Hair Wars

When it comes to gripping action and explosive conflict, The Hair Wars way out performs Star Wars. While The Hair Wars might be more of a localised conflict, what it lacks in scale, it more than compensates for in intensity. There is also plenty of “personality”, although It doesn’t have a celebrity cast. The Hair Wars can also get pretty brutal and usually results in some form of hand-to-hand combat, usually between mother and daughter.

The Hair Wars opens with an all too familiar scene:

“You’re not going anywhere looking like that!”

Of course, I’m running late juggling kids, bags, hats and possibly even the family dog, when I finally spot my daughter’s hair. Somewhere in the midst of the morning’s madness, I’d forgotten all about the hair. While I’d had pictured something of a Cindy Brady with perfect pigtails with matching bows, she’s appeared with a bird’s nest perched on top of her head. Moreover, she’s stubbornly refusing to let me brush or even touch it.

My heart’s racing and I’m struggling to breathe. It’s a heart attack. I know I am having a heart attack. This is neither my imagination nor a false alarm either. This is the real thing!

“Who is this girl? I have absolutely no idea which planet she came from! She’s certainly not my daughter. This sapling has most definitely sprouted from someone else’s seed! My daughter would have to be neat and tidy…a miniature version of my taller self.”

Ha! Please don’t split your side laughing!

If your daughter has one of those delicate, very sensitive “princess” scalps and can’t stand brushing her hair or perhaps has very fine hair which knots easily, you’ll know exactly what I am talking about. Just getting a brush through that hair is the proverbial “Mission Impossible”.

Last year, we had tears, screams and I even tried peeling her hands off the top of her head in my futile attempts to get the brush through it and make my daughter “respectable”. Most of the time, I lost every round of these hair wars. I can’t tell you how many times Miss wore that disgusting “bird’s nest” to school. We’d try detangler…the works. She was in tears. It really hurt. Moreover, the more she resisted, the more tangled, difficult and totally impenetrable her hair became. It was rapidly becoming the enchanted forest!

Now, I can just hear you saying that I should have cut it off. Told her that if she didn’t brush her hair and look after it, that it would go. I did try but I knew myself too well. It’s ultimately counter-productive to make threats you know that not going to carry out. I’ve always been a long hair person. My mother kept my hair short when I was her age and I resented it. How I longed for Rapunzel locks! My own childhood deprivations are, of course, what’s stopped me from dealing with Madam for far too long and shaving it all off with Geoff’s beard trimmer.

Yes, the beard trimmer was tempting especially when the nits invaded the nest. You could just imagine trying to get the nit comb through. She was infested. That battle, for better or worse, resulted in chemical warfare and thank goodness we finally disposed of those blighters. I swear the nits always arrive at the very worst possible time. Fighting nits is never easy but when my muscle disease is playing up, I can barely brush my own hair. The nit comb is out of the question and of course, there’s an absolute population explosion.

Anyway, just when I was at my wits end, a friend of mine shared a very simple solution….a $2.00 plastic blokey hair brush. She also recommended plaiting her hair before bed so it wouldn’t scruff up. I did that a couple of times but now the brush is enough. Success built up on success and she started to get the oils through her hair and for the first time possibly ever, her hair actually looks shiny and healthy. We had a miraculous breakthrough and peace almost echoed through the house.

That was round one of the hair wars resolved with a win for Mum and a win for the girl! However, like all block buster movies, there’s always a sequel.

Our sequel: “I can do it myself!”

Of course, fostering independence in your children is critical. Only last weekend, I expanded my efforts in teaching the kids how to cook to a broader effort to help them stand on their own two feet. This means doing as much as they can for themselves and stretching their abilities so they can be independent. I am not their servant and I am certainly not their slave. That said, I also need to back off and stop taking over as well. I need to let them do it. They need to have enough room to make mistakes and learn from them. It is my job to maintain some kind of portable safety barrier around the edge to prevent serious injury. Remember, we all learn best through the bumps and knocks of hardship, not through smooth sailing. Everybody needs to be challenged (Yes, that is a need NOT a want).

