“Would you please stop squirming?” I enunciated every syllable in a feeble attempt to sound tougher than I am. You’d think after ten years my “mommy” voice would be perfected, but I’m beginning to believe this is as commanding as I’ll ever be. I increased the pressure of my hand on her shoulder, but to no avail. She continued fidgeting until I dropped my hands and sighed. “I know that it hurts, honey, but if you don’t stop we’ll be here all night!”
I looked at us in the mirror. Her brown eyes were liquid chocolate with unshed tears. She was trying so hard not to cry, but the chin quiver gave it away. “Are you mad at me?”
Was I? I still wasn’t sure. Take a deep breath, Clare. “No, sweetheart, I’m just frustrated. Haven’t I told you not to fall asleep with gum in your mouth? How many times? And this is why.” I held up a clump of bright pink gum entangled in her hair like tumbleweeds in a chain link fence. “Exactly how many pieces did you have in there?” How big of a mouth did she have? We’d been here nearly an hour and I was sure we had at least that long left to go.
Her tears began. “I didn’t KNOW I was gonna fall asleep.” Sniff. “I just was so comfy reading my book.” Sniff. “And with the rain falling and the house all quiet…” Sniff. Sniff. “I couldn’t help myself.” Alice shrugged her shoulders as I handed her a tissue and picked up the peanut butter jar again. I slathered on another teaspoon of the greasy stuff and silently continued.
“Yes, Alice?” Each tug caused her eyes to squeeze shut and a squeal to escape.
“What happens if we can’t get it out?” Her voice was almost a whisper. She already knew the answer and it scared her.
I wasn’t about to sugar-coat it. “We’ll have to cut it off.” The tears turned to wails. Alice loved her hair and I admit I’d been a culprit in the creation of her vanity. I still don’t understand how, but through the mysterious workings of genetic code, Alice had not inherited my flat, boring, dishwater hair, but instead sported naturally-wavy mahogany-highlighted brunette hair that any grown woman would pay serious cash to see on her own head. At age ten, Alice knew it was beautiful and she already knew how to use her beauty to her advantage.
“I’m gonna look like a boy!” The weeping began afresh. Patience, Clare.
Before I could answer, a knock sounded on the wall and my mother’s face joined ours in the mirror. She put her hand up to her mouth, to stifle a laugh. “Yep, Clare, you said it was a mess and you weren’t kidding.” I had called in emergency reinforcements. She kissed the top of Alice’s head, in the small spot free of either peanut butter or bubble gum. “Sugar, your head looks like you got caught in a hand mixer at a taffy factory.” Mom took the comb from me and started working herself, clucking and giggling under her breath.
“Grandma, that hurts!” For a half-hour I sat on the edge of the tub and watched my mom try to rid Alice of her rat’s nest. Finally, even my tenacious mother set the comb down on the counter. Instead of giggling, she had now assumed the solemnity of a doctor giving a patient bad news. “Clare, go get my scissors.” So it was terminal.
But before I could leave, my mild-mannered Alice screamed, “Don’t cut my hair!” in an all-out tantrum I hadn’t seen from her since she was four. My mother gave me “the look” and I kept my mouth shut.
“What exactly are you afraid of, Sugar? You think you won’t be pretty anymore? Won’t be special if I cut off those curls? If I had prettier hair would you love me more? Listen: you are beautiful because you are you; yes, God gave you beautiful hair, but he also gave you a quick mind, and a loving heart and you would do well to start exercising those muscles a bit more often. You’ll be grown up soon and God willing, you’ll learn that what’s in your heart matters a whole lot more than what’s on your head. Clare, go get my scissors.”
Alice ended that day with shorter hair, but hopefully a bigger picture of what makes a woman beautiful.
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