My girl graduated from college this week. The ceremony was in Yankee Stadium, and her family — all natives of the Deep South — flew to New York City to cheer as she walked across the stage and received a diploma from New York University.
We held a celebratory luncheon the afternoon before the ceremony, to which my girl was half an hour late. She nearly missed her own party because she was getting her hair done.
It’s human nature to walk the cobbled streets of memory during the remarkable events of one’s life. But it’s a woman’s nature, I think, to mark memories by what hairdo we had at the time. As we sat in Union Square Café remarking that it was not the first time her hair had made us late for lunch, I thought back upon the history of my girl’s hair.
She came into this world with a head full of it. In fact, we teased her grandfather on the day she was born that she had more hair than he did. When she was a month old, it stood straight up and formed a natural Mohawk that prompted total strangers to ask me how I got her hair to do that.
The truth was, I had never been able to do much with my own mane, and so I had no idea how to handle a little girl’s locks.
Her first haircut happened when she was three months old because it was falling into her big blueberry eyes. Those snips of baby bangs are in a small plastic bag pasted into her baby book.
Her hair is just like her mama’s. Because mine is bad to kink up in the Southern humidity, and because the sheer volume makes it impossible to dry, and mostly because I didn’t know what else to do with it, I kept my hair short in those days. Until she was six, she had a cut similar to my own because that was a style I knew how to handle.
Her daddy once bought her a “hair-styling puppy” at Toys ‘R Us. The stuffed dog was covered in long pink fur, and it came with a pair of pink safety scissors. While her daddy talked on a early-model cell phone in the front seat, the kind that was the size of a hair dryer, she used those safety scissors to cut her little sister’s hair. I was furious with her father. How did he not notice that a haircut was being handed out in the back seat of the car? And what did he think she would do with a pair of scissors?
It was obvious, however, that she would not grow up to be a hair stylist. That haircut took almost a year to grow back.
At the end of her second grade year, my girl announced that she wanted long hair. I was terrified by long hair, but I said, “Okay, you can grow it out as long as you take care of it.”
School pictures tell the story. At first, she was a mini-Medusa, with hair flying in all directions because it was too much for her to handle.
When she was eight, she flipped down the front passenger seat visor to check her reflection in the mirror. Her hair was on the order of the Cowardly Lion’s that morning. Rather than fussing with her hair, though, she turned her head from side to side and uttered a quick, guttural, “Uggh!” followed by, “I HATE school!
I opened my mouth to say, “What’s so bad about school?”
But before I could ask, she blurted out the reason. “The fluorescent lighting makes me look horrible.”
By the fifth grade, she’d learned that going to sleep with her hair still wet meant she woke up looking like Cruella de Ville, and she’d learned how to tame that unruly mane. By the sixth grade, she was asking for highlights.
Tuesday afternoon, when she finally showed up for her graduation lunch, I was struck by her beauty. Her hair, which falls to her elbows, was the color of spun gold. And that night, as she marched across the stage at Lincoln Center in her purple graduation gown, her hair was how I picked her out of the crowd of a thousand Gallatin School graduates.
Last week, a friend who teaches at New York University met my girl for the first time. He sent me a message on Facebook that read, “She’s extremely nice, open and charming. (And adorable). I was glad to meet her. Congrats to you both on her graduating from NYU. You must have done something right.”
Before I had children, I had many different ideas on how to raise them. Now that they’re grown, I can’t claim to know the secret to raising great kids. I still couldn’t tell anyone how to potty train a toddler. And I’m famous with my nieces for now knowing how to fix a girl’s hair, including my own, which, incidentally, is long and in a perpetual ponytail.
Having children, I think, is the ultimate in hair-raising experiences. But watching her march across that stage on Tuesday night, I couldn’t help but thinking that, yes, something went beautifully right.