I AM in the Sligo boondocks with my sister, staring at her youngest daughter Lola who’s sitting under the kitchen table eating a pink meringue.
Now don’t get me wrong — I’m all for mothers cutting their little girls’ hair. I mean no three-year-old needs to cultivate the art of feminine grooming, especially when you consider the ghastly lifelong bore of it, never mind the debate over early sexualisation and how this limits girls’ aspirations and achievements.
Of course I’m all for girlhood — why wouldn’t I be, what with womanhood being such as it is. Besides, childhood innocence is a bedrock assumption of contemporary Western thinking; I’d much rather see Lola up a tree than Lola primping in a salon.
And my sister’s all for girlhood too.
“If people say, ‘boys will be boys’,” she maintains, “then they should say, ‘girls will be girls’, and look just as bloody happy about it. I mean why should girls have to be anything they’re not? Why can’t they just be who they want to be?”
Which is a fine sentiment — but then yesterday, she only went and cut Lola’s hair into a shocking-bad mullet, which is the one thing that might stop Lola from just being who she wants to be.
Because even when Lola’s feeding the donkeys or stuffing worms through chicken wire to the hens, she’s doing this as Elsa, the fearless princess with long golden hair from the Disney film Frozen.
She’s been swishing her wispy bob over her shoulder as if there’s solid, shining weight in it ever since the film came out last November. She even swishes it in the bath.
You’d think she’d be looking pretty pissed off with my sister for landing her with a ’70s Linda McCartney mullet — but she’s not. She’s just swishing her mullet around a bit more vigorously — so as to get some small bit of movement going at the back, now that the front and sides are gone.
My sister cannot understand it. She feels Lola’s equanimity might have something to do with the fact that it’s her fourth birthday tomorrow and she’s looking forward to some Frozen booty coming her way.
My feeling is that tomorrow, by bedtime at the latest, Lola will have been just mean enough to have made my sister feel terrible and then just nice enough to make her feel worse.
In the morning Lola wakes up when we all bring her toast in bed and sing “Happy Birthday”.
She pats her head and looks confused.
Is her birthday real, she wants to know? Is it now? “What — now?” she says, patting her head again.
Lola feels all over her head and swishes her mullet.
“But where is my hair then?” she says, looking heart-sick.
“On your head, love. Where it always is,” my sister reassures.
Turns out Lola bore the mullet with such uncharacteristic fortitude because she thought she’d wake up on the morning of her fourth birthday with long, golden hair.
It would have appeared magically out of nowhere on her head, like a Christmas stocking at the end of a bed.
“You said I’d have long hair when I was older,” she says to my sister, a broken child. “And I look at my sister, who looks like a butterfly that’s just been stuck through the chest with a pin, her mind flailing all over the place as she remembers the countless times she’s fobbed off Lola’s relentless when-am-I-going-to-have-long hair like Elsa? questions, with a cavalier, “when you’re older, love”.
At her party, Lola hisses at her mother for dancing during Musical Bumps, and stares balefully at her when Malachi wins Pass-the-Parcel — which is just mean enough.
But later in bed, we find her gazing at her Frozen booty and she looks up at my sister with eyes as soft as candle-light.
“It doesn’t matter about my hair Mummy,” she says. “I love my Frozen poster. Anyway, when I’m five my hair will be long like Elsa’s.”
Which is just nice enough.
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