My child has inherited, through genetic lottery, my hair.
When she was born, the first thing my husband exclaimed was ‘”She has your hair!” She was wet and red and childbirth is, of course, quite startling, but somehow the texture of her hair managed to penetrate his dizziness — so astonishingly like that of the woman he loves that it offered proof in a way that my swollen belly and expulsion of a fetus could not — that she was, indeed, our daughter.
My hair is a problem. It is curly. Sort of. It is curly every other Tuesday or when it rains or if it is cut by a talented stylist or if I hang upside down while drying it and apply some sort of thickening wax. Otherwise, it is fairly limp, refusing to be straight but lacking the robustness of more determinedly curly tresses. I wrestle with hair that will never be a halo of Keri Russell fairy curls and will never fall in cascades like silky Angelina Jolie locks either.
Now that my child has this hair, I have forgiven it. If my child has it, it must be beautiful. She makes everything work.
Through the subtleties of physics and barometric pressure, my toddler’s hair has gone from silky coils to an unmanageable poof as the weather has turned from humid to dry. It requires much brushing and manipulating and the use of many bobby pins to tame it. Compulsive as I am, I happily brush her hair while she watches “Madeline” each morning and eats cinnamon raisin toast.
There’s such sensual pleasure in grooming our babies.
The oxytocin flows.
But we keep running out of bobby pins. Just as one strand is secured, another slips past the grip of a ponytail holder.
Last night, my husband, who is no hair expert, asked me what had happened. He confided that he was unable to manage pigtails anymore.
“Why does her hair keep slipping out?” he asked me, helpless and confused. “Where are her curls?”
I didn’t have time to explain that his beloved child’s hair suffers from multiple personality disorder. I went to get the scissors.
My daughter is nearly three. She loves watching the scene in Dirty Dancing where Frances leans her head into the water and it cascades, wet and clinging, down her back.
She has told me that she doesn’t want a hair trim because “Frances’s hair reaches the water.”
I am no match for this logic, so eloquent and accurate in its emotional urgency.
I grappled with boundaries last night. Who cares if her hair is a mess when we wander out to jump in puddles?
On the other hand, it needs a trim. Her hair has been looking sad and sloppy.
Knowing from experience what lopping off an inch can do for this hair of ours I felt I owed it to her to — what?
Go against her wishes?
Neck deep in bath bubbles and making potions with glassware, my daughter didn’t notice I was trimming her hair.
Then she looked up at me.
“Mommy, are you cutting my hair?”
“Yes,” I said.
My heart sank. My stomach lurched. I waited for screaming and tears.
She went back to singing “I am Sixteen, You are Seventeen” from The Sound of Music.
Wow. I didn’t dare exhale. Surely it was coming. The reaction was coming.
After the bath, I spread out a towel and we proceeded with our nightly ritual. We put on The Aristocats and I rubbed her feet. I finished her hair cut. I combed each baby lock and snipped with precision. We listened to Maurice Chevalier sing the title song — “which pets’ address is the finest in Paris? Which pets possess the longest pedigree?” The hand-drawn cats with the pencil marks left in to convey the look of early 20th-century Paris danced across the screen.
I watched her curls spring back to life.
I quickly disposed of the paper towel on which I’d placed each lost lock and then asked my cherub if she wanted to see. She assessed her Shirley Temple bob in the mirror above my vanity.
“I like it!” she screamed. She jumped on the bed, flattening our already worn quilt.
My heart soared. Could I possibly be the best mother in the world? Just for tonight?
No, I could not.
She vacillated. She mused. She studied her hair. She thought.
Her baby doll, she told me an hour later, hated her hair cut. I told her that the doll was envious because she had no hair of her own. I told her that her new hair was like Madeline’s. It was a bob. It was Parisian.
She looked at me.
“I don’t think so, Mommy. Maybe you shouldn’t have cut it.”
Guilt is like a rash: it itches the more you scratch it. I scratched all night.
This morning I put barrettes in her hair. Her waves bounced on each side of her delicate head. She put on her play clothes and as we were walking out the door, she shouted, “Mommy! Lift me up!”
I held her up to the mirror.
“This Friday is my birthday and I have a new hairdo!”
At nap time, she told her Madeline doll that her red yarn hair was getting too long.
“Don’t you want a bob?” She asked her. “You’ll look just like me.”
Oh, kid. You got my hair, but your daddy’s élan.
Or maybe it’s her stylist. I’ve got to get her name; she works wonders.
— Leslie Kendall Dye
Leslie Kendall Dye is an actress and dancer in Manhattan. She was a nanny for years before having her own child. Her work has been featured on Mamalode, The Huffington Post, Nanny Magazine, Tipsy Lit, Mamapedia, Project Underblog, Off The Shelf and others. You can find her typing her weird little essays into hungrylittleanimal.blogspot.com when she is not trying to get her toddler to bed before 11 p.m.