Rattails and Faux Hawks
My mother grew up in wartime England, my dad was a Depression Era child. They were fiscally and socially conservative Catholics, older and more traditional than the parents of my friends.
I was one of four kids, all girls, and not one of us was allowed to grow our hair past our collars because my mother was deathly afraid of ‘nits’ (lice).
I didn’t discover my hair was curly until I was ten. By fourteen, after a lot of begging, my mom took me to her hairdresser for a New Age haircut, short on sides, longer on top, with a rattail. Not my proudest fashion moment. But now that I’m a mom, and my daughter wants a faux hawk, I can see where allowing it was one of my own mother’s best moments.
Last year my basketball and martial arts loving daughter started asking me to let her cut her hair short. She’d inherited my thick, curly red hair, and the California sunshine had added bright streaks of blonde. She was four the first time someone asked me if I dyed it.
People stopped us on the street to rave about her hair. When she was a toddler, I’d dressed her as Ariel and Annie for Halloween.
“Please Mom, I want short hair.”
My pink-wearing five-year old who wanted to become a “unicorn trainer” in kindergarten had morphed into a nine-year old with a loathing for anything “girlie”.
“A mohawk, okay?”
Our Southern California coastal enclave is a place where people beat back all evidence of aging with dermatologists, plastic surgeons and personal trainers. It is a place where every mom, nearly every girl and, a surprising number of boys, have long hair. It is a place obsessed with beauty. Many of the kids get two sets of braces – the first set so they don’t have crooked teeth in elementary school.
Her peers would tease her. She might even be mistaken for a boy.
When I finally saw the end result, my heart sank. It was cute but pixyish, and more androgynous than I’d bargained for. The hairdresser swept the pile of four-inch long stands of her hair into a pile, and with a push of her foot they were sucked into oblivion.
My daughter beamed. I told her she looked beautiful. She did.I didn’t remind her of what we’d talked about on the way to the hair cut place –that not everyone would like it –and that some who didn’t would not be kind.
“I love it, Mom,” she said, running her fingers through the two-inch long still wet strands. “Shorter next time, okay?”
Adults were kind –they told her they loved it–almost without exception.
The kids in her class were not. It looked better long was the consensus of her peers. Some were cruel. A few moms told me how much they admired me for letting her do it, then in the same breath told me they’d never allow it.
I’ve gotten used to people calling my daughter “buddy” and thinking she’s a boy –something she doesn’t mind at all –unless she’s told to leave the girls bathroom by an adult.
At my daughter’s last martial arts competition she pointed out every boy and girl with a mohawk or faux hawk –their plumage streaked with red or purple or blue.
As I enter the hair salon, I think of my mom and the rattail and I fork over the money for my daughter’s faux hawk with a smile.
Rachel Sweigart is a midlist author of contemporary fiction, mother of two and writing coach at Essay Nirvana. After graduating from the University of California, Santa Barbara, she worked in public safety and medical research before finding her bliss writing and helping others tell their stories.