My daughter has decided she no longer wants her hair.
For the past few months, she’s worked endlessly on developing her bangs, getting them just right, the ideal straight line, perfect spacing.
But recently, those bangs have been bugging her – getting in her eyes at swim class, causing trouble while she gets ready for school.
In short, she’s learning to simplify this one aspect of her life in order to have more time for other parts.
“You want to cut off your hair,” I ask.
“Not off, just reeeeeally short.”
There’s been some other movement on this front. Simpler earrings. Planning out homework sessions. Engaging in experiences rather than collecting stuff.
She also spent some time recently rearranging her room, creating more space, laying out her rock collection. She’s suddenly begun to have what I can only call a longer vision.
She’s changing. She’s moving into her own sense of how she wants to live. I doubt she’d be able to verbalize this growth, but she’s becoming, well, her.
Given the timing of these changes, I got to thinking about the extravaganza of the modern holiday season. Growing up in a cross-cultural family has given her a full breath of ritual and tradition. We made the decision a long time ago that she be exposed not to one meaning, but to them all. They all hit in the last couple months of the year. Deshain, Thanksgiving, Dewali, Christmas. Halloween. (Also, her mother’s and her birthday.)
And the holidays hit differently for kids than parents, of course, where in one case you’re building memories, and in the other you’re recalling memories.
So, how to mine meaningful depths without the noise and excess? How do we cut our hair, and turn the corner of a new year with a lighter burden? Or should we?
After all, personal ritual like a hairstyle or decorating your bedroom wall or reading a certain type of genre is as much a learned and repeated form of ritual behavior as is tika on an elder’s forehead or turkey dinner or wrapping gifts.
Little Bean comes home from her hair appointment looking like a completely different person. She’s a pixie, a cupie doll, her face now round and baby-like. She’s ready to simplify.
“Look at this daddy,” she says. “Now my hair will dry in, like, two seconds.”
She’s thinking of ease of use, but suddenly I begin to see something else. With her hair that short, she looks like me. Or like I did at eight. Or perhaps I should say, because of her mother she looks like a less uncomfortable, goofy me.
I recall how her age was also a time for changes for me; a new school, a larger pool of friends, less connection to Santa and the Tooth Fairy replaced by a deeper understanding of music and writing.
We – she – was evolving. She’s always been evolving, of course, though I often have been reluctant to accept this fact. But now it’s become plain. This time, this latest evolution has come together at once – a new personal style, less dependence on holiday ritual, an improving sense of self.
This is all a good lesson of learning to let go of course, of being able to turn a corner and move into a different you. And most importantly of not being afraid to do that, though I suspect I’ll always be afraid.
I want her to be the most perfect human. I want my daughter to be what I hope she’ll be. But this means that she’ll need to continue changing, she’ll move to her own rituals, exchanging or perhaps adapting old styles to the new.
I want her to go. I want her to stay. She’s unlikely to do both.
So where does this all go? Like Gatsby’s boats beating on, like dust in the wind, like Frost’s fire and ice, she is going to ever move on. She should ever move on, to change and grow and adapt. Sometimes that will be a haircut that sends me back. Sometimes it will be bigger, more drastic.
But the point, I suppose, is just to keep moving. Don’t stop. Move slowly if you have to, but move. I’ll be there to watch you grow, we’ll move together and wherever we land is where we’ve always meant to be.