Last month, we invited readers to share their responses to a writing prompt inspired by Ruth Dawkins's essay The Last Bedtime Story. We asked readers, "Write about the last time your child did something or you and your child did something together. How did you know it was the last time? Why was it significant?" Below is Linda Smith's response.
By Linda Smith
Life is a mosaic of small and personal rituals, those special moments shared, repeated, and cherished. For my daughter and me, each school-day morning welcomed the ritual of the hair. To braid or not to braid, use a band or barrette, or rely on the brush and go style, decisions more often dictated by time constraints than fashion preference.
"I think I want to get my hair cut, Mom," Maren confidently announced one morning.
"Well, it's your hair. You have to live with it, but it's so long and pretty, I hate to see you cut it."
"I'm never going to be able to do stuff with it by myself. I can't braid it or anything."
I patiently stand, with brush in hand, as Maren finishes lamenting her latest frustration. I remember how, when she was a newborn, we weren't sure she'd ever have hair. At least not all over her head. When she was born, she had a black fringe of hair that encompassed her head like a halo slipped out of position.
Now, her hair is long, very long, reaching well below her waist, and the color has lightened to a golden brown. Halo gone.
As the worn brush attends its task, I try to imagine shortened tresses that don't require Mom's assistance each morning.
"I'm almost eleven, you know."
"Yes, I know."
"Well, what d'ya think? …about cutting my hair?"
The brush continues smoothing silky waves, pulling each wayward strand into the compliance necessary to braid.
"I think it's your hair. You should do what you think is best for you."
"I'm just afraid if I cut it, I'll hate it."
"You could be right… So maybe you should just have a little bit cut at first…say, to slightly below your shoulder blades."
I gently grasp her hair at that intended place, turning it under to show her what it might look like. As I adjust the mirrors to catch her reflection, the light refracts, and glimmers skip from tress to tress, calling attention to a more-precious gold.
"This would look fine, I think," offering half-feigned support. Maren's style-conscious idea is appropriate for her age, but the thought of her pending haircut sends an unexpected ache to my heart.
"Yeah, I think so, too. Would you make an appointment for me?"
Later, I make that call, helping my daughter take yet another step that leads her further toward adulthood—and further away from me. For now, I'm content to stare at the well-used brush, poised for nothing, and for everything. Several long strands of Maren's hair, entangled in battered bristles, float and wave as if to acknowledge an ending. Carefully, I capture their goldness in my fingers, rolling them together as one slender cord, and coil that to a tight circle.
Slipping the small, golden halo into an envelope, I know I'm saving a little of my daughter's past…and a little of my own.
Linda Smith has worn many mom hats as her life evolved through adoptions, births, the death of a daughter, and proxy mothering, unique to writing classes. A teacher for over 26 years, she divides her time and her storytelling between Arizona, Kansas, and England.