The first day of school used to be a real occasion for dressing up. One boy I knew always came in a suit. Other kids showcased their fall back-to-school corduroys and sweaters, excited but roasting in the late-summer sun. Abundant hair was celebrated in the 1970s, but on the first day of school, even normally unruly hair was neatly wet and parted, tied back or braided.
I was never one of those kids. Clothes in my practical family were bought only when needed, and since my brothers and I only grew in millimeters, we hardly ever needed new ones. So I arrived at school in my regular summer clothes, and though my adult hair is oddly wavy (too many perms in the ’80s?), in those days my thick, stick-straight Asian hair behaved just fine with barely a brush.
My girls are a different story. Brushing their fine, knotty curls is a torturous exercise for both caring helper (my view) and tearful victim (their view). So I choose to avoid that battle. I can get pretty animated about manners, or sharing with siblings, or how best to load the dishwasher, but I just can’t get worked up about hair. Sometimes the girls brush, often they don’t, and I view it as a matter of personal expression rather than a reflection of my parenting.
But this summer we discovered the holy grail of pain-free hair care. It’s a funny little hedgehog of a brush that our friends brought from England, and it detangles without pain. Our friends’ girls have silky-fine, straight hair. But it works just as well on my curly girls, who now fight over who gets to brush their hair first.
I have no idea why it works. Plastic bristles? Thinner bristles? More bristles? But it’s so cool I even bought one for my scalp-sensitive niece, a college sophomore who willingly endured years of painful brushing so she could benefit from her mom’s irresistibly cute hairstyling (an incentive my girls don’t have).
The kids are back to school, less raggedy than before and – now that school starts in August rather than post-Labor Day of old – in shorts and tees like everyone else. Hair is smoother, and so are nerves and mornings. Better-groomed kids may even make me look like a more on-the-ball parent, which makes $12.99 seem a bargain.
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