Someone To Brush My Hair

April 10, 2013 in Getting Older,Parenting

Hair Brushing

Hair Brushing (Photo credit: larryvincent)

Author’s Note: This post is for my mom, because it’s one of her favorites. And also because we had a “hair-brushing” moment in the hospital the other day, although I don’t think either of us realized it at the time. She asked me to help her brush her hair and of course I did. I was so grateful to be there for her and am equally grateful she continues to fight for her health so she can be there for me.

I watched the woman at the airport security checkpoint as she silently counted my three sons with her eyes and I knew the question was coming.

“No girls?” she asked in that mocking tone I already grew to despise.

By this time, however, I had a repertoire of quick comebacks.

“Why yes, but my three girls are at home!” I said with great conviction.

My third son was only three months old when we were returning from this vacation but I had already discovered that a mother of three boys is a magnet for frequent and not always appealing comments, ranging from “God Bless you” to the pitying “no girls” one.

A friend of mine (who has two daughters) once said that anyone who says they don’t care about having children of all the same sex is lying.  I have another friend who put it more gently and I think most accurately by saying that everyone would like the experience of raising both a boy and a girl but ultimately it really doesn’t matter.  I know many people with either three boys or three girls but it is only the mothers with the three (or more!) boys who inevitably are the recipients of insensitive musings from strangers as well as friends.  A mother to three girls hears “oh, how cute” while a mother to three boys gets “oh, how do you do it?” There is something about having that third boy that makes us stand out and garner reactions that usually border on sympathy.  Sometimes I find them downright amusing but other times I feel slugged in that vulnerable spot, knowing that I’ll never have a daughter.  Women who have had two boys and then gave birth to a girl make the most stinging comments. These moms will brag to me, “I got my girl!” Or some women will say with palpable relief, “my husband finally got it right!”

Lamenting to one of my allies who also had three boys that I didn’t really care about not having a little girl to dress up in pretty pink outfits, she quickly agreed and said, “I don’t want a girl; I want a daughter.”  That was it, exactly.  When I think about the close relationship I have with my own mother, it wasn’t until my late teens when our mother-daughter bond truly evolved.  Whether it was going on shopping sprees, long phone calls discussing friendship woes, planning my wedding or obsessing about my pregnancies, my mother was and still is a constant source of stability, strength and inspiration.  I once dreamed of passing on that kind of love and support to my own daughter.

I think I was misunderstood when days after I gave birth to our third boy, I told my husband that I thought I wanted one more child.  Everyone, including him, immediately assumed it was because I wanted to “try” for a girl.  But that really wasn’t it; at least I didn’t think so.  I realized that my two older sons were two years apart while my third little guy was four years younger than his middle brother.  My four and six year old seemed to be eons ahead of him in their interests and abilities.  My newest, littlest guy needed a “buddy” to grow up with, trick-or-treat with, sleigh-ride with, and ride the day camp bus with –activities that my two older ones were now doing together.  By the time my third son would be ready to join them and really revel in these doings, his older brothers would be done or almost done with that phase of their childhood.

But, maybe it was me who really wanted the “buddy.”  As my boys get older, there are certain times when I feel estranged in my all-male household.  If any of my boys happens to catch a glimpse of me getting out of the shower, the sight will immediately elicit giggles or stares or even screams.  The boys have each gravitated to participating in sports that I never played, such as basketball, soccer and golf.  I am definitely an eager spectator and a frequent partner for a game of catch, but I am never the team coach or hitting drives with them out on the golf range. And, don’t even get me started on the toilet seats. With my boys’ hopeless aiming skills, it’s almost like visiting a public bathroom, and there are times I want to squat rather than sit in my own bathroom.

And what about my need for a partner to do ‘girly’ things with, like manicures and shopping?  Sure, I’ve taken my boys with me to get my nails done but to them, the whole experience is a science experiment.  As for shopping, I have one son who enjoys the process as long as he’s benefiting with new clothes as well, but for the other two, there had better be a reward of ice cream or an Xbox game at the end or else I’m going solo.

Despite lots of male bonding in our house, I’m pretty sure my boys would welcome another female member in our family.  Children always want what they don’t have, don’t they?  I still occasionally receive requests for a baby sister, although the reasons have less to do with companionship and more to do with seeing another girl naked.

It was during that first vacation as a family of five that I had a chance conversation poolside with a woman who helped me come to terms with being a mother to three sons.  She told me that she too had three boys and then her fourth child was a girl.  I told her that I too was thinking of having a fourth because I didn’t feel “done” yet.  I also told her how I loved having three boys but that I had a close relationship with my mother and before I even finished my thought about wanting a daughter, she finished it for me: “I wanted someone to brush my hair for me when I can’t do it anymore.”  Yes, that was it, again.  Not the girl but the daughter.  The woman by the pool must have seen my face get this faraway, bereft look and that was when she said all the right things.

“Don’t worry”, she consoled.  “If you never have a daughter, I can promise you that one of your sons will assume that role for you.  In fact, one of my sons is more of a daughter to me than my own daughter.”

I laughed but I believed her too.  Her children were all teenagers or older now so she seemed to have the wisdom of hindsight.

