From Chicken Soup for the Mother of Preschooler's Soul


If you’ve ever had a mother, and if she’s given you and meant to you all the things you care for most, you never get over it.

Anne Douglas Sedgwick

With mere minutes left, I fumble in front of the bathroom mirror to make myself look presentable enough to drive to preschool. Damp clumps of hair fall into my eyes as I quickly rub moisturizer over my cheeks. Still, I can’t resist when one of my twin daughters runs into the bathroom and asks, “Can you braid my hair, Mommy?”

I smile into the mirror. Braids are Elise’s latest obsession.

“Okay, but we need to hurry. We don’t have much time today.”

Elise jumps onto her little bathroom stool, straightens her back, lifts her chin and stares into the bathroom mirror, eagerly waiting for my fingers to transform her long, dark blonde hair.

I can relate to my three-and-a-half-year-old’s love of twisted tresses.My own kindergarten photo shows blonde braids stretching below my shoulders. A few contrary strands are unraveled, but I’m smiling with my tongue pressed slightly between all the spaces in my front teeth. I went to school with my hair in braids almost every day that year.

“I want two braids, Mommy,” says Elise, emphasizing her request by forming her little fingers into a “v.”

I open the top bathroom drawer filled to the rim with every hair accessory imaginable: crocheted headbands, sparkly barrettes and a rainbow of grosgrain ribbons. I grab the hot pink comb from the top of the heap and begin wrestling morning tangles from Elise’s hair with one hand while plunging my other to the bottom of the drawer.

“Why don’t I ever organize this mess?” I feel around for two small rubber bands. “Ahh . . . got ‘em!” I say with exaggerated excitement to distract Elise from the tugs of my comb. She winces but keeps still. Even at such a young age, she is willing to forgo some comfort for beauty.

I hold each band between my teeth for quick retrieval. “Okay, Ellie,” I mumble through clenched jaws, “time to keep very still.”

It isn’t until I begin braiding that I realize why I love my kindergarten photo so much. The photo reminds me of treasured times when my mom gave me her undivided attention. We’d talk about what I would do at school that day or what she would do at work. At times, we were silent, simply enjoying the quiet morning ritual. While she wove my hair, Mom was all mine.

As I part Elise’s hair, I remember the feel of the comb’s teeth moving down the middle of my own scalp and tickling the nape of my neck. Today, Elise’s part veers a bit toward her right ear, but it will do.

Sticking the comb under my armpit, I gather the left side of her hair and divide it into three sections. My hands instinctually weave clumps one over the other, over the other, over the other. My joints pop and crack with each movement, just like my mom’s used to do, not flexible enough for such nimble needs in the early morning.

“Ouch!” Elise exclaims as I pull the braid tighter to her head. She scrunches her eyebrows in an expression exactly like the one I’d flash my mom in the old gold-rimmed mirror that hung in the only bathroom in our house.

“I’m sorry, honey.” I kiss Elise’s temple. “Why don’t you tell me who you’ll play with at school today.”

The distraction works. She smiles and quickly begins listing classmates as the braid grows longer and slimmer. I reach the curly ends and retrieve one damp rubber band from my lips to secure my macramé. Elise runs her fingers along the bumpy row of silky knots.

“So beautiful, Mommy.” She giggles into the mirror and bounces up and down excitedly. I crack my knuckles and repeat the process on the other side, making sure the final braid falls evenly before securing it.

With pure satisfaction, Elise twists her head back and forth so the stiff ropes slap the side of her face. I remember doing that, too. I look at the clock.

“Whoops, we’re going to be late! Go get your shoes on so we can get going.” I lift Elise off the step stool. She gives me a quick hug and runs off, her braids bouncing on her shoulders.

Elise is simply happy to have her braids. But today, I sense life’s cycle evolving, and I treasure these moments when childhood and motherhood are woven together like the silky skeins of blonde hair.

Karen Olson Burkhartzmeyer

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