Today while I was having my biannual haircut I chatted with the hairdresser about cutting our kids' hair. This was my second cut with Kristin but I feel as if we go back way farther than that. She is tall and thin with a bit of Elvira-esque glamour about her: long, straight black hair with a bleached bit on top, witchy black heels, and, in a punk take on the classic beauty mark, a tiny stud sparkling in the piercing just above her upper lip. She tells me I should wear legwarmers. She tells me the burgeoning gray hairs along my part look good. Scissors firmly in hand, she is not even a little intimidated by my unruly hair. In short, she's a keeper.
In our talk about kid haircuts, she told me with exasperation that her four year old has homeless hair. "I always say to her, why is your hair so homeless?" She might have meant that her daughter's hair looks unwashed and uncombed, as if she's been sleeping in the streets for weeks. But if that were it, Kristin might have asked her why her hair looks like a homeless person's hair. The expression made me laugh so hard because I think Kristin was complaining about an innate quality common to many little heads of hair, including Frances's (though as she gets older it--along with the rest of her--seems to respond to social pressures and expectations). It's that wispy, weird, perpetual ragamuffin look, the baby fine hair that slips out of every ponytail holder and barrette and in certain weather looks as if its owner may have stuck a fork in a socket. Different parts of it seem to grow at different rates, and it tends towards mullet no matter how you trim it. I think homeless hair refuses to bend to convention. It doesn't act like it lives in a house; it acts like it lives in the wilderness and like a wild animal, cannot under any circumstances be controlled.
Today we brought home a Christmas tree, and after Gabriel's nap we set about stringing lights and hanging ornaments. I put on Christmas music and prepared for a rush of holiday spirit to engulf us. And why shouldn't it? I had a new hair cut, there was a few years' worth of homemade ornaments to unwrap and remember making with fondness, and as everyone knows, children simply adore Christmas!
But Frances has this new habit of singing "opera" at odd moments, warbling in a particularly ear-splitting style. She spent parts of today weaving bits of blue string scavenged from the Christmas tree lot into weird nests and wrapping them in paper, proudly showing off the fantastic gifts she'd made for her baby cousin. Gabriel, as he is wont to do, spent time tackling (unexpectedly) anyone in his field of vision. After a number of such tackles, he finally occupied himself by throwing lightweight wicker ornaments onto the tree to see how high he could get them to stick.
These passing behavioral tics usually slide right off my back. But today? Today I found them impossibly irritating. Instead of nimbly hanging ornaments like sprightly Christmas elves full of good cheer, my children were rough housing, hoarding "their" ornaments, and bickering over hanging rights. I found myself picking fights right along with them, wondering with exasperation when Frances would stop mistaking junk for treasure and when Gabriel would learn to channel his aggressive energy in more acceptable ways. I mean, why weren't they cooperating with my vision? Why is their hair so homeless?
In the end, the tree was trimmed, dinner was eaten without complaint, and by the time we were snuggled up and reading stories I was beginning to forgive my children for being--uncompromisingly, regardless of my fantasies--themselves. The new addition to my bedtime routine with Frances really sealed the deal though. It's called the Hair Trick. After the songs (2), sprinkle dusties (9), hugs (6), and good nights at the door (10), I walk back to her bedside and wordlessly run my fingers underneath her fragile little skull, gathering up all that homeless hair into a loose twist behind her on the pillow so that it won't tickle her neck. It's a rare quiet moment, and when I encircle her small perfect head with my long fingers I am telling her that she is precious and that I will keep her safe. Even if she shatters the windows with her opera.