For more than six months, my toddler has told me he doesn’t like it when I wear my hair up. I wrote about it last summer, when the comments first began and considered it back then to be an annoying but endearing obsession he’d get over by September. He didn’t get over it.
As soon as I swept my hair up into a ponytail or a bun, my son could see nothing else. He had to tell me, “Mommy, I don’t like your hair like that.” Sometimes he’d say it with a smile. Sometimes he’d be close to tears within seconds. Other times he said it like a freaky mechanical child doll. When I’d finally let it down again, his only response, every time, was overt relief.
“I like your hair like that, Mommy,” he’d say, as though letting my hair down just saved him from imminent death.
This has gone on for several seasons now, but more notably, through an election and through the start of a new presidency during which women are being told to do or not do certain things with their bodies.
I don’t like to be told what to do with my body, and that includes my hair. I don’t want to raise children who think it’s acceptable to tell anyone what to do with his or her body, especially if it has nothing to do with them. So every time my son tells me he doesn’t like what I’m doing with my hair, it has felt more and more like an opportunity and experiment in resistance – my own minor, but concerted at-home version.
I’m pretty psyched to tell you that, as of last night, the dam broke. Turns out, fellow parents, that resistance is NOT futile.
I struggled at first to find the right language to express why I didn’t want my son to tell me what to do with my hair. “I don’t care what you think I should do with my hair,” I’d say. “I don’t care what you do with your hair,” I’d try. “We don’t tell other people what to do with their hair or their bodies, right?” I’d offer, the answer totally obvious.
My son would just purse his lips at me.
I’d stare right back at him.
These showdowns felt both sweet and hostile. Neither of us wanted to back down, both of us cared what the other thought and felt, but were trying to prove a point. Man, it was intense!
No one told me how resolute toddlers can be, how sure of themselves, and how aware they are of what gets under their parents’ skin. But toddlers are definitely all of those things. Sometimes I think they fight – like certain people in Washington – for the glory of it. They fight because it feels good to wield their small, but mighty, power.
Our battles followed the same script all through December. In the winter, I wear my hair down for warmth most days, so the battles have been fewer.
Until this week, when something different came out of my mouth. I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me earlier…maybe because it didn’t feel big enough or important enough, and everything feels important now, in light of the shift in public figure role models for our kids. So for the first time, I made our fight not about me, but about us, about the kind of humans we are and the kind we want to be.
“No,” I said, “We don’t say mean things to people. We only say nice things to people. You can say, I like your hair like that, but you can’t say you don’t like it. That’s just not nice. And we don’t do that.”
My son got quiet and focused for a minute. And I wasn’t sure what he’d taken in because, within 30 seconds, he was asking me to read a book to him about tacos while he drew pictures of various Beatles on his Magna Doodle.
The next morning at breakfast, my husband dove into the fray. “No,” he corrected our tiny opining roommate, “What you can say is, Mommy, you can wear your hair however you want. THAT is what you can say.”
I don’t know if it was the actual things we said, or that we just didn’t stop calmly resisting him, but last night at dinner, he made it known that he’d heard us. I sat down, hair up high on top of my head, daring a certain someone to get after me.
That someone looked right into my eyes, appeared to take a breath, a steadying breath, and said blithely, “Mommy. You can wear your hair however you want.”
He quickly looked down at his plate, smirking, proud of himself, I think.
“Thank you,” I said, from the depths of my heart, my hand on his arm and tearing up because I was proud of him, too. But I may be a little prouder of my own unwillingness to back down on something that feels so symbolic and important right now.
“You can wear your hair however you want, too.”