I was almost six years old when my mom went to the hospital to have my baby sister. In her absence, Dad must have done a fine job taking care of the household, as I can recall no major mishaps or catastrophes. The three of us kids were well fed, had taken our baths, had clean clothes — the works. I figured that when we piled into the car and went to pick up Mom and the new baby, she would be pretty impressed. Well, except for one thing…
Since my two brothers had crew cuts, they were in need of no special attention. My hair, on the other hand, was a little longer than shoulder length at the time, and I generally wore it in a pony tail, pigtails, or braids. Braids must have been trending at the time, because the morning Mom was being released from the hospital, I remember Dad sitting me down on a hassock in front of his chair in the living room. He combed out my hair, parted it neatly down the middle and proceeded to braid each half of my head. He was very methodical and knew the steps to get it done. But what Mom could have finished in about two minutes took him forever. I remember aching to just forget the whole thing.
But I think I understood that this was a matter of pride: he would want Mom to see how seriously he’d taken his extra responsibilities while she was away. So I sat still and refrained from grumbling. When he got part of the way finished with a braid and realized he needed to start over, I groaned silently. This happened more than once. When he was all done and I looked in the mirror, it was clear that this was not a standard-issue pair of braids. These had more of the “loose and casual” look. But braids they were, and I thanked him roundly for making them, considering how determined and unflagging his efforts had been.
When we greeted both Mom and baby sister, I was just sure she’d notice my droopy braids and say something. Or maybe she’d just give me a knowing look, from one insider to another. But she didn’t. Apparently, their irregular appearance hadn’t fazed her one bit.
Once again, in my cluelessness, I would miss the real deal and merely perceive the obvious. Sigh. What my dad had actually communicated in that act (which I unfortunately experienced as mild torture) was a care and concern far beyond the call of duty. He wanted to present his children to his wife in fine form — no second class, half-hearted attempt, but an all-out effort. I think he hoped it would say how much he loved her, how much he appreciated all that she did for the family, and how devoted he was to us children, as well.
At the time, though, I figured Mom’s silence was because she was just caught up in the excitement of coming home with the new little bundle and didn’t notice. But reflecting on it now, I’m persuaded that she, being savvy to his motive and intent, and understanding the extreme patience that would have been required on his part (this was a man with hands as thick as two-by-fours, attempting to manipulate little strands of fine hair into a semblance of a braid!), deemed it a tender tribute. Her appreciation of his loving gesture would quell any mention of the sag in my hairdo.
And so I spent the rest of the day with my hair just the way it was; I, for sure, wasn’t going to mention it if she hadn’t noticed. But the next morning I headed straight to her bedside, comb in hand, eager to get things back to normal.
My head never felt so good.