There’s a great children’s story by Robert Munsch called Stephanie’s Ponytail that I like not only because of the fantastically fabulous first name it features, but also because of that character’s gumption.
In it, Stephanie asks her mom to put her hair in a “nice ponytail coming right out the back” because none of the other kids in her class have one. When she gets to school all the kids say, “Ugly, ugly, very ugly.” Stephanie retorts, “It’s my ponytail and I like it.”
Wouldn’t you know it, the next day when she shows up at school all the other girls have lovely ponytails, too. Stephanie calls them copycats. The next morning she asks for a ponytail on the side. The “ugly” stuff is repeated and, you guessed it, the very next day all the girls and even some of the boys copy her.
This continues with a ponytail on the top of her head and in the front of her face. Then Stephanie loses it and yells, “You are a bunch of brainless copycats. You just do whatever I do. When I come tomorrow, I am going to have…SHAVED MY HEAD!”
So the next day (spoiler alert!) the teacher and the students show up bald, while Stephanie arrives with “a nice little ponytail coming right out the back.”
I was no “Stephanie” in elementary school. Blending in was my strongest desire, next to wanting a horse, that is. I’m not sure that I would have gone so far as to shave my head like everyone else, but if I had phoned all my friends the night before and was assured that, yes, that was what must be done in order to fit in then, possibly, I might have done it.
Yeah, yeah, yeah and if all my friends jumped off a cliff….
I see a lot of me in Boychild, but his hair is not long enough to put in a ponytail. Yet.
Girlchild, though, is another story. I stand in awe of her gumption. It terrifies me a little, too, because when she’s a teenager – yikes! Anyway, for now I can tell you (and so can the neighbourhood since we’ve opened our windows to the spring weather) that Girlchild knows what she likes and what she wants and has no problem expressing it.
A couple of Saturdays ago I asked Girlchild if she would like some braids in her hair. She wanted eight. No problem. The braids were looking a little rough on Sunday so I offered to redo them. She brought me 10 elastics. I like braiding. I learned how to do it in Brownies and it has obviously become a life skill.
When we ventured out that weekend we got lots of compliments on the braids, and she was quite pleased. On Monday she wanted to wear braids to school. I asked if she would like two (one on each side) or one at the back.
“Three!” was the answer.
I suggested that normally girls wear one or two to school. (Shades of my conformist past.)
“Three!” was the answer.
So I did three nicely spaced braids – one on each side and one at the back.
The next day she got her hair trimmed, and the hairdresser put her hair into two French braids.
So the diva wore her fancy braids to school on Wednesday. I was quick to explain to her fans that I am not that talented, despite having practised and practised on my Barbies years ago. She didn’t have school on Thursday and that night we had to undo the braids and wash the crinkly hair.
On Friday Mama was out of commission and the getting-kids-ready-for-school tasks were left to Daddy, who not only left Girlchild’s hair unadorned, but forgot to brush it entirely.
Ahem. So it was a week of extremes.
The point of all this is that I find it thrilling (most of the time) that Girlchild bucks these conventions and does what she likes. Maybe no one in Kindergarten has told her it’s unusual to wear three, eight or 10 braids to school, but I sure hope that if anyone does she’ll say, “They’re my braids and I like them!”
Published in The Perth Courier, April 22/10.