For the first year of my daughter’s life, I delighted in decorating her head. We had stretchy headbands in every color, giant flowers in abundance, and my personal favorite, a red satin ribbon with a neat little bow that made her look exactly like a baby Snow White. When we got tired of headbands, there were hats, and I mean, come on, there is nothing more adorable than babies in hats.
But then she grew hair.
For a while this was a great, novel, new thing. We were all about the teeny toddler pigtails, and I was confident in my styling capabilities until we hit the preschool years and I was faced to confront a terrible reality: I suck at doing hair.
I should’ve known. I came of age in the era of mall hair, yet I was the only girl in my school with a limp, lifeless ‘do. Everyone else’s bangs defied gravity, while mine flopped lazily to one side. I couldn’t be bothered with the curling iron, the Dippity-do, or the spritz that smelled like grape and made your hair turn into Saran Wrap. My mom made me get a spiral perm, which I hated, and after that, in my adult life, I have had exactly two hairstyles: long and straight, and bobbed and straight. According to every women’s magazine ever, I’ve also been blow drying my hair wrong, too, because for years I had no idea what the “ends” of my hair were. I had them confused with the roots. So I quit blow drying my hair all together, and now most of the time I look like Samara from The Ring.
By the time my daughter was 3 and she’d grown a full mane, she resembled a child from caveman times. Think of all the representations you’ve ever seen of prehistoric children and this was what I was dealing with. I often had to reassure strangers that, no, my daughter wasn’t raised by wolves, and no, I was not going to crawl out of TVs and kill people.
I don’t know what a diffuser is for. I can’t use a round brush without having to cut it away from my scalp with scissors. Don’t even bring up the topic of hot rollers, salt spray, or dry shampoo (that doesn’t even make sense to me). The only thing I know how to do with hair is get gum out of it (use oil, you’re welcome).
One day, one of the other preschool moms politely suggested detangler, and my entire worldview practically shifted once I started using it on my kid’s hair. It felt like a major victory. That is, until my then-4-year-old came home one day asking for “beachy waves.” Even more disturbing? She knew what ombre meant and how to pronounce it correctly. Things got worse from there because pretty soon she started asking me for fishtails, mermaid hair, and something called a “waterfall twist.”
“Mommy, can you give me a topknot with a bow made out of my own hair?” she asked.
If, like me, you’re wondering where she heard about this stuff, the answer is YouTube and the other girls in her class who were also, apparently, obsessed with braiding tutorials. These kids can barely color in the lines, but they all know the difference between a Dutch and a French braid, neither of which I can do. Not yet anyway. I’m working on it — slowly.
I’m trying. I really am. I want to do this for my daughter, partly because I know it will make her happy, but also because I’d like her to look back on her childhood photos with fondness instead of the horror I experience when I see that sagging spiral perm I refused to mousse in 1989. I’m trying to learn to style hair to redeem myself, and also because I like a good challenge.
I’m proud to say that I can now manage a sock bun because I bought one of those As Seen on TV Hot Buns things. It actually works. In my bathroom, I now display more styling products than I have owned in my entire life combined. I’m still trying to figure out what to do with all of them.
Each morning, I practice. My daughter is my willing guinea pig. We laugh and plan our day while I attempt to weave and twist and clip. She tells me what she wants, and I give it my best. Usually my best is full of bumps and snarls and falls out in five minutes, but still, I persevere! Still, I study the tutorials.
Yesterday she requested a crown of braids that wrapped around her head.
“Settle down, Milk Maid of the Alps,” I told her, but I tried it anyway. She ended up looking more like a psychotic Frida Kahlo than Heidi, but she thought it was pretty, and that’s all that matters, right?
Progress may be slow, but it’s coming. Realistically, my daughter and I probably don’t have a future as Instagram hair models, but this isn’t about that. It’s about bonding with my little girl, making an effort to learn something new on her behalf, and showing her that practice makes perfect. Okay, maybe not perfect, but at least maybe one day I’ll be able to whip out a respectable side pony fishtail.