Matthew Girard column: Adventures in hair braiding
Columns share an author’s personal perspective.
Since becoming a journalist nearly 20 years ago, I like to think that I’ve grown accustomed to handling myself in high-stress situations.
Throughout the years, I learned to keep my cool with deadlines looming, hostile sports parents, confrontational football coaches - some of whom brought the confrontation to midfield while the entire hometown crowd was watching - contentious local government meetings and even with a few angry advertisers.
But then thanks to my 6-year-old daughter, I learned that, in fact, I was not always “cool under pressure.”
Prior to becoming a dad to a little girl, my experience with long hair was very minimal. Sure I attempted to grow my hair out a few times in my rebellious younger days, but I never had the patience to let it grow long enough to understand the importance of brushing or to learn how to put hair into a ponytail. Even though I knew eventually my daughter would have a full head of hair, I didn’t see an urgent need to learn these skills considering she entered the world with just a few wispy hairs.
Her hair grew quickly though, and before I knew it, I was not only dealing with a length of hair that I had no experience with, but also a little girl who was becoming interested in different hairstyles.
Like any father, I ignored any instruction and assumed I would be able to master a simple ponytail with just a couple of tries. As it turned out, not even a thousand tries got me any closer to putting her hair up. Her ponytails would end up off-center, or not all the hair would be contained in the hair tie, or the front of her scalp would look like a tire tread. Not only did they not look right, each ponytail attempt took me an inordinate amount of time.
We always enjoyed our time together while I fumbled my way through each disastrous attempt, but it always ended the same: “Thanks for trying, Dad, I’ll have Mom fix it. You need to keep practicing.” With some more practice and more times Mom wasn’t around to fix her ponytails, I started to get the hang of it. At least to the point she would give me a thumbs up if my attempt was acceptable.
Emboldened by her two thumbs of approval, I decided it was time to move on to attempting a braid - after this time watching a tutorial or two.
One morning I announced to my daughter that “Today is going to be the day I braid your hair!” With a skeptical look on her face she said, “Alright, but let me get prepared because I have a feeling this is going to take awhile.” With her iPad in hand, she sat down and said, “OK, I’m ready.”
With a brush in hand, a couple of hair ties and plenty of unwarranted confidence, I boldly stated, “Even the French will be envious of this braid when I’m through.”
“Dad, we both know you aren’t a very good stylist,” my daughter said as she sat down. “Are you sure you want to try this, because you know I can’t leave the house looking like a mess? AND I’ll tell all my friends it was YOUR fault.”
I realized I could sense a whole kindergarten class watching over my shoulder. None of my previous experiences had prepared me for the stress that comes with the judgement of a group of 5- and 6-year-olds.
Despite the sudden sense of pressure and the feeling of my ponytail confidence draining out of my body, I forged ahead with the braiding. For what seemed like hours, I carefully weaved the strands of hair back and forth, with constant reminders from my daughter about the consequences.
“How’s it going back there?” “It better not be a mess.” “Do you need help?” “It really shouldn’t take this long.” “You’re going to have to redo it if I don’t like it.” Those were just some of the comments I heard while trying to keep the strands straight.
Despite a few mistakes that forced me to back track, my daughter’s scathing comments and nearly passing out from holding my breath while I worked, I announced I was finished with the braid. With that, my daughter got up and went to the bathroom mirror to check my work.
Like a forensic scientist, my daughter inspected her braid from every angle. She picked up the braid and held it straight, she tilted her head to see how the braid would fall on both sides, she tilted her head back to see how far the braid would go down her back and she shook her head back and forth to test the integrity of the braid. All of this while I sat there stressing about the outcome of her inspection.
After finally gathering her braid data, my daughter walked over to me and said, “I had my doubts. … I’ll let my friends see this, and I’ll be sure to tell them how long it took you.”
“Well, I’m glad you approve,” I said with a sigh of relief.
“Don’t get too comfy, Dad. We’re going to move on to buns next.”
Matthew Girard is a columnist for More Content Now and Gannett Co. Inc. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.