The older Olivia gets, the more I realize that there are key parenting moments. Moments where everything hinges on a split second moment. A response. To respond one way can bring healing and restoration. To respond another can potentially crush the spirit of your child. When those moments come it’s like time slows down for a few minutes. A few minutes where you get to quickly think about how that one decision is going to shape your child. The moment is pivotal and you want to do the right thing. You know you have to.
Today we were sitting outside on our deck enjoying the breeze and a brief break while our group went out for the afternoon. The kids were playing and had been in and out of the house. Earlier in the day I had worked at taking Olivia’s extensions out so she was rocking a part fro, part fast braids to keep things under control.
At one point I looked at her head and realized something looked off. She had a ball of hair stuck to another piece of her hair. I asked her to come over and pulled it off, then looked and realized a bunch of her hair was short. I asked her if she had pulled on her hair. Black hair is really brittle and breaks easily, so even knots can pull out balls of hair if you aren’t careful. Then I looked more closely and realized that she hadn’t pulled her hair – she had cut it.
And cut and cut and cut.
About 1/4 of her head had been cut at random lengths starting somewhere around the middle back and going down.
I got up and walked with her to the bedroom. I knew she needed to be disciplined, but I knew I needed to be very careful about how I did it. It was one of those moments. One of those moments where I could teach and love, or completely crush my sweet daughters heart.
I calmly asked if she understood what she had done by cutting her hair. She shook her head no. I told her I was going to take her to the bathroom so she could see. We walked down the hall and I plunked her up on the sink edge to look in the mirror.
“This is how long your hair was after growing it for the last three years, Olivia.” And I pulled a long piece up for her to see.
“And this is how long your hair is now that you’ve cut it.” I pulled the shortest piece up to compare.
“Do you know what this means?”
A head shake.
“It means that Mommy is going to have to cut all of your hair now. I have to cut it all so it’s this short. And it’s too short to put your hair extensions on again for a while.”
The tears start to fall.
I pick her up and hug her as we walk back to her room. I explain that because she did something she knows she shouldn’t have done (we’ve already been through this with her brother’s hair) that she has to get disciplined. I do it and leave her to think in her room for a few minutes. I go show Chris the giant hair ball I find stuffed behind something on the counter where she hoped we wouldn’t find it. We both feel sick. I go back to her room knowing that time is short and I have to cut her hair before the group gets back and I have to start making dinner. I don’t need her hair cut to be a big event with 10 other people watching.
I go in her room where she’s crying harder. I pull her on my lap and the crying turns to sobbing, then to gut wrenching tears. I can tell there’s a grieving process going on here. I hold her closer and kiss her forehead.
“Why are you so sad?”
“Because I can’t have long hair.”
To say that crying isn’t cleansing isn’t true. I know this as my daughter cries from the pit of herself. She understands what’s going on. She knows what has been lost. I don’t need to tell her I’m disappointed. I don’t need to tell her I’m upset. I don’t need to tell her how hard we’ve worked to get to this stage and how we have to start all over again. She knows.
Chris comes in the room and sits on the bed with us. He wraps his arms around the two of us, kisses her head and quietly asks why she cut her hair.
“Because I thought that Mommy and Daddy would think it looked nice.”
And then I stop the tears from falling down my face.
In that moment I am so acutely aware of her need to please us, to make us proud of her. I know that our response to this one thing will help shape her identity going forward. The things we say and what we do will stick forever in her little heart. Our voices will ring in her head.
We hold her tighter and we tell her that we love her. We wipe the tears and explain that Mommy will have to cut her hair, but that we remember how cute she looked with short hair when she was smaller. We talk about how we’ll work together again to grow her hair so she can have extensions and one day the long hair she wants. She dries her eyes. She has a bath. We wash and condition, then cut.
And then after as she dances around in a Tinker Bell dress I tell her of a time when she was small and how Daddy used to sink his fingers in her hair and call her his Little Lamb. She goes to where he sits on the couch and leans her head over. He sinks his fingers in and calls her his Little Lamb. She smiles.
And I think that maybe we did it right. That in a situation where we knew everything mattered we added to the foundation we’ve worked so hard to establish. And I pray that this one moment will teach us all that hair is just hair. That my daughter will learn that she is not what she has on her head, that she is loved regardless of whether it’s short or long. And most of all, I pray that she will know deep in her soul that her Mommy and Daddy will love her, no matter what.