This morning I attended a training program for Free to Be Me, which is a Girl Scout/Dove collaboration focusing on real beauty, media literacy, body-positive, self-esteem–the whole enchilada. I’m impressed by much of the program (I always have my quibbles) and commend it to those of you with Girl Scouts or Girl Guides in your life.
After the training, I took Selam to ice skating. Does one ever get used to watching one’s children from a distance? I see her gliding and turning, lifting a single leg behind her, and I’m just amazed at the passing of time, at the brain’s ability to piece together so many discrete steps into a whole.
After skating it was big bath day for Selam. Once a week, she takes a long bath, and I wash and detangle her hair. I remember when she was little, I’d bend over the tub with soap and washcloth, scrubbing the day away from her skin. Now she does this herself, and I am summoned only when it’s time for hair. There are times when the hair routine vexes me. All the steps, all the time–all the frustration. Tangles are inevitable, and it’s so hard to get them out without hurting her.
But there’s something about the drowsy Saturday early evening in a warm tub, tired skating muscles loosening in the steam, that opens up conversation. I sit cross-legged beside the tub, and she leans her back to the edge so that her hair drapes over and I can comb through the curls slowly, running first my fingers and then the green wide-toothed comb through the thick pasty conditioner. Tonight she told me that sometimes she wishes she had straight hair, easy hair. She could wash it herself, she thought, and nobody would ever call her puffy head. There’d be no tangles, and it would get longer. She’s clearly thought this through. “But, ” she finishes, “I don’t think I’d know my name if I wasn’t a curly girl. Would you know me without curls?” I think for a second and say, “If I could see your eyes, I’d recognize you, for sure, but I would miss your curls. They’re part of you.” “I think they are. Like my name. They make me different.” She goes quiet.
Remembering the training I’d attended earlier, I said, “Which part of your body do you think is the prettiest?”
“My feet,” she replied quickly, poking her long slender feet out of the water for a minute. There are slivers of pink polish still hanging onto a few nails, remnants of Christmas with her cousins.
“Why your feet?” I respond.
“They make me strong. I can skate and swim and dance and ride my bike. They take me places.”
“That’s a really good reason,” I responded.
“I think I know what YOU think is my prettiest part,” she said.
“Yep. My heart, because it is brave and full of love.”
“I love your beautiful heart.”
“And I love my beautiful feet.”
The corkscrews hung limply down her back, the tangles smoothed away. It was finally time to rinse. But I kept combing with my fingers, resting my hands on her beautiful head just a little bit longer. She crossed her legs and kicked the one foot into the air, pressing it against the white tile of the wall. Hours later, a perfect footprint still remains there.