hair. Either straighten it or, horror of horrors, cut it short. It will be her right, naturally, to experiment with her looks, wear clothes I don’t understand, friend questionable people, and spend time on things I think to be wasteful. I distinctly remember looking at my mother when I was young and wondering why she couldn’t understand anything about me. I imagine it will be the same with my daughter and consider myself forward-thinking enough to plan on not being hurt by it. I also know that plan is doomed to fail. What keeps me calm is the knowledge that my mother and I weathered the storm and now, even though we are vastly different in so many ways, we are the closest friends.

My mother looks at me the same way I look at Evelyn, I’m sure, in the long chain of women who hope their daughters’ lives exceed their own in as many ways as possible but still check to see if there are glimmers of themselves existing there. It’s a rare day that Evelyn as I don’t bake something or read together; our favorite activities. Maybe they are trivial things, but I like to think she’ll treasure my killer banana bread recipe when she grows up and hopefully keep her devoted love of books. While I can’t know the person Evelyn will be, I can rest easy knowing I’m giving her everything of myself that I can.

To say life changes when you become a parent is beyond cliché. But there it is. I must say I’ve sported a few more ponytails since becoming a mom. I wouldn’t say I’ve stopped caring about how I look; it’s just that there is far less time to think about it before we run out of the door in the morning. It’s rare these days to actually make it through a whole shower or blow-dry without a little face peeking around the corner at me…and then putting on my chap-stick, touching my makeup, smelling my perfume, and asking profoundly endearing yet relentlessly unending questions. Whether my hair is done or not, I still have to make time for finding lost pink sneakers, bagging snacks, and of course, making sure Evelyn’s clips match her mermaid shirt.

One evening recently, I was brushing Evelyn’s hair. She asked if she could brush mine.

“A wonderful idea,” I told her as she started brushing with long strokes. “I think the last person who brushed my hair my Grammie,” I said.
Evelyn thought that was hilarious. She brushed for a while and then leaned her cheek against the smoothed hair on the back of my head.

“Mom,” she said.

“Yes baby?” I answered.

“Your hair is so beautiful,” she said. I smiled.

“Really?” I asked.

“Yeah,” she replied, “like a really excellent princess.” Excellent.

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