It was a bad hair day.
This typically happens the morning after the bath. Though I try to dry her moppy top before I put her to bed, Sophie experiences my ministrations as battery and assault. I’ve tried to lighten the mood by screaming along with her. We stand together, in front of the bathroom full-length mirror. Sophie, in front, stark naked. Me, behind her, wielding my hand towel of torture. The two of us scream at the top of our lungs as I tousle her sopping locks in brief bursts. It is cathartic for me. I can express some of the pent-up frustration that has been slowly growing throughout the bath. It is distracting for her. If too much of my anger does not leak into my primal cries, she finds me funny. Sometimes, we both wind up laughing.
What must the neighbors think?
But we never get it quite dry. She wriggles away long before the job is done. So, by morning, her bob has magically transformed into a bird’s nest. Most mornings I can tame it with a wide-toothed comb, a glass of water, and a book. But on the mornings we are headed North, I forgo the combing, knowing it will “hang out” with a little sweat and time.
But on this morning, I make a fatal error. As we were making our ablutions in the bathroom, we both catch a glimpse of Sophie’s head in the mirror. “Take a look a your head!” I exclaim, “what decided to take up residence in there last night?”
Sophie stands still for a moment, “Mommy, my hair looks crazy.”
“Yes,” I agree. “It does.”
“We need to comb it, Mom. I don’t want the kids to think I look funny.”
It is a first. An awareness of judgement of her peers. A concern about her appearance. Self-consciousness.
Sure, in recent months, she has become clothes-conscious, insisting that she be the one to pick out her outfits each morning. But this stems less from a desire to achieve some social standard of beauty than to have creative control over her wardrobe. She mixes reds with hot pinks, florals with stripes, dresses with pants. All that matters is whether it appeals to her.
I can remember, before Sophia was born, admiring the invented outfits of other people’s willful four-year-olds. Secretly wishing that one day I would have a child who had her own sense of style. Who wore her zaniness on her sleeves.
And then, once I was gifted this child, I actually found myself saying, “but, Sophie, that doesn’t MATCH.” Or “Honey, that dress and those tights don’t go together.” I started getting into battles over what she wore. Much to my horror, I realized I was the one who was the one who was concerned about what others would think.
(Look at how she let’s that child out of the house.)
My old self was in there, I really got a kick of her crazy combos. I had to fight this other self. This mother self who worries excessively about whether other people think her daughter
Is polite enough
Is calm enough
Is obedient enough
Is clean enough
Plays nicely enough
Ultimately, it was the battles themselves, so unpleasant and so unnecessary, that finally set me straight. Let her wear what she wants. Let her express herself in this small important way. Who cares?
Back in the bathroom, I pocketed the comb. “Soph, I’ll take the comb with me. When we get to school, I’ll brush it before we go inside.”
“Okay,” she replies brightly, happy to delay the brushing.
By the time we get to school, she has forgotten all about her nesty tresses. I consider for a moment, pulling out the comb, but then decide against it. Why reinforce it, this notion that she has to appear a certain way to avoid the ridicule of others?
When we got to her class. Sophie ran in and, blowing a kiss in my direction, joined her miss-matched, messy-haired friends.
And no one said a word.