“Hey Mom, can you straighten my hair?” she asks. I gladly oblige. Because it’s not often that she needs—or wants—my help with much of anything anymore. My hands are no longer in charge of her hair.
She plops down on a stool, her back to me, and I begin to gather one small section of hair at a time. I secure each one between two heated plates and slide the flat iron from the roots to the ends.
As I rhythmically gather, clamp, and slide, I am incredulous. My daughter’s long locks cascade down the length of her back. I can nearly rest my chin on her head. Physically, she doesn’t resemble a little girl, yet I still see one.
A little girl with round cheeks and a mess of fine hair to comb through, whose innocent and sheltered eyes watch me from the mirror while I work to smooth snarls and untangle knots.
And sometimes I miss her. The girl whose locks are wonderfully and frustratingly mussed from living life outside—the backyard, the playground, the sunshine, the dirt. Whose head hits the pillow smelling of earth and sky, with a spirit of joy surrounding her as she drifts off to sleep.
This woman-child sitting before me now faces the mirror alone each morning and evening, braiding her hair, smoothing it, or scooping it into a ponytail. She’s almost as tall as me. But I still see the little girl standing tippy-toed on a plastic stool while I gather her wispy hair into tiny elastic bands, creating two-inch pigtails that sprout from the crown of her head.
And sometimes I miss her. The girl who relies on my arms or her trusty stool to wash her hands or see her reflection in the bathroom mirror. Who always likes what she sees of the person staring back at her, even the freckles and mismatched outfits, because what’s not to like?
Now, she agonizes over what to wear, considering how she’ll be perceived by her peers. Sequins, cats, and too much color are out apparently. But I still see the girl who beams in a rainbow-striped tee paired with a glittery tutu and kitten leggings underneath.
And sometimes I miss her. The girl who lives in complete freedom. From other people’s opinions, perceptions, critiques. Who has no concept of “fitting in.” Who feels free to just . . . be.
These days she can look me in the eye when we stand to face each other, but I still see the little girl whose head collides with my thigh when she bolts toward me for a hug. The girl I must kneel in front of to make eye contact with. The girl who sits in my lap for bedtime stories then blows me goodnight kisses.
And sometimes I miss her. The girl who was . . . little. Little enough to protect. Little enough to scoop into my arms. Little enough to enjoy life’s simple wonders. Little enough to feel safe from, well, anything and everything that hurts in this world.
I slide the flatiron over the last section of hair and take one final look, taming a few stray wisps with my suddenly older-looking fingers.
“All done,” I say.
“Thanks,” she responds, then glances in the mirror before grabbing her backpack and heading out the door.
I tell the girl in front of me goodbye, and silently say goodbye to the little girl who came before.
“I’ll miss you,” I whisper.
I suppose I already do.