Shortly after my daughter turned one, I realized that she finally had enough hair to pull up into a ponytail. However, I only realized this after my husband texted me a photo while at work of a tiny spray of hair sprouting from the top of her head, fastened by a difficult-to-remove elastic by one of her daycare teachers. Seeing this prompted me to both smile at how beautiful she looked with her hair swept back and yet sigh that I was not the one to style it.
By the time she started getting her hair done at school, I should have had hair elastics or bows at home, but that level of toddler maintenance was not yet on my radar. After raising a boy with a short cut, my daughter’s long locks were new to me. So I quickly swung by the hair accessories aisle at Target and bought a variety of clips, bows, headbands, and elastics, so that I could be the one to style her.
However, while her teachers accomplish elaborate braids, she fights me through the simplest pigtails. I know that she enjoys having her hair styled with her friends, so I don’t take it personally that our attempts to recreate these styles at home often fail. However, I bought a book of Disney Frozen Hairstyles, as she often asks for an “Elsa braid,” in hopes that this would be something we can bond over as she, and her hair, continues to grow.
As a working mom, it is sometimes a feat to get my children to school clean, dressed, and with lunch boxes in hand, nevertheless with accessories or hair styles in place. After I realized that the daycare teachers were not doing her hair to send me a message that it should be styled, but rather that they did the hair of all the children as a form of play during the day, I stopped feeling inadequate every time she came home with a ponytail or braid. She enjoyed showing off her ‘do each day and I looked forward to seeing what they were able to accomplish with the little hair she had.
Yet each time I saw her little fountain of hair, feelings of longing poured forth. This simple ponytail represented another of her firsts that I would miss while working. I am sure I missed the first roll, unsupported sit, and maybe even step, although I never counted the ones that I couldn’t see while she was at daycare. But here in front of my face was a ponytail that said, your baby is growing up and you missed it. While you were busy working, we started doing her hair.
I know that while I may have missed her first ponytail, we will have so many more together to come. I am thankful that she has teachers who love her enough to groom her in a motherly way and that she is secure enough to receive love from the village that raises her. I love that with each ponytail she smiles a little bigger and my baby takes another step towards being a big girl. And despite all of this, as I untangle those fierce little elastics that rip at her fine, blonde hair, they also tug at my heart as symbols of the things that I sometimes miss. Then the next morning, with a bit of working mom ambivalence, I send her off to school with wild tresses grateful that others will tame them for me.