The first of the curls dropped in almost slow motion to the floor over 25 years ago. He was 2 and they were oh-so-brilliantly blonde. It was the late '80s, so I left just one long curl until my Father bribed him with a new toy to let him cut it off. Those first goodbyes to our little one's curls take a little bit of our heart each time, and I didn't know then just why. Maybe I was just too young to understand. Maybe it was because my first baby's independence would be essential to mine. We were growing up together. His not needing me was an accomplishment for him and a little bit of freedom for me. There were two more first curls, some golden and some brown to hit the floor, each one carefully preserved and marked "first haircut," and each one with a stronger twinge of an almost physical pain as my babies slipped away. They never come back, those first curls. Those quiet nights and those exhausted mornings with only the smell of milk on their breath fade away too quickly.
Older now, I was more aware of the special moments, wanting them to last forever, and knowing that the end goal of this whole motherhood thing concludes where it should. It ends with grown and independent people whom we hope we have raised right, and we hope will come home to see us, although sadly, they come less and less frequently as the years roll by. As I grew older, the desire for freedom had been slowly and unknowingly replaced with a comfortable sense of the duty of motherhood. The juggling of the laundry, the cooking; the shopping for everything from groceries to clothes to school supplies, costumes and the never-ending stream of birthday party gifts. There is the driving, the school projects, the countless hours waiting in line for the Dumbo ride in 100-degree heat (a ride that's over in three quick minutes), recitals and that darn full-time job. There have been hundreds of Christmas presents wrapped and mountains of wrapping swept away, Easter baskets filled and hidden, countless boo-boos kissed and hundreds of Band-Aids applied. I have been doing this, after all, for more than 27 years. By the time I am "done" raising children, 40 years will have gone by.
Let us not forget, although sometimes we do, that there is a spouse who needs you too. And with marriage and motherhood, the part of you who puts herself first just slips away. But you don't even notice or care, because your heart is filled with this huge love that makes you believe in God or Karma or faith in mankind.
But sometimes, let's be serious, sometimes we just get through the day. Sometimes we wait for the minute they all just go to sleep and we leave the mess, well, everywhere. The sometimes "just get through the day" kind of parenthood came to an end the day Ella came along.
That morning, I got the kids up, fed and off to school. I was on my way to work (where else) when I had the accident. My world turned upside down quickly with the realization that what we had taken for granted in this whole parenthood journey might be taken from us. In the dark of the night, they took my child away to the place that would save her.
She was not breathing on her own, her delicate skin almost translucent. She had no eyelashes or hair. She slowly recovered, first in minutes, then hours, then days. It took years for her to speak or for her hair to grow. The months went by and the years and the doctors and the therapists and the time and devotion and love given to her because she simply needed all of us. We celebrated her life and understood without a word what family now meant for us and to us.
Our sense of family is so big now, so strong. Full of so many people who loved her and strangers who prayed for her. She taught us that to love means to risk losing it all. She taught us to stay when it is hard, when it hurts, when you are tired; so tired you feel drunk and maybe a little crazy too. She taught us all to sacrifice for love -- my strong and never -complaining Husband, even my sweet little ones who went without stories or snuggles they were used to, never really begrudging their tiny sister. It was a lesson for each of us. She has a keen instinct into the pain of others that no one really can explain. Out of nowhere, she hugged our waiter the other day and his response was, "Wow, I really needed that, I was really missing my niece today." Ella knew that he needed that hug, she always knows. She is beautiful inside and out, her big brown eyes look straight into your soul. And as she grows, her hair falls down in sweet brown curls around her face. I love her face. If you softly stroke her hair, she falls gently off to sleep; her soft breathing is not a worry anymore.
She loves her long hair, and she is Elsa and Rapunzel, or the princess of the hour. It is hours of enjoyment for her sister to play with and an excuse for new bows and ribbons and headbands. It is a sign she is now healthy, with few outward traces of her struggle to live. It makes me feel safe. In her new-found independence, typical of a 5-year-old's, she has made fast friends with a much more grown up big kid of 6 next door. This little friend had flowing locks of her own, until she didn't one average day last week. Her mom let her locks fall, not for the first time, and for her luckily not the last, as there is still a smaller one with first wisps of baby hair to snuggle. But now, Ella was asking for her hair to be cut "just like" her sweet friend. It happened so quickly, and off broke another piece of my heart, a big huge piece.
So the last curls to hit the floor will be Ella's when I finally summon the courage to take her for that haircut. I will try to smile as I see her look in the mirror with pride and love for herself and "the whole world even people she has not met yet." I will save them in a box labeled "first haircut." I will pack away the tiniest clothes and the pain, and hope there is a place to store all the memories, good ones and the hard ones to pull them out anytime I need to be reminded that in this life there is more joy to be had. It is even sweeter when we remember the pain. There will be more firsts. I just hope she still smells like cookies a little while longer.
© Krista Barth, 2015