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Cutting the Curl: How I Let My Baby Grow Up in One Fell Swoop


August 11, 2014 by kristin

It started with Fancy Nancy. My 4-year-old daughter Ruby discovered her at the local public library, where we went for story time every week this summer. We checked out several Nancy books, Ruby’s favorite of which was called Fancy Nancy: Hair Do’s and Hair Don’ts.

I got nervous as we read it the first time because it was about how Nancy got the bright idea to give herself a haircut so she’d look perfect for picture day at school. Oh no, I thought as I read, I’m giving her ideas! (And also, When did I turn into the dad from 10 Things I Hate About You?)

Fortunately for me, Nancy jacked up her hair, and the lesson was effectively taught. Scissors are only for cutting paper! It’s a Clancy family rule! (And a Walters family rule, I reminded.)

But the idea of a haircut was planted in my daughter’s head, and she asked me if I could cut it for her. I said, “Of course I will, some time,” secretly hoping she would forget about it for a while.

I never thought I would be a person who gets attached to my kid’s hair. I figured we’d get it trimmed for the first time when she was a year old, like most people around here do, but then she didn’t have enough hair to trim. I liked the idea of getting it cut for the first time at the Main Street Disney barber shop when we went to Disney World for her second birthday. But by then she had a row of tiny ringlets at the back of her head, and I couldn’t bring myself to alter them.

Age 2

Age 2

After that, I never seriously considered cutting it. The longer her hair got, the more attached I became to the curls at the bottom, because they were the same long-awaited baby curls that first sprouted from her head some time between age 1 and 2. I remember seeing that first C-shaped curl and pointing it out to everyone; I remember the skeptical looks and my mother scoffing. “Your hair was always straight as a baby,” she pointed out.

But I married a jackpot of a man, in many ways, and one of them was in the hair genetics department. I’d always, for some reason, dreamed of a curly-haired baby and a red-haired baby (and I’m two for two!). When my husband and I were in our long pre-baby phase (also known as “the infertility nightmare”), I used to trace the little brown curls around his ears when his hair was starting to get longer than he liked, or scratch his red goatee, and daydream aloud about what pretty babies we would make together.

So when my first baby’s beautiful brown curls started forming, I was over the moon. Everywhere we went, people commented on them, couldn’t resist touching them. When she ran, they bounced charmingly. When she slept, they splayed beautifully across the pillow. When she woke up, they were plastered every which way on her head.

When I look back at the many, many, many photos of my first girl over the past four years, the most clear signpost for the passage of time is her hair. The C-shaped wisps transformed into inch-long ringlets, which transformed into a cloud of curls, which transformed into a cascade of spirals down her back.

And now she was telling me it was time to let them go.

She told me several times that she wanted a haircut, but I told myself the whims of a 4-year-old are fickle. I always said, “Sure, baby, sure we can.” She was usually asking in the car – where she does most of her big-question asking, thoughtfully, from the middle of the back seat – or at bedtime, when it couldn’t practically be done.

But then yesterday she asked me twice. And the second time, on our way home in the car, I said, “We can do it tonight, after Sissy goes to bed.”

Now she was over the moon. She danced with excitement in her car seat. She asked how much we could cut, and I said as much as she wanted. She danced even harder. I smiled, because I knew I was doing the right thing, but I also started crying right there in the car as I told her how those curls at the end were her first baby curls. I didn’t tell her that to discourage her, which it didn’t in the least, but to explain to her why Mama might not look as happy as her when it happened.

I was intending to just give her a trim and then take her to my hairstylist if she still wanted more. But I watched a couple YouTube videos about cutting curly hair, and when she said she wanted it cut up to her neck, I threw caution to the wind.

Well, I didn’t throw it. I paused with my scissors over that first baby curl, the longest one, right in the middle. My hands shook, and my insides clenched. Everything in my body and heart rebelled against cutting this perfect, beautiful thing. Against willingly changing my ever-growing daughter, this tall lithe creature who looked nothing like a baby anymore. Except for these curls. I liked to tug on them gently when I sat beside her, making them bounce back up. I liked to sweep them up and perch them on top of her head in a crown of curls any 19th century maiden would envy.

But this wasn’t about me. It was about what she wanted, who she wanted to be. My husband offered to cut the first curl for me, but I said, “No, it has to be me.”

And so I did it. I sliced through the last part of her babyhood and let it go.

Well, I didn’t let it go entirely. I let Ruby touch the baby curl – she was delighted – and then my husband put it in a plastic baggy, labeled “Ruby’s 1st Haircut. Aug. 10, 2014. Age 4.”

After that, it wasn’t as hard. I didn’t cut it quite as short as she wanted – she is 4 after all, and I was nervous her expectations wouldn’t match the reality – but just past shoulder length in the back and a little shorter in the front, with a few shorter layers to help it bounce.

Ruby's haircut

She looked so cute, so sassy, so grown-up, and yet also like her 3-year-old self from last summer, when her hair first reached shoulder-length on its own.

She loved every minute of the haircut, loved how different the hair felt on her back, on her cheeks. She couldn’t wait to go to her first day of 4-year-old pre-school today and show all her teachers and friends the new haircut. She couldn’t wait to show it to her little sister this morning. (It might also help with the problem of little sissy pulling her hair.)

As for me, I’m still a little weepy. The new haircut is adorable, but every time I look at that little baggy of baby curls, run my fingers over their sun-streaked crescents, I want to cry again. Maybe I’ll always want to, every time I come across it in a box over the years.

But I’ll get over it, get used to it. I’ll do what we all do when our babies go to school, scrape a knee, encounter a bully, get a haircut, dance in a recital, play on a team. We are afraid a little and sad a little, but underneath the tears, more than anything, we are proud. So proud.



  1. Lori says:

    Holy crap, you’ve got ME in tears! I know it’s just hair, but I totally felt every moment with you there. My five year old had hair down to her waist and wanted it cut to her ears. I finally, after doing the same as you – putting it off – I let her get it cut. Not as short as she wanted though, I’ll admit. We agreed on short-long hair since she’s a flower girl in a wedding soon. It’s now a few inches past her shoulders. I look at that gorgeous hair and wish wish wish she’d kept it long. Girl, I so feel you with this post!!

  2. Victoira says:


  3. Leigh Ann says:

    Oh Kristen, I love this. Thank you for writing & for sharing. Now I have got to read everything you’ve written! 🙂

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About Kristin

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Historical fiction writer and reader. Procrastinator. Sewist. Slytherin. Fan of red lipstick, rock 'n' roll, and everything vintage.

Current Work-in-Progress

The Boy in the Red Dress

When her drag queen best friend is accused of murdering a socialite, a Jazz Age Veronica Mars searches for the real killer in the seedy underbelly and glittering upper crust of 1931 New Orleans.


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