Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, Ph.D.

I study people, technology, and the worlds they make

Braids

I have three degrees from an Ivy League university. I’ve held postdocs at major universities. I’ve won scholarly prizes. I’ve edited an encyclopedia that has published continuously since 1768. I’m the quintessential knowledge worker, and damn good at it.

And tonight, I’m looking at a book titled Braids and Bows, and thinking, I’ve met my match.

My daughter is five– or I should say, very five. Since my wife is a middle school teacher, she’s usually out the door pretty early in the morning, so I get to take our daughter to school. This in turn means supervising her getting dressed, combing her hair, and otherwise making her look a bit less like Young Barbarella, and a bit more like Young Cinderella (who is, along with all ballerinas, the gold standard for beauty and grooming).

Responsibility for doing anything with her hair also falls on my shoulders. This morning, my daughter decided that I needed to learn to do something more complicated than ponytails (which I’ve gotten quite good at) and pigtails (which are called for less often). "I saw a book about braids in the bookstore," she said helpfully. "Maybe we could go get it."

If it was called Girls’ Hair for Idiots, I thought it might be at my level, but I kept this to myself.

So after dinner, we drove to the bookstore, and looked for the book she had seen. She was briefly distracted by the Barbie hairstyling book, but after I reminded her that thanks to her mother our house operates under a Barbie fatwa, she went for the Klutz book, which had helpful pictures and a little container of ribbons and bobby pints.

We took it home and looked at it before bedtime. While browsing in the bookstore she had found a picture of ballerina with her hair up in a bun; at the time, she declared, "This is what I want to wear every day when I go to my ballet class." (It’s a simple one, thank heavens, just twist and pin.) Now, she looked at it again. "Do we have any bookmarks?" she asked. "I need a bookmark for this page." No bookmarks were handy, but she was unfazed. "Can you put your hand there? But don’t touch the picture," she added quickly. She didn’t want me to mess up the ballerina’s hair.

We kept looking at the book. "That one is my second favorite," she said. "That one is my third favorite. No, that one is my second favorite, and the other is my third favorite." Every couple pages we’d repeat a variation, with the occasional revision of the pecking order, until she finally declared, "That’s enough. I only wanted to have eight favorites."

We then came to the end, and a two-page spread on wreaths. Her eyes got wide. "This is what I Want When I’M A FLOWER GIRL!!" she said. She’s actually going to be a flower girl in October, which makes her especially attuned to such possibilities.

Finally we were done. She suggested, "You know, maybe you should take it with you tonight and look at it some more, so you can know how to do it in the morning."

I wonder if I’m going to be able to do do this. Figuring out the future seems simple compared to a reverse French braid.

Update: Some nice soul described this as "this adorable blog entry, which has to be just about the cutest father having to do his daughters hair story ever."

13 Comments

  1. You are a brave and wonderful father. I know you can master the French Braid. I found the Klutz book on tissue paper flowers very helpful. Also remember that Elizabeth’s hair is so thick and shiny that it’s more of a challenge to hold it together than most, even with unlimited rubber bands and bobby pins. Good luck.

  2. Flower girl wreath? No problem, I’ll add it to the list! (I’m guessing silk flowers rather than real so that she can keep it?)

    Speaking as someone with hair that will NOT stay in a braid, hair spray is a Good Thing. Though she’s probably a bit young…

  3. Well, I’m trying. We did a bun this morning, and it worked out okay.

    As for hair spray, complete the following equation: Elizabeth + Hair Spray = ?. I would fill in “Disaster” myself!

  4. The problem with hair spray (well, one of) is that once the hair gets messed up (e.g. after 5 minutes at Peninsula), it makes it stay that way too. So you’d be back to Barbarella.

    Mom never was that keen on doing our hair – I think she had painful childhood memories of ponytails (the kind that make your eyebrows hurt).

  5. I have very fond memories of my father trying VERY hard to accomplish something with my hair. There’s more at stake than just styling here; OTOH, you’d best learn how to do it well! 🙂 I find that wet hair is less likely to slip than dry hair, a useful tidbit for severe, tight styles like Lead Ballerina French Braid and Angry Librarian Bun.

  6. Ironically, the band I played guitar for in high school was called Angry Librarian Bun.

  7. I think you’re going to have to start posting pictures of the results (especially if you start getting creative with ribbons).

  8. I’m a second year college student, researching material for my public speaking class. It’s a “How to” speech, and I chose French Braid as my topic. Searching the web, I came upon your delightful story. I plan to incorportate it into my speech. I think it is wonderful that a father would take on the task of fixing his daughter’s hair. Right on!

  9. Thanks very much!

    Though I still haven’t mastered the French braid. Fortunately, my daughter is generally content with a ponytail or, at most, a flipthrough, so my clientele isn’t too demanding.

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