My oldest daughter asked me to straighten her hair one morning last week, an unusual request for a child who considers hair brushing to be a form of corporal punishment. Running behind, but not wanting to look a gift horse in the mouth, I told her to meet me in the bathroom. A few minutes later, the two of us stood in front of the vanity, her rocking from one foot to the other as I plugged in the straightening iron and dug around in the cabinet for some product.
“Oh, we could do a makeover!”
Hearing excitement in her voice, I looked up in the mirror just in time to see bright eyes and a radiant smile on her eight-year-old face. Wishing we actually had enough time for a makeover, I paused to look at that face. A few seconds passed.
“Why are you staring at me, Mom?”
“Um…sorry. You’re just really cute.” Back in reality, I combed and straightened her hair. We admired the results and resumed our usual morning routine of everyone not getting ready on time.
Sitting at my desk during my lunch hour later that same day, I remembered my feeling of amazement when she had asked me to do her hair. Wanting to try to capture this anecdote for a future essay, I opened up a blank Word document. But as I started writing, I found that my focus shifted from my surprise at her request to what I saw in those seconds before I was busted staring at her. Tears threatened at the corners of my eyes as I began to describe my realization that she’s not so little anymore. I got choked up typing that her smartass gene actually shows in her face, she can’t even help it. I wrote about the way her retainer has subtly altered how she holds her jaw with tears streaming down my face. The embarrassing hiccupping sobs that only happen when you cry in front of other people started just as I got to the part about how much she looks like me, just like everyone says.
I realize that what I felt was a mix of sadness, frustration, and joy. Sadness at the rapid passing of time, frustration with myself for rushing through so many would-be moments with my kids, and joy at having recognized this one.
How many times has this happened, I wonder, where what I take away from an experience is only the superficial, safe, fluffy part? Leaving behind an unexplored deeper, or even painful realization. I probably have a boatload of untapped emotions, just under the surface, waiting for a good look in the mirror to set them free.
Feelings are weird.