My brother and his wife had a daughter, and she was easy. Slept through the night. Did what she was told. Thrived on order. If it was bedtime, she happily went off to bed. No problem. So when it came time to have another kid, they had delusions of another bundle of joy. It didn’t quite work out that way.
Of course they loved the second daughter. It’s a given, right? You love your kid. But where the first one thrived on rules and order, the other little girl greeted every rule with a stubborn ‘Why?’.
The funny thing was that as much as they knew that I adored the first child, they assured me before I met the second that I was going to love her. Although I live far away, modern communication allows me to keep in regular contact, and as the time drew closer for my first trip to meet the less-than-easy one, I was assured, ‘You’re really going to like her. She has the sort of personality that reminds me a bit of you.’ What’s that supposed to mean? ‘Well, she’s wilful.’
That’s a positive thing, right? Wilful. I was taking it as positive.
I met Wilful before she had much command of any language. She was prone to tantrums of a magnitude that I can barely describe. Later, as she was able to articulate herself a bit better, she would report, ‘Wilful is freaking out.’ And freak out she would. Her running commentary was quite helpful.
She grew up a bit, as children do, and as her language skills developed, she also developed an obsession or two. Chocolate milk was a favourite. She’d awaken in the morning and not quite fully conscious, she’d begin braying for ‘Chocolatate‘. She loved a mermaid outfit so much that she insisted on wearing it everyday. No matter what the setting of the day’s activities was.
All that is normal kid’s stuff, right? Idiosyncratic speech. Wanting to dress one’s self. These are par for the course. Wouldn’t even call those obsessions. Not really.
But all along she was on a collision course to her real obsession. I don’t know if it had anything to do with hairstyles at the outset, but Wilful was suddenly very keen on her scissors. There’s always some crafty project going on, so it wasn’t all that out of the ordinary at first.
But one day, she presented one of her parents with a clump of her own hair. The look on her little face almost said, ‘I’m not sure if this is good or bad, but I’ve really done something that I can’t undo.’ All while holding a handful of her hair.
My brother and I talked about it at some point, and he described the story up until that point. I think if this had happened while we were children, the scissors would simply have been confiscated. Years later, we might slowly be introduced to the possibility of unsupervised scissor use.
It’s also possible that the parenting style employed with us would’ve decided to ‘let the kid cut his hair till he has no more hair.’ That seems like the sort of resigned frustration that we brought out in our parents.
But they weren’t going to let this defeat them. Wilful’s parents resolved to come up with creative ways to distract her from cutting her hair. Dolls were introduced that started out with flowing locks, and in stages they had shorter and shorter hairstyles.
Calm, measured discussions about how hair took a long time to grow back were seemingly understood by Wilful. She’d scurry off after one of these talks and soon enough, whether it was hours or days later, there she’d reappear with a fresh new missing spot where her hair used to be.
Finally, as her fourth birthday approached, the unavoidable happened. At some point, she’d stopped even trying to control her desires and had shorn herself to the point where there was nearly no more hair to cut. The offending scissors were taken away for the foreseeable future, but to be honest it was in many ways too late.
They went to a place that specialised in children’s hair, and they made the best out of the situation. I saw the pixie cut in photos, and it really was attractive. So problem solved. They went back to their lives, and the whole ordeal of Wilful cutting her hair was behind them. Order had been restored.
One day, my sister-in-law and her mother were talking while the younger daughter sat quietly colouring nearby. Eventually, the conversation made it’s way to the subject of what Wilful had been up to lately. They watched the little girl as she was so intently making sure the crayons stayed within the lines.
A few minutes later, they noticed that she’d stopped what she was doing, and was staring off into the distance. The little girl’s mother and grandmother looked from her to each other, and waited a moment to see what would happen next. Eventually, the silence was too much, and one of the women asked, ‘Wilful, honey. Is everything ok? What’re you doing?’
The little girl came out of her trance, and finally answered, ‘I’m thinking about cutting my hair.’