In my post-birth delirium, one thing I remember vividly was spotting a head with a mass of curls and feeling slightly kicked that Re got my hair. I realize now that I hadn’t really prepared myself for the aftermath that looks like it’s going to last at least a few decades if not more, and the spectacle that is curly hair.
In a world of mostly monochrome straights and apologetic waves, curly stands out. It has spunk, it speaks, it has texture, so yes, it does attract. One thing Re noticed about himself quite early was that he was different, mostly because no one else had hair like him. No, the difference hasn’t bothered him yet, but I can tell that his hair is the object of envy, amusement and intrigue in mixed proportions to most of the universe around him – children and adults alike, in fact more adults than children.
When it’s a child, he is able to express his annoyance at being hair-teased. But often, it is an adult, and very often, it is someone we know, and although he dislikes the ruffling and the touching, he is often unable to express his feelings regarding the same.
Last year, we moved to a more holistic space for education, where there is more tolerance and mutual respect than the world outside, and although the jibes/remarks about the hair reduced significantly (as did the endless questions on why does he sport long hair if he is a boy), we are still far away from having his hair left alone.
Often the people touching are parents themselves and while they may have defined boundaries for their own children, somehow the same doesn’t apply when it comes to others. Re is an attractive child, and the curls somehow make him even more so, and I find that he bears the brunt of constantly getting his hair ruffled by random people (when he had fluffy cheeks, it was hair and cheeks).
I wonder why they do that. Perhaps they have never seen or felt curly hair before. Perhaps they are touching it to see if it’s real. Perhaps they want to see how it behaves when touched. Whatever the reason, it seems equally pathetic.
I remember my grandmother had thick, long hair, curly hair that we seldom saw, unless one of us happened to be around to watch her unveil her towel post a head bath, when a crop of tight, mostly black, long ringlets would come cascading down like Rapunzel. I loved her hair and wondered why she didn’t let it down more often. Now I know. Too much attention.
Since my mother (of soft, fluffy curls) married my father (of thick, unruly curls), she begat the three of us with almost equal intensities of curls, with my twin siblings getting more of the ringlets than me. Re, it appears has got the best of our cumulative genes.
But I am sure my mother went through similar experiences with us too. Perhaps her way of working around it was to always ensure our hair was tightly combed and tied (or plaited, for us girls), and my poor brother always had a close crop after his first few years; it ensured his hair never grew to the length of defiant curls, which meant there was very little handling.
I did no such thing with Re; it took me so long to celebrate my curls after the initial decades of curl imprisonment, that I let his grow in wild abandon, and only give him a haircut when he asks for it. We are both happy in the bargain, celebrating our curlies.
But it led me to worry about other things. It woke me up to something bigger, and far more daunting. How many times do people (known and unknown) cross the line when it comes to touching our children? How much can we guard our children against this? Why is it so hard for some of us to respect another’s space, especially a child? Why are we unable to express love without touching a child? How many times do we ever ask a child whether it is okay to pick him up? Pinch her cheeks? Hold her hand? Rub her back? How would we feel if someone constantly did this to us?
Each day, our children are constantly touched in ways they don’t want to be and often we are around too, but we can’t seem to do much about it. Imagine a child’s frustration on having his/her space constantly violated and not being able to do anything about it. When Re comes complaining to me that he was touched by so-and-so or so-and-so pulled his cheeks or picked him up, I tell him, “Just say you don’t like it. Ask them to stop.”
“But they don’t listen, mamma,” he says.
“So let out your loudest scream to scare them away,” I said.
So each time I hear Re scream, I clap a little clap in my head. Yes, he is learning to say no, I think. But a part of me is deeply saddened by the fact that he still has to.
(This post first appeared as my column in Pune Mirror on 5th January, 2015. Do write to me on firstname.lastname@example.org in case you wish to share something.)