By Laura Simon

I found out the gender of my third child when a nurse called during my first bell English class. I’d taken a Harmony test a few weeks earlier because my doctor suggested it would be a wise choice given my advanced maternal age, which was all of 35.  As a bonus, they told me I could know the gender at 13 weeks.

And so, I found myself shushing a crowd of high school freshmen so I could step into the hallway to answer my phone. The nurse shared the results of the test, and then asked, “Do you still want to know the gender?” Well, duh. That’s the only reason I had it done.

I glanced inside the classroom. The freshmen were straining their necks, trying to make out the conversation. “It’s a girl!” the nurse exclaimed.

“But…I don’t know what to do with a girl,” I stammered. “I’m a boy mom.”

And then, as an afterthought, I murmured, “I don’t even know how to braid hair.”

“I’m sure you can learn,” the nurse laughed as she hung up the phone.

But three years into parenting, I was still holding out on the braid thing. I’m a deeply practical person. I can’t find a way to justify putting on make-up unless it’s a special occasion. I wear my own hair in a messy bun most days. And how am I supposed to do actual hair when our household doesn’t own a comb?

Then I dropped my daughter off at our co-op childcare, and the teenagers got a hold of her. When I picked her up that day, and she strutted out with an Elsa braid that would make Princess Elsa herself jealous. She was so pleased that she held the braid all the way home. I seriously think she was afraid it would fall off.

After that, the begging began. She wanted a braid. Then she wanted two braids. She learned that mommy couldn’t braid, so she started seeking out teenage girls. I’ve got to give her credit: she knows how to get what she wants. She wants fancy braided hair and the snapchat filter with the puppy nose. Teenage girls provide both.

I started feeling guilty, and also sort of challenged. How was I going to let a bunch of teenagers do what I couldn’t? Plus, I distinctly remembered longing for French braids in very much the same way when I was a kid. My mom tried really hard, but in the end, she never could master the concept. I decided I needed to break that generational curse.

A friend suggested YouTube videos, but it all seemed too overwhelming. Instead, I started paying attention to other kids’ braids, trying to wrap my mind around the way the hair was woven together down the side of the head.

Finally, I worked up the courage to give it a try. I’m not going to say the results were amazing. They weren’t. The part was jagged and uneven and the braids seemed to lag in all the wrong places. But I had undeniably achieved two French braids, one down each side of my daughter’s head.

When we were finished and she bounded off, a braid clutched in each hand, I realized I’d given my daughter more than a braid. This is a kid who would spend every waking hour glued to me. Every sleeping hour, too. For the child whose emotional needs transcend any kind of practical, I’d provided nearly 30 minutes of attention focused solely on her. While my hands clumsily wove pieces of hair together, I was nurturing her. I was loving her. In fact, I got the distinct feeling that braiding her hair every day would go a long way toward filling up her big needs for love and affection.

It’s not just the braid she’s after: it’s my time and attention, and if I have to ‘waste’ thirty minutes a day on it, then girlfriend can have her hair braided forever. Maybe I’ll even get good at it.

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