On Mermaid Hair And Being A Grown-Up

by Kim Bongiorno
Originally Published: 

If I were to make a list of things I don’t particularly enjoy doing, it would likely include kneeling on hard surfaces and playing with a toy that has spent most of its life festering in DNA soup.

Recently, my gorgeous, sparkly-eyed daughter’s face lit up as she asked me in the sixteenth hour I had been awake so far that day if I wanted to play a hairstyling game with her while she was in the tub.

Actually, no. I absolutely do not want to play that game, because I am feeling a bit dicky right now. Thanks for asking, kid!

The mere thought of lowering my creaking knees to the cold bathroom floor and running my fingers through Mermaid Barbie’s quite likely bacteria-laden hair made me want to make up some excuse to get me out of it. I’m sure there were towels to fold or dishes to wash or my eyeball to stab with a hot poker, but sometimes you just gotta be the grown-up no matter how much you’re not in the mood for it.

I’m sure I disappoint my kids on a regular basis, seeing as how I kiss them in public and don’t let them put tattoos across their faces before religious family gatherings, but I don’t want to disappoint them all the time. I want them to remember me as being much more fun than I really am, smarter than they should give me credit for, and more interested in their blather about Minecraft mods or bracelet-braiding techniques than it’s mentally healthy for anyone to be.

It wasn’t until I threw my kids at my own mom that I came to realize how impatient she is with children. Not in a mean way, just in a your-filter-doesn’t-work-well-after-60-years way. I had no idea she was like this when I was a kid. I only remember that she would spend hours waiting for me to make the best book choices at the public library every week, was practically a professional at undoing a knot in anything able to tangle, and smiled away as I assisted her in baking desserts. She was patient and encouraging and would stand there like a bird, watching but quiet and ready to flit off to the next thing when it was time.

What I didn’t realize was that in her silence, she was probably imagining pecking me to death so she could do something she wanted to do for once.

From driving me around to activities I now know bored her to tears to making sure that every birthday and holiday included gifts with labels that said they were from my favorite cartoon characters, my mom crafted a world that included happy memories of “our things” that she enjoyed as much as I did.

It was all bullshit, and I appreciate it more than I can articulate.

This is why I looked down at my own daughter that night as she waited for my answer with a long-haired mermaid in each fist, surrounded by bubbles I had made extra fluffy using my special claw technique, and smiled while pushing aside my impatience, disinterest and exhaustion to say, “Of course I’d love to, baby girl!”

It’s why I spent the next half hour ignoring the pain in my knees, making mohawks and updos and side ponytails by the side of the tub.

It’s why I taught myself how to French braid the mangled red tresses of an Ariel doll with a fading eye the following morning to be better prepared for saying “Yes” again the next time she asks me to do our special bath time hairstyling game.

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