Tucked away in my cedar hope chest at the foot of my bed, a gift from Nana when I turned sixteen, amid old journals, first shoes, family heirlooms, and the white blanket in which I wrapped my children on our way from the hospital is an envelope with Eric’s first piece of cut baby hair. Auburn and silky and lovely. A treasure for a mother.

This is completely morbid, yet I own it: because Katie never had a first hair cut, I saved a ball of hair from her comb, thinking that if something ever happened to her, at least I would have that to cry over. Mothers are weird. We want our children to grow up, and we don’t. We want them to go the heck to sleep, and then we stand peering over their angelic faces instead of getting our own hobbies done. We want them to know how to wash their own hair, and then every once in awhile just for old time’s sake, we sit on the toilet and do it for them. With certainty I don’t want more children, but I would love to hold them as newborns one more time. I want to be sometimes needed, but I also want to be not needed at all. The motherhood game is one of holding close and letting go at the same time, a duality we learn to inhabit because we must.

So I have had a ball of Katie’s snarled hair stashed away, for a rainy day. If you think that’s quirky, you really should get to know me. Got more up my sleeve there, I’m sure.

By the time Katie was three, she was adamant about not ever cutting her hair. I saw two sisters get the cutest bobs in our Music Together class and was smitten with all the ways we could style Katie’s golden locks if we cut them, but she did not want to. I love her as she is, and I believed she should have a say about her own hair.

Age four, five, six, and seven… It became a bit of thing for her. “I never want to cut my hair, Mama!” Okay, fine by me. Her hair did need it: she went through a period of hair chewing for awhile, and it got a bit scraggly at the ends. She doesn’t do that anymore, but some of the effects remained.

Last year I learned a bunch of braids, other than my standard French. We had fun with that, but she has a sensitive scalp and after awhile she really wanted me to stop yanking the hair to make the braids compulsively straight and even. Sorry, kid. I hear ya. Moms and daughters in the bathroom getting ready would make an interesting coffee table book.

It became a refrain even without being asked: “Mama, I never want to cut my hair. I’ve never cut it. I don’t think I could ever cut it.” I heard in those words: because I have never done it, now I don’t feel I can. Still I said nothing, other than that I loved her hair as it is, that I would help her if she ever changed her mind, and that it is her hair to decide about. In my assessment, though, I felt like part of her decision was based more on precedent and habit than on total desire.

This summer during a (terribly hot, what were we thinking?) hike up Dripping Springs in late July, Katie talked about “What if I cut my hair very short and dyed it?” and “I really like Amie’s hair and wish my hair could be short.” She went over and over it. Although I let her know that we don’t do dye at her age (heck, I’ve never even done a permanent dye—just hair chalks–on my hair and I am 35), I told her that if she thought about it for a week and still wanted a cut, we would do it.

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(Dripping Springs hike, right before we started a descent and Katie started musing about her hair)

After a week, she said she didn’t want to cut it. I kind of sensed maybe not.

Which brings us to today. We were getting ready to go to the local pumpkin patch and she asked, “Mama, do you think you could trim the damaged ends off the bottom of my hair?” Her voice had a hopefulness in the timbre.

I got my sewing scissors. Baby’s first hair cut.

She wanted more than a trim, but not much more. So we evened up and shortened it just a little. She said that maybe if she wanted, could we cut more in a couple of days? I agreed, but told her to get used to this first.

I was about to put the scissors away when she asked, “Mama, what about bangs?” as she pulled some hair over her eyes.

My mom has bangs, and Katie loves Amie completely. Her piano teacher also just got bangs, and looks beautiful in them. They’ve been on her mind.

We fiddled with her hair a bit and I determined whether or not I could pull off a convincing bang-cutting. I thought maybe I could, if I tried. We folded her hair up and tried to see what it would be like. She was eager… I could feel her readiness to shape herself, her glimpse of freedom. After a second of pondering whether she would be in better hands if I made her an appointment somewhere, I thought, this is my child asking for her freedom right now. It’s my job to help her. And I cut.

You should have heard the joy that went up. “I cut my hair! I cut my hair! I love it, Mama, I love it!”

“Isn’t it nice to know you can cut it and that it is okay? You look beautiful,” I said. “Don’t you love knowing you can cut it? You are not kept back by never having cut it before. You are free from that,” I said.

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She loves it. She has said many times how glad she is that she has done this. You get the sense that, when she talks, she not only likes how she looks and that she chose it, but that some burden has been lifted from her.

There are many kinds of prisons in life. Most, I think, we fashion ourselves, brick by brick. We think of ourselves in one dimension only, we tell ourselves untruths about what we can do and what we cannot do. Sometimes we give ourselves over to groups or institutions that whittle away at our sense of self. We might hear from well-intentioned teachers or mentors that we shine in a certain area, with the implication that because we are good at one thing we must not be good at some other discipline. Girls don’t play with Legos; boys never wear a princess dress for dress-up. We are nerds, not athletes. We are this party, that party, label, label, label. We fit the gender stereotypes. We think only part of life is meant for us.

All of life is meant for us. Whatever part we seek. Free yourself. Katie, free yourself. There are no limits and rules on what you can do, or be. You can cut your hair. Just because you never have, doesn’t mean you never can. Do not be afraid.

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Do not be afraid. Rebel against any and all parts of yourself that keep you glued in an inert place. The main biological mechanism of life is to adapt and survive. Life is about changing and becoming as strong a force as you can be, for the good.

I thought later that we often think of parents, or mothers, as guides, cheerleaders, four-star generals, clowns, maids, and everything all in one. This morning, however, I found my favorite role yet: the rebel. It was an honor to be the one to give Katie that first haircut, that step toward her independence.

If I can teach my daughter how to be in a constant state of rebellion against the fears and patterns that hold her back, I will have done my job.

Katie: question everything that anyone ever tells you, especially if it comes from me. Cut your hair. Read everything you can. Offend yourself. Try something overwhelmingly new. Be a novice. Listen to music that makes people hold their ears. Be smart, be safe, be curious, be demanding in your philosophies. Do not conform unless your eyes are open to your choice. And remember:

“You cannot wake a man who is pretending to be asleep.”   -Navajo Proverb

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