Princess Imagination and I have an ongoing battle about her hair. I want it brushed regularly. She resists contact between her hair and any kind of brush or comb. I want it arranged in some way that looks relatively neat and keeps it from covering up half her face. She prefers it wild and free, which invariably means it is ends up in her mouth and eyes and makes it hard to see her pretty little face.
At the beginning of the week I thought I had finally landed on a solution: headbands. After refusing a ponytail, braids, or clips, Princess Imagination enthusiastically embraced my desperate proposal that she at least hold her hair off her face with a headband. She allowed me to settle it in place just behind her bangs, with the wispy curls she still has framing her face from her baby days securely tucked behind the band. Suddenly she looked neat and well-kept and her sweet little face was fully visible. Victory! We were both happy, and since she has a large selection of these hair-taming accessories, I had a lovely fantasy of future mornings unmarred by mother-daughter hair battles.
The fantasy lasted until I picked her up from school that afternoon. In the intervening hours her sparkly pink headband had somehow been transformed from a hair-taming implement into a co-conspirator in operation birds nest. Rather than neatly holding back her hair from its proper position atop her head, it had gone vertical and was smashing her bangs flat on her forehead while the escaped front locks were running free, with several section plastered across her cheeks as the result of time spent bathing in her mouth. Argh! What is wrong with my child?! She is a beautiful little girl, but no one can see that because she seems determined to turn her hair into a frizzy, knotted, veil!
With the distance of a few days I can recognize that my response to this very unusual styling was probably an over-reaction. I don’t think Princess Imagination is deliberately covering her face with her hair. She simply finds it uncomfortable to have her hair pulled back, and also finds it convenient to suck on her hair to satisfy her oral fixation (which is probably my fault for nursing her so long). The resulting follicle foibles do not worry her because she is just oblivious to what she looks like.
And there’s the source of discomfort in this little domestic squabble. The problem is that appearance is not a matter of oblivion for me. In contrast to my daughter’s indifference, I care a little too much about appearance – both hers and mine. This concern about how I and those associated with me look goes back a long way. I can vividly remember my own screaming temper tantrum at the age of 8 or 9 in reaction to a rather unusual wardrobe selection by my older sister. Granted, choosing to wear a wrap-around ballet skirt as a shawl was eccentric on the part of my sister, but my reaction was also a bit excessive. And the extremity of my reactions, from the mid-80s to now, makes it clear that the issue is really with me, not with the creative accessorizers in my family. I just care too much about appearance.
Now, this is not to say that I am a fashion plate by any stretch of the imagination. I do not have dozens of handbags. I do not buy shoes to match specific outfits. I cannot justify spending three or four times as much for designer labels. And I do not spend an hour coiffing my hair every morning (or any time of day, ever). BUT… I have to admit, that there is a very dissatisfied little corner of my mind that turns an unattractive shade of green when it spies the glamourously styled moms doing drop-off at school. I am ashamed of it, but it is there. A part of me desperately wants to be the one who draws admiring, or even envious looks.
Of course, more than a year and a half of residence in one of the capitals of the fashion world has exacerbated this tendency. Two years ago I could not have even attempted to tell you what the fashion trends of the season were. I bought clothes that suited my style and figure and did not worry too much about what was trendy. Now, just taking my kids to school or walking past the shop windows in the neighborhood of my Italian class gives me an education in the current colors, cuts, and must-have accessories. This knowledge is anything but helpful. It focuses my awareness on all the things I don’t have and makes me self-conscious about the functional clothes and shoes dictated by my role as a stay-at-home mom. In more basic terms, it both increases the value I place on appearance, and amplifies my dissatisfaction with my own achievement relative to that standard.
Naturally, this evolution has not made for a happier me. However, I realized something as a result of my headband confrontation with Princess Imagination. My feelings of fashion-inadequacy are not really the matter of greatest importance. What matters is how much I have allowed my appearance, and my daughter’s, to impact my emotional state. I do not want to be that mother. I do not want to be that woman.
What I do want is to teach my daughter that what matters is the kind of person we are, not the way we look. What I do want is to teach her is to be concerned about what her behavior and her speech (rather than her clothes and her hair) tell other people about who she is. What I do want is to live the kind of life that teaches these lessons more effectively than my words ever could. These desires are not easy to achieve. It might actually be a more attainable ambition to be the fashion-plate mom that draws the envious gaze of others at school drop-off. But that achievement would not be worth the effort.
And so, I will continue to fight this life-long battle to stop caring so much about appearance. I will remind myself that the time I have while Princess Imagination and the Gigglemonster are in school is not best used for shopping. I will pull my hair-back into the ubiquitous pony-tail and use the time I saved to spend to prepare myself in pray a bit longer each morning. I will continue to wear my sweaters and boots from last winter (or five winters ago) and thank God that I have more than enough clothes to keep me warm as the temperature drops. And, when I brush my daughter’s wild hair out of her face so that I can look into her eyes, I will tell her that she is beautiful because of who she is, not how she wears her hair.