Spending the week in Dallas at cheer camp with my youngest feels like I’ve stepped into Toddlers and Tiaras territory. I know things are “bigger in Dallas,” but when we walk down for breakfast, there are are so many poofed-up hairdos that I have a mini-panic attack. You see, we’re not skilled hairspray people.
“Are you nervous?” I ask, my eyes watching the one hundred sequined hairbows bouncing around the buffet.
“Nope,” she replies. “I’m tired.” She sighs and stabs her waffle in an apathetic attempt to force feed herself.
“You slept plenty,” I point out. “You think you’re just excited?” This is my energetic child whose behavior is deflated on what should be the most exciting day of her life.
“I’m fine, Mom. I’m not scared that I don’t know a single person here if that’s what you’re worried about.”
That is what I’m worried about, and I know she’s mistaking nerves for indigestion, bless her heart. But we have a bigger problem here—a we-need-BIG-hair problem.
“Can you braid it?” she asks as we head up to brush our teeth several minutes later.
“Sure! Yes!” I reply, acting confident but knowing full well that I‘m a braiding buffoon. “And you can use my mascara, too!” I add, certain that all she needs is a makeover. A new hairdo and a touch of makeup will perk her right up. I’m sure of it.
Up in the room I begin what I’m certain heart surgeons face on a daily basis—the knowledge that if I don’t get this right, my patient will literally die. Standing over her, I begin to weave the hair in and out until I finish. “Uh oh. There’s a bump,” I say, sweat forming on my brow. “Should I redo it?”
“Nah,” she says. “It’s fine,” But I’m not letting her go down into that sea of sequins with a bumpy braid.
“Hold on.” I pull her to me and try my best to secure the bump, but it’s hopeless. So I force a smile and say, “You look great, honey. Today is going to be a blast.” And Lord, I pray it is.
Thirty minutes later, still eyeing my messy work as we stand in line in the biggest gym we’ve ever seen, I realize that I am the one who’s needed the makeover all along. I’ve been so focused on having my daughter look like the other cheerleaders that I have forgotten that she adores this activity because of the tumbling, not the outfits or how she looks.
And suddenly, I’m ashamed. I’ve totally disregarded the premise of my own YA novel—the value of inner beauty over outer beauty—a lesson my daughter seems to have internalized perfectly. My baby knows she doesn’t need a fancy hairdo and a glittery bow to feel good about herself. She just needs a friendly smile. And sure enough, behind the all of the intimidating glitter, we find hundreds of them, from people who don’t even seem to notice our homemade bows or lack of hair skills.
Sometimes all it takes is the blessing of a bumpy braid to make me realize I’d been focused on the wrong thing. I think I’ll put that on a t-shirt. Or better yet, a can of hairspray…
Katie D. Anderson is the wife of a sports fanatic, the mother of two teenage girls, and the author of the young adult novel, Kiss & Make Up. When she’s not writing, she can be found playing tennis, cooking something southern, or folding laundry—a never-ending nightmare.