Tied to her apron strings? Not exactly

March 6, 2011 

You know how some kids carry around a special blanket or a stuffed toy to give them a feeling of extra security?

Well, our 3-year-old has an attachment – some might even categorize it as a borderline obsession – with something that’s fairly easy to keep clean, but far more difficult to tuck away in a backpack: My hair.

Oh, how he loves to comb and twirl my hair with his chubby fingers.

When I drop him off at the child care center in the morning, he gives my hair an extra long hug and a gentle kiss goodbye. And when I get home from work, if he’s still awake, he’ll run to me with open arms, shouting, “Mama, Mama, I missed your hair!”

He doesn’t chew on it or do anything with it that’s super strange –he just wants to run his fingers through it and hold it while watching television, reading a book or hanging out with me.

Like most obsessions, it’s both sweet and adorable, and a little disturbing and creepy.

So a few months ago, I did what I’m sure any parent would do in my situation: I Googled the words “hair fascination and toddlers” to find out if my son was at risk of having some kind of development or social issue – and to gauge where it fit on the spectrum of, um, unusual behavior.

It turns out, toddlers get obsessed with all sorts of things, including silky tags on clothing, other people’s toes and ears, shoestrings, and certain colors. And most of the time they outgrow those fascinations by kindergarten.

One of my friends recently confided in me that her little brother was obsessed with touching other people’s eyelashes while he sucked his thumb.

And up until recently her daughter, who is the same age as my son, needed to hold onto her mom’s index finger while falling asleep.

“Don’t worry, he’s going to outgrow the hair thing – it’s going to be fine,” she said on a recent night as I pondered whether we should switch our son’s prepaid college tuition account over to something that could fund a beauty and barber school.

I honestly don’t mind if he becomes a hair stylist, but if he does, I’m going to ask for a hefty discount on coloring because at the rate those “extra light blond” hairs are appearing on my head, I’m going to need it.

As an infant, my son loved to play with my hair when he nursed. And even though he hasn’t breast-fed or taken a bottle for more than a year, we haven’t been able to wean him from my hair. If anything, the fascination has become more extreme in recent months, since I returned to work full-time.

At night, he’ll climb up on my lap, put his arms around me, and grab a handful of what he refers to as “Mama Hair” and fall asleep. His hands will clutch hair as long as I hold him.

Meanwhile, I’ve decided to embrace the positive attention for my hair.

Like many women, I’ve never been happy with it: I want it short when it’s long, straight when it’s curly, pretty when it’s windswept and looking like a cross between Donald Trump’s comb-over and Billy Ray Cyrus’s former mullet.

Also, just once, I wish a stylist would recommend a product for “normal hair” instead of one that says “for extra stubborn and out-of-control hair” on the packaging.

But none of those things matter to my son.

In fact, it’s really hard to have a bad hair day when I’m spending time with him.

Lisa Pemberton covers education for The Olympian. She’s also one busy mama with three children, ages 3, 6 and 10. Reach her at 360-754-5433 or lpemberton@theolympian.com.

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