Sandra Cohen
Intelligent, funny, a bit weird

Braiding Her Hair

Graduation from Law School

Shira, my daughter, graduated from law school two weeks ago.

It seems impossible, that this little girl, is about to be 25 years old. A quarter of a century!!

On the walls of our upstairs landing, and by the stairs, photos document her growth from a brand-new baby to an uncertain (and then smiling) toddler, from a child to a bat mitzvah girl.  The last photos show her as a senior in high school, then a college graduate.  Still the same face, the same smile, and all that hair!

Shira invited me to come to Boulder early, to help her dress and to do her beautiful long hair into a single French braid for under her oddly-shaped hat.  How could I say “no?”

I have been doing her hair – braiding it, mostly – since she was a little girl, a toddler perhaps.  She was born with a thick head of black hair, and, although I was warned multiple times by folks in grocery stores or at the mall that her hair would probably fall out, it never did.  It simply grew and grew, until her hair became its own terror at bedtime.  Bath-time, which Shira loved even as a baby, would precede story time; as her hair got longer, it would dampen the shirt of whomever was reading books to Shira.  She would lean back on my lap, as we sat in her rocker, and read 1, 2, 3 books. She would cuddle close as we sang “Shema,” and “Adon Olam,” before placing her in her crib (or bed, as she grew) for a night of sleep.

As so, I began to braid her hair on a regular basis.  At first, I would braid it in the morning, to keep it out of her face during the day.  Sometimes I would braid it at night, so that her hair would be curly come morning.

And now, as Shira comes home from time to time, she still asks me to braid her hair.  No longer a little girl, my daughter sits on the floor in front my bed, and I brush out her long, brown hair.  She always brings me her hairbrush, but relies on me to have a comb to separate the hair into 2 braids, and to neaten up the braiding as I finish.  She hands me two worn hair-binders, politely rejecting my offer of new ones.

And, as I braid, we talk.  I love these quiet moments together, speaking of her work and her doggie, listening to her tell me about friends and exams and her hopes for the future.  I tell her any interesting happenings in my life.  But even when we are silent, the quiet intimacy of braiding, picking up hair strand by strand, sustains us both.

My daughter asks me to braid her hair, French braid it, because I do a better job than she does.  And it is true:  braiding someone else’s hair is, at least for me, easier than braiding one’s own hair.  I can French braid my own hair, and I have offered to teach Shira how, but she declines my suggestion.  It’s hard, I know, especially for one with some fine-motor challenges.

But the truth is, I’m  not sure I want her to be able to braid it without me.  I really like sitting with her quietly, as she scrolls through Gd alone knows what on her phone.  She usually asks for two braids, and wears them proudly, young adult that she is.  They swing merrily as she goes about her day, and I feel as though she is taking me with her, through the plaits I have made for her.

On the other hand, she is launching: law school graduation, first job, decent salary with insurance all her own, an apartment in a complex that caters to young families (so much nicer than her small, rickety apartment during the last 2 years of law school!).  I am so proud of her, so pleased for her.  I want to do everything I can to help her:  buy her a professional wardrobe, stock her kitchen with dishes and pots and pans (both milchig AND fleishig, because now her kitchen has room!), help her acquire furniture to fill her living space, and so on.  In my delight at helping her, I sometimes promote my own vision over hers.

Not for nothing is my daughter a Cohen woman (hear us roar! Roar!).  She pushes right back, in her firm yet gentle manner.  “Not right now,” she says at Target.  “If I need it, I’ll get it later.”  “No, I don’t want to grocery shop now;  I want to get home to unpack and be with Goober (her dog)”  And I sigh.

Then I hear myself.  This is not my life to lead, here in Greeley.  It is Shira’s.  I don’t have to fix it all – because she is an extraordinarily competent and thoughtful young woman.  She doesn’t need me to protect her from the boogieman hiding beneath her bed (not that she ever needed that).  She can – and should – make her own choices.  Those choices need not be what I would do.  She is living her own life, and I need to step  back and simply applaud.

If she needs me, she’ll ask.  I cannot shield her from pain or loss, but I can walk near her, even with her, if she’d like.  I trust her.  I love her.  And now, once again, it is time to let go.

Parenting has, for me, been a long road of saying to myself, “Shira is not me.”  The more I stand back, the more tzimtzum I create, the more room I create for Shira to be herself.  And I am privileged that she shares that self with me.  I look in awe at her:  grown up, creating a  life for herself.

And yet, she still needs me to braid her hair.  As I take one strand over the other, picking up wisps as I go, I can see how the three of us, Shira, Ben, and I, have put ourselves, our love and our advice, into making this independent person.  Ben and I, and, of course, the Holy One of Blessing, came together to fashion Shira.  And now, fully braided, she is ready to fly to new adventures.

May she find blessings as she moves into this next stage of life.  Her Abba and I will be watching, sending our love and support.

Happy birthday, Bunny.

About the Author
Rabbi Sandra Cohen teaches rabbinic texts, provides pastoral care, and works in mental health outreach, offering national scholar-in-residence programs. She and her husband live in Denver, Colorado.
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