Tess got herself a nifty hairdo recently. It's what's known in tonsorial circles as a pixie cut. Yes, it's a bit boyish, I know. My wife was slightly horrified when she and I returned from the haircut place. Barrettes were assembled, to signify to the world that she's a girl.
But aesthetics aside, we had a good reason for giving the T-Bird such a short 'do. Her hair had gotten quite long, nearly down to her collar. Unless we kept it up in super-tight pigtails, she'd started doing what she always does: she pulled it out and ate it.
At first, we didn't know. There were signs: indigestion, crankiness. We assumed she was just tired. Then--and I fully realize how gross this is--she passed a furball. Like the things a cat spits up. We found it in her diaper. Yew. "You mean you can't digest hair?" I asked. My wife's in medicine and I'm not, and she just gave me that look, the pitying one, like when I want to know how you actually catch colds.
Tess will eat anything. Especially if it's shiny or sharp. Many's the time we've pried a LEGO or rubberband out of her jaws. She even drank the hand cleanser Purell. We wage a constant war in the house, to keep harmful stuff out of her stomach. Sometimes the only way to be certain she's safe is to stick her in her pack 'n' play in her room. Her reach radius isn't long enough to grab anything in there.
But her own hair? You can't exactly take that away. If there's a rubberband in it, she'll pull that out and eat it. Maybe we have no choice but to keep her hair short, like it is now. It looks cute at this age, but what's the coiffure of the 20-year-old Tess? Does she still have the pixie cut? If so, does she look like Ellen Degeneres? Emma Watson? Beyonce?
Other little girls beg you to sit and have tea with them. They play dress-up. They eye their mom's makeup with envy. My friends who have girls describe these as some of the best moments in life. They're the reason Maurice Chevalier sings, "Thank heaven for little girls," in the film "Gigi." My wife's not a girly-girl. I didn't know her back at the age of five, but when she talks about those days, it's more about the time she built an awesome sledding jump, rather than the time she dressed up as a princess.
Nevertheless, it's hard sometimes to hear about our friends' girls making bracelets or reading The Cupcake Diaries or planning routines with their friends to songs from "Frozen." It's hard because Tess doesn't do any of that stuff, nor is she likely to ever do so. Sometimes I wonder whether she knows she's a girl. What is her concept of gender? Does she know she's different from her brother?
For now, I think my wife and I are both enjoying this phase, with our Tess at five years old. She's not asking for dress-up or tea parties, but she's tolerant. She lets us put in barrettes and other adornments. When grandparents spring for outfits of maximum cuteness, Tess allows us to dress her in them.
And gradually, we and Tess are working together to shape her look and her identity as a little girl. This is guesswork, mostly. No conversations, of course, just her reactions to stuff. We know she likes long socks in the winter, to keep her warm. (If socks are truly necessary, that is--she prefers bare feet when it's warm.) She enjoys the look and feel of frilly-front shirts. She's not thrilled when you put her in tights. They're kind of like Spanx for her and they make her uncomfortable. Headbands look great on her, but she sort of hates them. She'll wear a winter hat, but only if it's pulled down low, just above her eyebrows.
This is our Tess. Quiet but insistent. And hates Spanx.