Of course, all these ideas are just brilliant at the inspirational, conception phase. Like many good ideas, however, implementation is the real battleground…converting “talk” into “walk”. When it comes to teaching kids a new skill, there’s a lot of planning, trying to see a task from the kid’s point of view and endless deep breathing to cope with whatever happens. I’m just saying you need to be prepared for mistakes and then going into some kind of damage control to manage the consequences. We’re talking potential catastrophes…veritable tsunamis. The sort of stuff that feels like scratching fingernails down a chalk board and you can feel every single cell in your body reacting badly. Of course, you’re no Carol Brady of any persuasion. You are trying to smile and be encouraging and yet the most inhuman of screeches passes out of your lips and your child bursts into tears: “Mummy?????!!!”

Parents aren’t perfect either.

Getting back to the hair…

I’m not that fussy and I’ve never been a girly girl. I can’t French plait or doing anything fancy. I would just like my daughter’s hair to be neat…somewhat neat. No huge bumpy bits at the back sticking out like speed humps.

You can pick when a kid does their own hair. They can see the front okay but the back is tricky. As they put the ponytail together, the top seems to buckle and goes quite bumpy. I’m sure you know what I mean. It’s like some of those home sewers when they burst with pride at their less than perfect creations: “I made it myself” and you half-smile in reply: “I know”.

It’s the same when little kids do their own hair. You just know!

All I’m trying to pull off is a simple ponytail or other acceptable up style with perhaps a few basic clips to hold down all those renegade wispy bits and infuriating growing out fringes, which only I’m sure only ever grow out in time to be cut off again.

Surely, it couldn’t be that hard?!!!!  But…

There are too many bumps. Her hair is caught in the elastic. It’s a shambles. I can’t let her go to school looking like this.

Once again, I remind myself to breathe deeply. Inhale…1,2,3,4…exhale.

As tempting as it is to grab the brush and do her hair myself, if I want her to stand on her own two feet and be independent, that means leaving that hair brush in her less than capable hand. Moreover, I’ll need to gently guide to develop eyes on the back of her head or at least find a mirror to see what they can’t see instead of snatching the brush and simply taking over. Snatching the brush might be a battle and taking over might feel like the answer but you’re actually telling your child that they aren’t good enough. That they can’t do it and they are in fact useless…all over a simple thing like doing their hair. Is this really what you’re intending to do?

For me this morning, as I was about to snatch the brush, a moment of insight suddenly hit. She can’t see the back of her head. She looks at the front and thinks she’s done a great job and she can’t actually see all those infuriating bumps and ripples that drive me mad. So I didn’t actually need to snatch away the brush and take over. She just needed her to feel the back of her head, look in the mirror and she could fix it herself. She is quite capable of doing her own hair. It just needed some refinement.

I must also point out that she is too small to see into our bathroom mirror so when it comes to getting her hair neat and tidy, she really is rather challenged. We’ve been intending to set up a low-flying mirror and we really must get around to it. Give Miss a chance.

Of course, we are only at the very beginning of the hair wars. We are still a few blissful years away from the teenage years. That said, when Miss was only six years old, I had to contend with her infatuation with blond hair. Apparently, she thought she was ugly because she doesn’t have blond hair.

This was obviously a time for a serious life lesson on the importance of acceptance if ever there was one. I thought I might as well shatter all her aspirations. It would take a bucket-load of bleach because like me, her hair really is too dark to go blond without destroying it completely…another lesson in acceptance!

A cousin of mine expanded on this theme with her teenaged daughter. Dying your hair becomes very expensive and blond hair is very high maintenance. As a young person on a young person’s wage, she had to be able to “afford herself”. I noted and filed this advice. This was a keeper.

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