Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Cutting away

My almost-three-year-old just cut her hair. The only blonde in the family, her long golden curls tumble down her back. She gets to be Goldilocks, Rapunzel and the fairy in family plays, and she wants her hair in matching plaits just like her big sister. And today, while I was in another room, she cut it.

It's not too bad. Now she has a short asymmetrical fringe, tapering round to a longer sweep past her ear. She sawed right into one plait, so most of the ringlets on one side of her head are gone, but the other side is fairly intact. If I want her to look symmetrical, I'll probably have to cut off the rest of the ringlets, but given that her hair has never been cut previously and was already pretty random, we might just get away with it. We'll give it a wash and see how it looks.

I sound very calm about it. Actually, when I came in and saw the long tufts and curls littering the floor, I sobbed. As I undid her plaits and removed the clumps of loose hair, then brushed out the single strands, my eyes were so full of tears I could barely see what I was doing. When I took off her clothes and shook them outside; when I fetched the broom and swept the floor; when I brushed her beautiful hair into the dustpan and put it in the bin, I just cried and cried.

It's hard to know why it upset me so. Partly, it reminded me of when we cut our oldest daughter's hair. I didn't want to, but a point came when we had no choice. Dreadlocks were beginning to form; but, far worse, a three year old with waist length plaits finds it difficult not to dangle her hair in the toilet. One day she found it too hard and we were faced with an unsavoury emergency hair wash. Soon afterwards, her hair was cut.

I don't want to cut this daughter's hair either. It's beautiful. I am constantly awed that my husband and I could produce something like this. My children's grace and beauty shock me, and I find myself focussing on the specifics of golden curls, eyebrows curved like a bird's wing, a smile which catches my breath, because the whole is too vast to comprehend.

It's an old family joke that a woman who was admiring my baby sister said to my mother, "Isn't it funny how the plainest people often have the most beautiful children?". We laugh about it; but at some level, it is always true. We adults are drooping and fatigued. Our babies make us fat and give us bags under our eyes and pendulous breasts. Our hair grows coarse and grey; our faces sprout lines; our moles, hairs; we develop fedoobedahs and our skin dries out. And then out of these crusty old adults come these fresh faced, fresh skinned, curly haired babies whose softness breaks our hearts.

I want them to retain this baby perfection for as long as possible. I want to hold on to this stage of deep intimacy, before they move on out of the home and out of our lives. And yet, of course, I can't. The whole process of having children is a balancing act of holding them close, but letting them go. Giving them roots and wings.

Over time, this will mean seeing them cut their beautiful hair and pierce their perfect noses and wear ripped up tights; allowing them to read awful books and watch inane movies and listen to peurile music; accepting that they'll eat fast food (the perfect rebellion in our organic vegetarian granola kind of household); and letting them try all the things that I did and probably more.

Being a parent means encouraging them to form their identities separate from us, hoping only that, one day, they will choose to come home. Ringlets, shaved heads, pink mohawks or conservative bobs, we'll still be startled by their beauty. The traces of heaven linger; it is only for want of looking that we fail to see them behind liver spots and wrinkles, too.


  1. I remember the day my youngest daughter, also a three year old, cut her hair. I, too, was horrified.

    None of her older sisters had tried this trick before. It was a shocking ragged cut to her fringe and sides and it happened just on Easter time. At least we had the holidays to recover before she returned to kindergarten and the world.

    Not that the world cared, only me, her mother, who like you, could not bear to see such beauty ravaged.

    Shades of Rapunzel perhaps. Though I think I recognise the point you're making here: the loss of beauty and innocence at a time when parental elegance is fading.

    This is beautifully written. Thanks.

  2. Hi Elisabeth, As my hair is now streaked with grey and those crows feet have come to reside permanently around my eyes and my once fair skin is permanently blotched and freckled by the sun - yes, it's lovely to have perfectly fresh people to adore! and also I think there's ego stuff involved. Takes a while to learn that our kids are not extensions of ourselves and that we have to let them be themselves even if it makes us uncomfortable for a while. good training for having teenagers. alison.


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