Wednesday, June 11, 2008

French Braids

My earliest memories of my grandmother involve a lot of pain. Physical pain. Sitting at our discarded teak dining table in the basement while she french braided my hair. She showed no mercy. My face felt like it was being stretched to it's limit. Tears flowed freely. But the end result was more than worth it. Two perfect french braids on each side of my head. Flawless. And unlikely to come loose. Once done, I would keep them in for at least a couple of days because I loved them so much. And because I needed time to forget the pain to see the beauty.

Somehow along the way, as is the way with little girls, I figured out how to do these braids myself. It took a lot of practice. My arms felt like they might fall off, but I did it. I could never figure out how to do it other people, but I didn't have anyone on which to practice. Doll hair is not the same. My brother's hair wasn't long enough. Not that he would have allowed it. So I just kept braiding my own hair.

It's a delicate art. Separating the hair so that each side has the proper amount. Making sure that the hair is just wet enough, but not too much. The secret to good sturdy braids is either wet hair, or unclean hair. Myself, I go with wet. You have to comb or finger through each piece so that it lies smoothly in the braid. That's the annoying part. It's not hard, it just takes time and patience. I find that much in life can be approach the same way. Slow and steady wins the race. If you speed up, you may end up having to do it all again.

I wore my hair in braids for my very first role in a play, The Wizard of Oz. Sigh. No, I wasn't Dorothy. I read for the part, but I didn't have enough experience and lost out. I was a Farm Girl, Girl from Oz, and Rock Sitter Extraordinaire. Much of my preparation for the show was putting my hair in braids.

My hair was in braids the first time that the eventually-would-be-Mr-Earth gave me a compliment. We were sitting at dance rehearsal for Godspell, and I had worn my hair in braids to keep it off my face. He told me how he loved it when girls wore their hair in braids, but that his current girlfriend couldn't do it because her hair was too short. I wore my hair in braids for many, many rehearsals and somehow convinced the director that my hair NEEDED to be in braids because it was crucial to the character. I also wore them a lot during our courtship for reasons that will remain unspoken...

Now, as a mother, I still wear my hair in braids. Usually on hot, humid days when I know that no other hairstyle will hold up. It never ceases to amaze me the number of people who comment on my hair when I do. Random strangers. "Wow, did you do that yourself?" "Is that hard to do?" To me, they're not something amazing and unusual, but just a natural part of my person. They're never as perfect as I would like them to be. I always see the mistakes that I made. The stray hairs that didn't quite make it into the whole. The fact that I only did them because my hair would not cooperate otherwise.

What IS amazing about them, people don't see. The history. My first play. My love for my husband. And a tiny, fiery woman who was the only person I know who could make them perfect. Painfully perfect. Someday, I'll get there too.

17 comments:

Mad said...

You must try to have a girl child some day. Girl children are soooooo deeply satisfying to those of us who love to play with hair. Even though Miss M rarely lets me braid her hair anymore, I still get a monthly fix. Now if only I could learn how to French braid... Are you giving lessons?

daysgoby said...

Beautiful story!

I have shadier memories of my mother brushing my hair at night so it would be silky and shiny in the morning and ...awh, now I'm getting all verklempt.

mamatulip said...

I've always wanted to learn how to do French Braids.

I love this post.

Bea said...

The mysteries of French braids are something I was never able to penetrate, despite an intense desire to learn. It's not that my braids fell out or looked bad - they simply failed to come into existence. But I had my hair French braided for my first wedding (and then felt a bit sad that I'd already used that hairstyle when it came time for the second).

kittenpie said...

I'm too impatient - I only know the THEORY of how to do french braids, but never had anyone else to try it on and could never get it on my own, unwilling as I was to put hours into it. My hair was usually kept short, too, so it was tough, though my mom on occasion would take me to a hairdresser and have them do it for things like ballet recitals, when it needed to be tidy and out of the way. I kind of envy your skill, since I can only manage the Heidi-type braids!

ewe are here said...

I have never worn my hair in braids...I never had long hair as a child. Sad, no?

bren j. said...

Maybe you should post instructions. I imagine the LG's hair will be long enough sooner than I would like and I haven't a clue how to do French braids.

Mimi said...

Oooh. My mom french-braided my hair probably twice a week for probably 10 years. I can do them on myself (when my hair is long enough) ... but ONLY INSIDE OUT. When I do them on other people, they come out 'right', but on me, inside out. Weird, eh?

We had spray bottle just for hairdos when I was a kid. And then Mom would make me and my sister pull at our temples when she was done, so that our eyes would unslant (oh yes, I know pain, too...)

womaninawindow said...

"And because I needed time..." What a wonderful and FULL line. So much there. This was a beautiful post. Instructional too. I didn't grow up with long hair. I didn't know braids. My daughter's hair is always wild. Now it won't be...water...water...

ourlittlefunnybunny said...

Ohh i was always jealous of the girls who had french braids, my mom never knew how to do them and neither did I. I love the look!!

b*babbler said...

Oh, this was just perfect.

And I love wearing my hair in braids, although I look about 12 when I do, although I haven't tried french braids in years.

painted maypole said...

it looks great (and the flower is perfect! hee hee)

my daughter likes me to do it to her hair, but is SO sensitive that I have to do them pretty loose, and they barely make it through half the day. but it's so cute when she'll let me.

a beautiful post.

Kyla said...

I couldn't stand them. Ever. I am not one to exchange pain for beauty.

But they look splendid.

motherbumper said...

My sister used to do them to me and reading this brought tears to my eye in solidarity - my sis showed no mercy but damn it was worth it. I'd try to sleep without moving my head so it didn't get fuzzy.

I'm so jealous that you can do it on your own head, you must have strong strong arms. Remind me to never arm wrestle you.

crazymumma said...

mmm yes. That stitch work braid work, fine and delicate work done by an elders hand. There is meaning in that I think.

Mac and Cheese said...

I used to french braid my hair during the humid summer months when I had longer hair. I never got compliments though - I just got likened to Lillith from Cheers.

2KoP said...

My mom kept my hair short when I was young, even though I'm a long hair person. My favorite ever hair day was when I was in my best friend's wedding and her dad sent us all the the salon. The guy french-braided my hair diagonally across the back of my head, ending it with a fish tail, tucking in the loose ends and the bottom and stitching them up with clear thread. Then he wove in some flowers. It was fabulous. Some people think it's Just Hair? I think not.