Ryan often comes home from school asking for stuff. A Nintendo Wii. A Nintendo DS. Beyblades. Pokemon cards. Whatever else other boys have that he doesn’t. (Unlike his younger brother who only yearns for a toilet plunger. “So I can stick it to things.”)
Ryan’s most recent request was surprisingly inexpensive and simple: He wanted me to teach him how to braid hair.
Some other boy at school was braiding the girls’ hair, so he wanted to learn. In second grade, there is definitely talk of marriage, who will and won’t marry who, but I wasn’t prepared for the hair courting.
“Not right this minute,” I said, reminding him of all the things I had to do, sign endless trip permission slips and homework sheets in their folders, make dinner, badger them about cleaning up their playroom.
I actually thought the braiding thing would pass.
He came home the next afternoon, pleading this time, as evidently that other little boy who did know how to braid, was braiding the hair of a girl Ryan clearly had a crush on (from the heart-wrenching crumpled stickies I found in the bottom of his bag, that they’d passed back and forth under their desks, with the awkward spellings of a second-grader: “BECOUESYOU RELY LIKE ME.”)
I gave in, as I did when I bought him his first pack of Pokemon cards. He’d come home pleading as he did now, on the verge of tears, having been the only boy unable to “battle” at recess because he didn’t have a single card.
So that evening, we sat down on the couch and I showed Ryan how to braid, with three pieces of my yarn.
“No, I want to do your hair,” he said. He proceeded to take down my clips and painfully pluck out my hair combs. He tugged at my hair with a brush. “Gosh, your hair isn’t anything like the girls’ at school. Not like, well, Angela’s…”
Angela was the girl he liked. I didn’t know Angela. But I could imagine her hair. I could see it, flowing easily down her back, the kind you can toss off your shoulder. I could have launched into an old soliloquy then. About how growing up, I hated my nest-like, frizzy hair. I could tell my son about my mother taking me to some sleazy place in Queens where the man made me hold a big jar of pink goo that stung terribly, but transformed my frizz into hair straight as a board. Too straight. The ends were as blunt as if they’d been sawed off.
I swallowed my soliloquy. Fact is, at forty-something, I like my frizz. When I take the time to tame it, that is. Which I don’t. Let’s face this fact: there are plenty of days when the only people who see me are my own boys, sometimes my husband, and I rarely think about how I must look to them – maybe like a friend’s mother I remember when I myself was in second grade, who wore her own hair daily up in a tight bun. The only time I saw it down was when I mistakenly walked in on her sitting on the pot, reading a magazine, still in her nightgown.
As quickly as Ryan had mastered a hammer and nails, he mastered the art of braiding.
He was gleeful. “Oh my gosh, I love this,” He said, tugging, combing, braiding and unbraiding my hair over and over again. “I want to do this forever and ever.”
Yes, my son is an exuberant soul. A while back it was clay, and he would go through an entire gallon of the wet stuff to build one enormous dragon. Then he would ask for another gallon, and, as I can’t resist such creative exuberance, I provided a gallon of clay a day, until the rapture waned, and we were left with enormous dragons that took weeks to dry, their wings’ breadth too long to support their own weight.
I was relieved to hear that Angela had allowed him to braid her hair. Though I can’t imagine, frankly, when they find time for such a leisurely activity. “Oh, any time,” Ryan told me, and I imagined the teacher trying to teach a class where all the boys were braiding the girls’ hair. (Though, evidently, there were a few girls who played hard to get and refused to be braided.)
It didn’t end here.
Every afternoon for a week, Ryan came home from school, and in the next moment, was armed with all my combs, brushes and hair things. “Mom, pleeeeeeeease?”
It became slightly annoying. As when Kenny can pester me while I’m making dinner, to watch a new coin trick or to pick a card out of his magic deck, as if my boys never are able to recognize that I actually have things to do.
I promised that once homework, dinner, dinner dishes and bath were done, he could braid my hair.
Kenny, slightly less exuberant, more go-with-the-flow, sooner or later can’t help but get tangled up in Ryan’s fixations. On one of these hair evenings, he’d been preoccupied with cutting up tiny pieces of paper and stapling them into little blank books, when he sat on the other side of me. “Ok, Momma. How do you braid?”
Soon they were both tugging and pulling, braiding and unbraiding my head.
Unlike Ryan, Kenny can tire of repetition. He went upstairs and returned with a set of nail files I’d never used, that came as part of some beauty gift set from an former female boss, the generic kind of gift you can only give a generic female employee. Someone who clearly didn’t know me well enough to know I wouldn’t know what to do with such tools. (My last manicure was on my wedding day morning eleven years ago. No kidding.)
“What is this?” Kenny asked, holding up a silver thing that could have been a midget’s surgery scalpel for all I knew. I admitted I had no clue, but he just shrugged, and went to work poking and pressing the sharp thing into my nails.
So Kenny pretended to do my nails, while Ryan indulged rapturously in my hair.
“ I know what I want to do now. I’m going to be a hair person when I grow up,” Ryan said.
“A hair stylist.”
“Ok, whatever….” He became lost in thought. In hair dreaming. Not too long ago, such intensity was setting the table and clearing it off, when he rapturously dreamed of one day being a waiter.
“Sooooo what would you like? A Braid? Pony tails?” he asked.
No pony tails, please. Otherwise I told him he knew best. Here’s a couple of "styles" (I can’t complain, since I haven’t had my hair actually styled since my wedding morning eleven years ago, either.):
On this same evening, Daddy came home early enough to find one of his sons doing my nails. The other one, my hair.
“Daddy, I’m going to be a hair stick when I grow up!” Ryan announced.
“Hair stylist,” I gently corrected him.
“Wonderful,” Daddy said, giving me the same look he did when Ryan went through his purse phase, packing and unpacking my shoulder bags and clutches relentlessly. “Mommy, it’s ok for boys to carry bags, right?” He’d asked, with a shiny black evening bag slung over his shoulder, so dressy I myself had never even used it (another gift no doubt from someone who didn’t know me better). I had told him it depends on the bag.
He now grinned his new grin, his upper wiggly tooth finally having dropped out. “I’m the greatest hair person in the world, Daddy!”
Another look from Daddy who is thinking more doctor or engineer. Thinking more math than hair.
But we both knew this rapture too would wane, and it has. All my hair combs and brushes have been abandoned on the coffee table, along with a forgotten old super hero that was pulled out briefly from the bottom of the toy box. The nail thing for Kenny had worn off even sooner, as he quickly had returned to stapling together more blank books.
I miss being so pampered. I miss it so much that one night I offered Ryan my hair brush. “You want to do my hair?”
He looked at me dully. “No. I have to check on the eggs.”
Ryan has returned to an old rapture, dragons, one that fell somewhere in between dreaming of being a waiter and a hair “stick.” There are dragon eggs waiting to hatch now, on the coffee table (rocks). A small invisible dragon perches all day on his shoulder. The larger one sleeps a lot around the house, and Ryan is forever berating me for stepping on his invisible tail.