I was always a very hands-on type of dad when it came to performing all the duties necessary to raise our two daughters. I felt strongly that mother and father were both equally responsible for their care. I changed the worst of diapers, dressed board-stiff stubborn toddlers, bathed, potty trained, and fed . . . even force-fed my girls. I endured tea parties where I was instructed to speak in a high falsetto princess voice, read the same bedtime stories over and over for years on end, and argued with them about not wearing their favorite pair of socks (the ones with the kitties on them) for a week straight.
Despite my willingness to be a full parenting partner, I must admit that I never really gave my daughters’ hair very much thought. My wife just always took care of that department.
So when my wife announced that she was going to spend a week with her mother, who had fallen ill in Ohio, it didn’t occur to me that doing a little girl’s hair was going to end up being one of my childcare tasks while she was away.
During her preparation for the trip, my wife repeatedly asked if I thought I could handle the care of our 4- and 6-year-old girls while she was gone. The suggestion that I might not be capable felt a bit condescending. In fact, her tone and upturned right eyebrow salted her concern with an air of “will the three of you still be alive when I get home?” This annoyed me to no end. It’s not as if I was some dad who was never around or never helped out. Did she think I was a complete idiot?
“I’ll be fine!” I insisted, hoping that my annoyance was conveyed properly.
Her only response was a sigh followed by the silence of doubt.
After several more reassurances that I was more than fit for the job, she finally finished her packing and departed for Ohio on Saturday afternoon.
The remainder of the weekend went smoothly, considering my wife’s absence. An incident involving a child, the dog, hairspray, curling iron, and smoke caused a brief panic, and a few additional moments of strife occurred over my dinner offerings (which I quickly solved by appeasing the two picky eaters by substituting the meatloaf and green beans that my wife had suggested with a dinner of Fruity Pebbles and popcorn). I began to think that parenting solo was even easier than I had imagined it was going to be . . .
On Monday morning, I awoke early and began preparing a breakfast of Fruity Pebbles and leftover popcorn.
As I was setting out the spoons and bowls on the dining room table, my older daughter, Hannah, appeared in the doorway of the dining room looking very much like a girl who had just stumbled out of bed.
It wasn’t until that very moment that I actually realized that getting my 6-year-old ready for kindergarten would involve doing something with her hair. Once I realized that I had to do something with her hair, I then realized I had absolutely no idea HOW to do something with my daughter’s hair. It was, perhaps, the only childcare duty that I had never actually taken part in.
Quickly, I grabbed the rather lengthy childcare manifesto that my wife had authored and stuck with a magnet to the refrigerator. It contained detailed instructions on meal plans, day-by-day outfits for both girls, and a list of 57 dos and don’ts . . . but no instructions on hair. For a few seconds, I felt the horrible grip of panic begin to sweep over my frantic mind.
“I can do this!” I said aloud as if it were necessary to convince myself. After all, if I could figure out how to resuscitate a gravely ill lawnmower or fix the dishwasher with parts from an obsolete pool pump, I could surely figure out how to do a 6-year-old’s hair!
So after breakfast, I marched my little ragamuffin into the bathroom, and I sat her up on the vanity.
Her hair, other than being clean from a shower the night before, looked much like a hurricane survivor’s hair. It had a sort of wild frizz on the top and back, and the left side was sticking straight out from her head. The right side was matted flat from being slept on and refused to “re-inflate” with my attempts at fluffing it.
“How does Momma do your hair?” I asked, hoping to at least gain some direction.
“With these,” my daughter answered, holding up a handful of hair restraint objects.
“AHA!” I exclaimed, grabbing the bands, clips, and barrettes from her little hand.
Armed with my new arsenal of hair restraint weapons, I set to work turning the hurricane survivor into a princess.
After a few minutes of strategizing, I decided that the easiest and most effective method of attacking her hair would be a simple ponytail. So I grabbed the largest handful of her crazy hair I could manage and wrangled it into one of the elastic ponytail holders that I had gotten from my daughter.
“OOWWWW, DAD!” yelled the little person, turning to face me.
Her eyes had been drawn open as wide as two eyes could possibly be opened from the tightness of the ponytail holder, which gave her a surreal, ghoulish appearance.
“Oh, sorry, baby girl,” I said, loosening the holder a bit, which returned her eyes back to normal but also allowed several of the wild clumps of hair to escape.
With the use of a tape measure, I confirmed that the ponytail was fairly centered on the back of her head, and then I set my sights on dealing with the clumps of hair that had found freedom when I loosened the holder. To accomplish this, I was forced to utilize every type of hair device I had at my disposal.
I was able to subdue several areas that seemed determined not to be tamed by using a few bobby pins and a can of hairspray. I developed a method of spraying and smoothing first, and then adding a bobby pin if I felt the particular group of hairs might rebel later on in the day.
I took care of another group of wild hairs with the installation of a rather large barrette, which I affixed to the base of her bangs.
“I think we’re getting somewhere,” I exclaimed hopefully.
Hannah looked at me with a distinct expression of skepticism.
For the final two stubborn “trouble areas,” I resorted to a few pieces of transparent Scotch tape, which were quite effective and only noticeable upon close inspection.
“Done,” I proclaimed triumphantly, and held up a mirror for the child to inspect my work.
Hannah looked at her hairstyle for long minute, turning her head from side to side.
“There,” she said, pointing to one particularly unruly spot of crazy hair that refused to lie down peacefully.
Searching through one of the drawers in the vanity, I found a pair of scissors and snipped the offending hairs off tight to her head. With a few more seconds of looking in the mirror, she seemed satisfied and hopped down from the sink top.
I was quite proud of my accomplishment, especially in light of never having dealt with one of my daughters’ hair-doing before that morning. It didn’t even look that bad from a distance. I figured as long as she didn’t walk under an extremely strong electric magnet, causing the couple of dozen bobby pins and barrettes to be removed, I might have just pulled it off. Better yet, my wife was not here to point out any of the minor imperfections.
I couldn’t help but feel a sense of victorious jubilation as I loaded Hannah and her sister into the car and headed off to school.
Upon arriving at school, the three of us walked to Hannah’s classroom, where Mrs. Stanford, her teacher, met us at the door.
“Well good morni . . . Oh my!” her teacher said, causing me to doubt my hairstyling a bit. “Is Mom out of town, by any chance?”
“As a matter of fact, she is,” I answered, as I realized that the bright lights of the classroom made the many layers of hairspray and pieces of tape considerably more noticeable. “But I figure she doesn’t really need to be concerned with all the details of how things went without her,” I added with a hopeful wink.
“Oh, I’ve been around. You are not the first dad to deal with a daughter’s hair in Mom’s absence,” she said reassuringly. Then she added in a cautious voice, “You do know that . . . uhhh . . . ”
“Know what?” I asked impatiently.
“You do know that it’s picture day, right?”
Originally published as part of the author’s book, Single Family Asylum.