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An Act of Love

By Kathryn Leehane

From the moment I held my newborn daughter, I marveled at her full head of hair. I brushed it while she nursed. Stroked it as she slept. Delighted in washing it—even when mine hadn’t seen a shower in days. Tending to her thick tresses made me feel like a mother. It became an act of love.

For years, I relished being her personal beautician, singing as I blow-dried her lustrous locks. Practicing ABCs as I detangled her chestnut strands. Laughing together as I created lopsided pigtails and zany Dr. Seuss styles.

In kindergarten, when my daughter announced she wanted hair “short in the back and longer in front—like yours, Mommy,” I had mixed emotions. While I delighted in her admiration, she wouldn’t require my styling assistance anymore. It was her choice, however, and I needed to loosen my hold. We squeezed each other’s nervous hands while the hairdresser lopped off her ponytail, and together we said a bittersweet goodbye to those soft tresses.

Fortunately, her mane grew back as quickly as the height marks on our wall. For years, I created hundreds of coiffure masterpieces: complicated braids, elegant twists and cascading curls. When my daughter decided to cut her hair again, there was no apprehension. “I’ve got this, Mom.” My big girl could handle the change on her own, and I let her, only shedding a few tears.

By the time she hit the tween years, I wasn’t allowed near her hair. Or her, for that matter. My nose didn’t protest—despite my shampooing tips, her silky curls had morphed into a greasy mess that reeked of Eau de Garbage. One afternoon, I found a baffling rat’s nest of hair in the bathroom. When questioned, my daughter sheepishly revealed a sheared patch near the nape of her neck and reluctantly admitted she needed help detangling the other knots. At the salon, there were no tears or trepidation, just determination, as we tackled the problem together. Soon her hair was shiny and polished, the shorn spot only visible upon close inspection.

In high school, when she tentatively presented a picture of an edgy pixie cut, one I never could have braved, I exclaimed, “That would look amazing on you!” Giving her the gentle push she needed to take the reins.

The next day, I watched expert hands transform my daughter. As her hair was cut shorter, she sat up taller. As her mane shrank, her smile grew. Chopping off her hair allowed her to express her individuality. Showcase her personality. Display her confidence. By taking charge of her hairstyle, she’s learning to embrace her growing independence. And I’m learning that letting her is also an act of love.

— Kathryn Leehane

Kathryn Leehane is an award-winning writer, speaker and humorist. Her work has been published in The Washington Post, nine anthologies, and on dozens of popular websites, including McSweeney’s, Ms. Magazine, and Hippocampus Magazine. Kathryn lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband, two children and a menagerie of rescue dogs. 

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