Braiding hair and braiding love: A mother’s work

“Mama, will you braid my hair?” my little girl asks sweetly.

Truth be told, while my styling ability is minimal, I relish any opportunity I get to run my fingers through my daughter’s silky-soft hair. I usually get my ideas straight from Heidi’s post on Hair & Makeup Girl. Her easy to follow tutorial on hairstyles and tips on makeup are awesome and exciting. As for my daughter,  though she wriggles and complains as I pull at the knots, the mere act of brushing activates some sort of primal response and soothes me to my core. I wish combing the tangles didn’t hurt her. I wish my fingers possessed greater skill. But I still love the feeling of those dark strands dancing across my hands, tickling my wrists and arms like the velvet edges of a monarch butterfly.

And so I begin, parting her hair in three sections and twisting one over the other, pulling tight in between. Her eyes meet her reflection in the mirror and I see them dance with joy and the unabashed self-love of a 6-year-old.  I try to remember a time when my own child self, or my adult self for that matter, felt so happy seeing my face staring back at me. I braid those strands and pray that through the tugging and pulling, she will always feel God’s love for her as she twists and turns and weaves her way through life. I pray that she knew as a baby, and knows now as a child, and will come to know ever more surely as a woman, that divine love comes not from how she looks, but from who she is.

As we continue, I am struck by the fact that I am better and more confident than I used to be at this braiding business, and perhaps at motherhood as well. But then I notice that the part is a bit crooked, and little wisps are beginning to escape from the sides. Pushing my own feelings of inadequacy away, I kiss the top of her head.

“There’s a teeny tiny spot up here where I can see right though you and straight down into your beautiful heart,” I tease.

Her nose crinkles as she smiles, but my hands now work more cautiously, timidly, as I think my own mother, who tugged at my hair as I pressed my palms against my head in protest. I remember the surrogate grandmother who lived with us throughout my childhood, and how her fingers flew through my hair like a skilled surgeon. It would be years, decades even before I truly understood the messages their fingers imparted.

“Mama, how do you even braid hair?” she asks, interrupting my thoughts.

“It’s not hard,” I tell her. “You just split it into three sections, and then take the left piece over the center, and then take the right piece over the center. Pull it tight in between. Just keep repeating that, and it makes a braid. See?” I show her in the mirror.

“Can you teach me how to do it?” she asks.

“Sure, go get your doll,” I tell her.

So there we sit, my daughter in my lap, and her dollie in her lap, my hands on top of hers. We split the dolls hair in three sections and I instruct her, those tiny fingers moving slowly at first:

Left over center, then right over center. Pull tight in between.

At first it won’t hold. Her tiny fingers can’t keep the sections separate, and the strands tumble and tangle.

“It’s too hard, Mama,” she insists. “My fingers can’t do it!”

“They’ll learn,” I tell her. “Just give them time.”

We start over again. And again. And again. But eventually she gets the hang of it, twisting left over center, right over center, pulling tight in between.

The finished product is more than a little crooked, with strands rebelling at every curve, poking out in different directions.

“It’s so lovely,” I say, and I mean it.

Because this is what we do. This is a mother’s work: combing out the tangles, weaving the past and the present, the good and the bad, one side over the other. Left over center, right over center, pull tight in between.

Taking joy from one place and sadness from another.

Mistakes and triumphs.

Regrets and delights.

Happiness and sorrow.

The impossible of yesterday and the dreams of tomorrow.

Starting over, but never from scratch.

Twisting one generation around the next.

Creating something perfectly imperfect, stronger than all its pieces, woven with love, and held together by the divine.

That’s how you make a braid, my darling daughter.

Left over center, then right over center. Pull tight in between.

Sharing is caring!

Latest from Blog