When we found out that our first child was a boy, I was somewhat relieved. Boys seem lower-maintenance, and I could just see myself as a mother of a boy. When we found out that our second was going to be a girl I was kind of surprised, despite the roughly 50/50 chance of this being the case. I had kind of settled into the boy routine; I had learned the names of various construction machines and all the characters in the Cars movie. Most (all?) of our close friends had boy kids first, so Daniel had lots of friends and all us moms were pretty much on the same page with things like potty training and feigning interest in monster trucks.
Before Eva was born I told myself that I would have to think really hard about what we were going to do about things like makeup and princess movies and dance teachers who have 5-year-olds shake their booties. For the most part I'm still avoiding these things, assuming we'll deal with them on a case-by-case basis as they come along. So for the first almost-two years of Eva's life we've been knee-deep in baby dolls and tiny pink accessories, but have otherwise not treated her much differently than we treated Daniel at her age.
But now we've reached the stage where Eva's hair is long enough to go in pigtails or clips or other things qualifying as hairstyles (all of which she refers to as "bows"). At first this seemed like a good thing; her hair got tangled and gummy from her twirling it around her finger, so getting it out of the way was a good solution. And though strangers in public were always nice to us before, they didn't fawn and point and exclaim like they do now when her hair is in the cute little sticky-uppy pigtails. I've adjusted to having a girl now, and the world of tiny hair accessories doesn't seem so overwhelming. Eva likes seeing herself in the mirror with her hair done, and when she sees me combing my hair in the morning she runs into the bathroom, sits on the toilet and points to her head saying, "Bow! Bow!" What could be bad about a couple of pigtails?
The problem, as you can see here, is that Eva's bows have a way of coming out. Mainly that way is that she pulls on them. What's left is something that looks a little like the plumage of an exotic bird or Wolverine from the X-Men. Really, once the bows are in there is no going back for the rest of the day. And now I seem to have a new part-time job: maintaining Eva's bows. So in addition to remembering all of our usual kid stuff any time we leave the house, I now have to pack extra tiny elastics in my pocket to replace all the ones that are lost in the car or the grocery store. And, though Eva is enthusiastic about the idea of the bows, the reality of getting them is much less exciting for her, and I sometimes find myself having to sit on her or give her a very serious talking-to in order to get her to hold still long enough to have the bows done or re-done.
At some point, I have to ask myself what part of the bows are for her benefit and what part are really just about me? I remember being the childhood victim of some seriously elaborate hairstyling, and I don't want to be the kind of mom who cares more about how my kids look than how they feel. But there is just something in me that cannot abide going into the library with a toddler who has hair like Don King. And so we embark on what will surely be a couple decades of struggle between us. Today her hair preferences tend to be based on a moment's whim or her hair-twirling convenience, but surely someday Eva will want to have some kind of hair or clothes that are embarrassing to me as her parent. Will I be able to put my money where my mouth is and focus on her character instead of her appearance? Can I make a positive contribution to how she feels about how she looks, or will she end up someday telling her therapist about how her mom made her wear these awful BOWS as a child...