Michelle Martin

Undoer of knots

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Sometimes I think Teresa stays up all night and ties knots in her hair. How else to explain the snarls that form at the nape of her neck, the web of tangles forming a net on the crown of her head, the strands twisted around one another along the sides of her face?

Every morning, before I leave for work, we get her up and she and I sit on the couch and I brush the tangles out. I do my best to go gently, but snags are inevitable. Just as inevitable are her wails of “Ouch!” and “Stop!”, because those snags do hurt, as anyone who has ever had long hair knows.

On a good morning — usually when her hair has stayed tied back all night — we can finish the job with a minimum of pain (and protest) in about 10 minutes. On a bad morning, one after she removed her ponytail holders hours before bed the night before, well, it’s at least double that, with extra time for me to ask her to move her hands from covering head, or tell her to only say “ouch” when it actually hurts. Then I know something pulled and I can be more careful; if she complains that it hurts when I’m not actually touching her hair, there’s not much I can do.

Often, the hair-brushing ends with her in tears and me nearly there, and more than once, I have suggested (or threatened, depending on your perspective) we get her hair cut shorter so it’s less of an issue. So far, she hasn’t wanted it much shorter than shoulder-length. I thought she disliked our daily dose of drama as much as I did until yesterday, when she picked up my phone to play one of her games and noticed that the alarm was set for 5:30 a.m.

“Do you have to go to work early?” she asked.

No, I explained. That’s when I always get up so I can get ready for work before she wakes up and I brush her hair.

“So you’re still going to brush my hair in the morning?” she asked.

I confirmed that I was, and she said, “Good,” and moved on.

I was surprised to say the least. I would have thought she would prefer that I not do it, that I would leave her dad to cope with pulling it back for school, tangles intact. Turns out, I was wrong. She was counting on me being there, sitting on the couch, watching the traffic and weather reports, taking a minute to cuddle with her when her hair is done.

So I’ll try to be more patient with her. A prayer to Mary, under her name of Our Lady, Undoer of Knots, might help. The title, one which has been used since the second century, refers to Mary’s role in salvation, making the impossible possible. But she can help, too, when it comes to developing the forbearance to undoing the knots — literal and otherwise — in our own lives.