- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 2, 2005

I turned my back for only a moment, but that was all it took. As quickly as you can say “Vidal Sassoon,” Michelle, the stylist cutting my daughter’s hair, grabbed fistfuls of lovely brown locks and sliced vertically, a technique known in the hair business as “layering.”

Never mind that it had taken months to grow my daughter’s hair to one length — or that the haircut I had ordered was a “blunt bob.”

Without thinking, I react. “What are you doing?” I gasp.

“You want it to curl under, don’t you?” the stylist says defensively.

“I wanted it all one length — like the picture,” I say, pointing to the larger-than-life poster of a model whose haircut we discussed mere minutes ago.

Michelle stops cutting, leaving roughly one third of my daughter’s head “blunt” and the rest freshly layered. Nervously, she fusses with my daughter’s hair, lifting it straight up and then tussling it as though playing with a puppy.

“Well, obviously, you have to cut the rest of it,” I say. Michelle’s hands shake as she works her way around my daughter’s head, cutting varying lengths into her hair.

I watch in stunned silence for a few seconds, wondering where I’ll find the time to blow-dry my 7-year-old’s new high-maintenance haircut. Then I remind myself that it’s only hair — it will grow.

“Don’t you think I look cute, Mom?” my daughter asks from under the enormous plastic tent hanging from her neck.

My eyes meet hers in the mirror. “You would look cute with purple spikes coming out of your head,” I tell her, “and your haircut is adorable. I’m just worried we’ll need extra time to fix it in the mornings before school.” I’m also worried that it will look like wet spaghetti, but I don’t say this.

“It’s really short, but I like it,” she says.

I realize that my reaction to the stylist is leading my daughter to think her hair looks bad, so I pile on the compliments. “You know, now that I look at it, I can see it’s going to be the cutest haircut ever,” I say.

My positive spin works only until we get to the car. With the chilly air blowing on her newly exposed neck, she feels like a shorn sheep. “It’s too short,” she says as tears gather in her eyes. “I need you to get me a wig to wear to school tomorrow.”

Hair is an issue about which I project my own humiliating past onto my present parenting. On at least three occasions, I endured haircuts that can only be described as “character building.” One was a version of the ‘70s “shag” that looked enough like a mullet to require three remedial attempts to fix what was wrong. It might not have been so bad had this series of styles not inched their way up my scalp only a month before my sister’s wedding, at which I looked like I wore steel wool atop my head.

So when my daughter pleads with me to stay home from school until her hair grows back, or at least for special permission to wear a hat during the school day, I empathize. “I know it feels different, but you’ll get used to it. And the great thing is you’re growing all the time — even your hair. Can’t you feel it?”

“Everyone else has long hair,” she wails. “I’m the only one with short hair. I look like a boy.”

She doesn’t even come close to looking like a boy, though saying so conjures memories of the hideous haircut I got in seventh grade. That was the time a girlfriend and I walked to Betty’s House of Beauty and paid for radically short cuts with our baby-sitting money, leaving some 13 inches of femininity on the floor of the salon.

“Don’t be silly,” I say, uttering the most useless words in parenting. Crises in confidence aren’t silly, but this is what parents say when we’re out of ideas. “Your friends will love your hair, and besides, the only one who has to like it is you.”

Visions of the “pixie” haircut I endured in third grade flood my consciousness. The style, inspired by ‘60s model Twiggy, is immortalized in my school photo. It’s an image that suggests I had been playing with scissors.

A vague sense of discomfort causes me to indulge my daughter’s hair anxiety a little longer. Then I say, “If you eat a lot of vegetables, it will grow more quickly.” Why not use this event to my advantage, after all?

The next day, she checks her look in the rearview mirror before dragging her backpack out of the van. “Here goes,” she says as she braces herself for what she’s sure will be a difficult day.

Of course, her fears are unfounded. When I pick her up at 3, she skips to the van, her new hairstyle bouncing beautifully. “Everyone loved my hair,” she says, beaming.

“See?” I say in my best I-told-you-so voice. “What did I tell you?”

“Actually, Mom, you told me not to worry because it will grow back,” she says. “But I’m not worried because I like my hair.”

What I said was that she is growing all the time — through an unexpected haircut or maybe because of one.

It turns out that with a blow dryer and a styling brush, Michelle was right. My daughter’s hair curls under in the cutest bob, framing her face perfectly.

Then again, when she smiles, nobody notices her hair anyway.

Marybeth Hicks, a wife of 17 years and mother of four children, lives in the Midwest. She uses her column to share her perspective on experiences that shape families. Visit her Web site (www.marybethhicks com) or send e-mail to marybeth. hicks@comcast.net.

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