Parenting Differently

This post originally appeared on my tinyletter, Where is my Mind?

I dyed my hair red this weekend. And I helped my daughter dye her hair blue.

It didn’t really turn out all that blue. I wanted to avoid bleaching her hair, and I didn’t use enough of the semi-permanent dye, so her hair looks like it has turquoise highlights. We’re going to use the rest of the jar on her hair next weekend to see if we can make it more blue.

We did it together, and it was fun. She’s getting to be an age where there are as many moments of tension, of conflict, of slammed doors and tears as there are quiet moments of happiness. “You’re a good mom,” she says to me. “I’m sorry if sometimes I make you feel like you’re not.” I hug her, braid her newly colored hair, and tell her thank you and I’m sorry that sometimes I make her feel like she isn’t a good daughter.

I found a picture of me, taken one summer during my Master’s degree, with short, red hair. My hair had been platinum blond and then I decided to make it red. In the hot summer sun, it quickly turned salmon orange. But this picture, I’m young and thin and smiling with red hair. I was teaching at a English language summer school/camp, and my students caught me at a candid moment.

I was never allowed to dye my hair when I was younger, or really do anything to it. In elementary school, one of the few times I went over to a friend’s house, she crimped my hair (it was the 80s, yo). I was never allowed to go back. Another time, in middle school, I slept over at a friend’s house and I put henna in my hair (it was the early 90s, yo). I was promptly grounded. We used to use orange Kool-Aid for our hair at swim meets, but I only did it my last year swimming, just before leaving for college. It still took another four years of living away from home before I felt confident enough to dye my hair.

I catch myself in the mirror, newly red hair and I don’t recognize myself for a moment. I was nervous posting the picture on social media, knowing my mom would see it. She still has strong opinions about how I should wear my hair, how I should dress, how I should behave. Just like her mom did with her. I can remember my grandmother disapproving of what my mom did with her hair. I remember how much my mom hated it. Does she remember that? Or does she just go one repeating the pattern that she knows so well?

I can’t imagine ever apologizing to my mom for making her think she was a bad mother. I can’t imagine her ever apologizing to me for making me feel like the worst daughter in the world.

I captioned my picture, “Red hair, don’t care.” Clearly, I still care very deeply. But I care deeply about empowering my daughter to feel like she can make decisions about her body and I will support them. She wants blue hair – it’s just hair. It washes, it grows, it can be cut, and it will grow back. There is a book my daughter and I loved to read, Stephanie’s Ponytail. She wears her hair in various ways, and the kids at school taunt her, saying, “Ugly, ugly, very ugly.” And she always responds, “It’s MY HAIR, and I LIKE IT.” We practiced that line, my daughter and I, my little bear who is so worried about what her friends and others think of her. When she says she wants to go blue, I say, let’s do it.

It’s her hair, and she likes it.

It’s my hair, and I like it.

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