Lesson in life before the school bell’s even rung

One thing no man is prepared for when it comes to parenting is doing your daughter’s hair.

Thursday, 25th November 2021, 12:30 pm
Updated Thursday, 25th November 2021, 1:57 pm

When Mary was born almost five years ago – and remember before this I used to laze in bed till about 11am, while sipping a coffee and reading features in The Guardian about the migratory habits of dung beetles – never did I envisage that one day my mornings would become a stress-fest of pulling and gripping and tugging at the hair of a small child whose sole aim appears to be to make doing her hair as difficult as possible.

The rule of the primary school where my daughter goes is all children must have their hair tied back.

Mrs Canavan and I split school drop-offs. She is in charge three mornings a week, on which days Mary walks from the house looking like a model for a children’s catalogue. On the two days I’m responsible, she walks down our path looking like a character from Stig of the Dump.

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Surely I’m not the only bloke who finds it nigh-on impossible to do even the most basic of ponytails?

Here’s the usual routine.

I sit Mary on my knee – the TV is on to keep her quiet (bad parenting but I don’t care – as long as it kept her quiet I’d give her a small hand grenade to play with) – take a bobble in one hand and with the other grab her hair (she has a lot of hair) and pull it in to one long streak, then methodically twist it round and round, as if opening a bottle of wine with a corkscrew.

When her hair as tight as I can get it, I try to put the bobble over it (this isn’t easy as normally some excess hair spills out) and loop it over several times, until the bobble seems to be tightly binding the hair and has made the perfect pony-tail.

Then I let go and Mary’s hair spills all over the place, like an out of control waterfall.

I can’t work out why this happens because whenever I watch anyone else do a ponytail – even Mrs Sharrock at number five, and she was born with no hands – they make it look so easy. What am I doing wrong?

I repeat the whole thing again – muttering angrily – but this time grip her hair even tighter, as I’ve become convinced this is where I must be going wrong.

“Argh, you’re hurting me,” whines Mary, then spills Coco Pops down her white school T-shirt.

“Mary, how many times have I told you to be careful with your Coco Pops?” I shout.

I’d be lying if I said Mary was concerned. She doesn’t take her eyes off My Little Pony, though, to be fair, it’s at a tense point – Twilight Sparkle has had a row with Applejack and is thinking of running away.

I remove Mary from my knee and run to the sink to get a dishcloth, then vigorously rub at her top in an attempt to remove the chocolate stain. It doesn’t disappear completely and there is a brown mark left. If this was my mother – who would rather spend three years in prison than have a dirty child leave the house – she’d whip off the T-shirt, hand wash it, and within minutes have it looking as good as new …. but alas I wasn’t born during the Second World War and haven’t got the same standards. My motto is as long as the stain is less than 70 per cent visible, it’ll do.

I return my attention to Mary’s hair.

“You’re gripping it too tight,” she yelps.

“I have to hold it tight otherwise I can’t do it,” I say.

“Well, mummy doesn’t tie it that tight,” she argues.

“Well I’m not mummy,” I retort, “and nor do I have a professional hairdressing qualification.”

“What’s a qualification?” asks Mary.

I must stop doing this – using words she doesn’t understand. I particularly regretted it the other evening when I absent-mindedly asked if Mrs Canavan was on her period. Mary spent the next 45 minutes demanding to know what a period is. (Obviously I beat a hasty retreat and left Mrs C to explain. She thanked me profusely later).

“A qualification means you’ve achieved something. Or studied for something,” I say, then wonder why the hell I’m wasting valuable time answering her question. “Anyway, that doesn’t matter. Look, we’re running late, will you sit still.”

This whole routine has now been going on for about eight minutes and if we don’t leave soon we will be late.

This worries me because the school is quite strict on this late thing. Mary’s teacher is always stood at the door when you arrive, like a soldier on sentry duty (I swear I can see the outline of a rifle inside her cardigan), which is unnerving for habitual latecomers like myself.

I can’t help feeling that any day now I’m going to be called in by the headteacher for a lecture about time-keeping – which, ironically, would mirror my old school days exactly.

I’m now desperately pulling Mary’s hair in random directions, like an octopus trying to knit.

“Ow, ow, OWWWW,” Mary screams dramatically, as if being attacked by a swarm of ferocious bees.

“Mary, don’t be silly, it doesn’t hurt,” I respond wearily.

At this point Mary bursts into tears, because this, of course, is a favoured tactic of all young children.

“Mary, stop crying,” I say, voice trembling slightly now as I try to suppress the fact I’m feeling borderline hatred towards my own child.

Then, feeling guilty about said feeling, I add: “Daddy’s almost done now.”

This is a lie. I haven’t even started, because for the seventh time in a row when I let go of the bobble Mary’s hair all flops out again.

Then, on the eighth attempt, I sort of nail it. I wouldn’t say it looks good – her hair resembles a dead ferret nailed to a shed – but at least it’s vaguely in the shape of a ponytail. And then, with an emotion some way beyond horror, I realise I’ve used a green bobble. This is against school rules. The bobble must match the colour of the uniform, which in our case is maroon.

Erupting like John McEnroe at the conclusion of a narrow tennis defeat, I angrily sprint to the bedroom to get the required correctly-coloured hair accessory, then hurtle back to the kitchen to discover Mary has dropped another spoonful of Coco Pops on her T-shirt.

By this point I don’t get angry, I just begin slowly weeping.

Eventually, about eight minutes late, we make it to school where – as usual – I shout an apology to the teacher … and then we repeat the entire thing the following day.

Life. Ain’t it great?

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