Ever since that exchange, I am both comforted and enlightened. And now with two of my boys at that teenage mark, I understand what she was talking about. I now truly feel that a daughter does not necessarily sprout from giving birth to a little girl.  The daughter I crave may be one of my sons or a future daughter-in-law or one of my nieces.  When I try to imagine if my daughter will in fact be one of my sons, I peer into their personalities – still burgeoning — for hints.  My oldest son used to enjoy caring for his youngest brother when he was a baby by demanding the involvement in dressing, bathing and feeding him.  My middle son is incredibly attuned to other people’s emotions, including his own.  And my youngest, now 9, is still cuddly and frequently seeks hugs and kisses, capturing my nurturing heart each time.  My three sons are all so different; they are constantly evolving as they find and fill distinct roles within our family.  I may not do too much brushing of my boys’ hair anymore — except for the occasional fix of bed head — but when the time comes for someone to take care of me and brush my hair, I know my daughter will find me.

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{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

Cyndi April 10, 2013 at 9:44 am

Aww…I remember seeing this. I hope your mom continues on her quest for recovery. I think of you often and…I hope you get some walks together at the hospital in those fancy “tennis shoes.” 😉 Have a wonderful Wednesday!


ohboymom April 11, 2013 at 10:53 pm

Thanks Cyndi, I so appreciate your thoughts – AND your humor! I’ve been doing plenty of laps around the nurse’s station in my “tennis shoes”. :)


Janine Huldie April 10, 2013 at 10:05 am

I loved this the first time and still love it now. Seriously, you will find your girl Emily and she is out there. By the way, I am still praying for your mom and hoping she is getting better!! :)


ohboymom April 11, 2013 at 10:52 pm

Thanks Janine, as always I so appreciate your support and thoughts.


Amy April 10, 2013 at 7:27 pm

This is one of my favorite posts as well. :) I’m glad to hear that your mom is continuing to fight for her health and that you are able to be there for her. You are in my thoughts and prayers.


ohboymom April 11, 2013 at 10:51 pm

Thanks Amy, I really appreciate your thoughts.


Kelly April 10, 2013 at 7:49 pm

Emily I get the same stuff only reversed! I was nodding when I read about that tone you’ve learned to hate – that stare I get when I admit I have born no sons! I always want to say, “it’s not like I got a choice in the matter!” No I didn’t produce a boy King to carry on the family name – such the pity! Lol
I kept thinking too – my girls are closer and more affectionate to their dad. They go to him first to ask for favors, rides or money (because they know he’s a sucker!). My friends and sisters all had boys – ! I am always jealous of how sweet the boys are to the moms. I took my nephew somewhere recently and stopped for gas and he jumped out and said, “you wait Aunt Kel, I’ll fill your tank and go in and pay.” I just melted!


ohboymom April 11, 2013 at 10:51 pm

That is so sweet about your nephew…it sounds like you’ve got some great “men” in your life too!


Katia April 10, 2013 at 8:05 pm

My heart just melted. This is so beautifully written and the love for your mother and boys is almost tangible. I identify with so much of this. I too have two boys, I too get frustrated with the looks of pity and the “encouraging” comments – the next one will be a girl. My relationship with my mom is very similar to yours. I am happy that your mom is fighting for her health and has someone to brush her hair. :-)


ohboymom April 11, 2013 at 10:49 pm

Thanks so much Katia…I’m glad you could relate to this. I really appreciate your thoughts and again, I’m pleased you were touched by this post.


Kristi Campbell April 10, 2013 at 10:18 pm

OMG Emily. You HAVE to submit this post to HuffParents or something. It.Is.Amazing. I’m laughing (have less to do with companionship and more to do with seeing another girl naked) and crying (duh). So beautifully written and told.
I get the same looks/judgement/whatever about my son being a likely only child. Or about the fact that I “waited” to have him until I was 40. Like HELLO. Do you people think that was on purpose? I’m OLD and of course I’d love for my son to grow up with a brother or sister but…well…there’s a lot there.
It upsets me so much that people think they’re being funny or cute or insightful to imply that 3 boys is harder than 3 girls (and I have an aunt with 3 daughters and let me tell you – 3 girls in the house has its own share of “ugh” as everything – EVERYTHING – does). I recently wrote something for that other place I write (hahah write, as in hardly) about being an older mom. It’s totally different from what you’re experiencing. But totally the same when it comes to people assuming x is not y because it’s not what you imagined.
Thinking of you and your mom by the way…love the hair brushing reference. My mom used to “tickle” my back. My son asks for that every night. And it doesn’t even matter that he’s a boy or an only child. Go figure.

With that said (sorry I should really be writing elsewhere like my dumb blog), this post really really moved me and I think it will move many. Submit it. For real.


ohboymom April 11, 2013 at 10:48 pm

Thanks so much and as a matter of fact, this post DID appear on Huff Post Parents! I posted it on my own blog now because I’m not able to write much these days and thought it deserved a spot here too. :) I really appreciate your praise and support and I can totally see how someone with an only child would receive similar types of comments. And as always, I really appreciate your thoughts…


Melanie Chisnall April 11, 2013 at 2:37 am

I remember this post! It’s one of those that stand right out. Loved it. Thinking of you and your mom and hoping that things get better soon. x


ohboymom April 11, 2013 at 10:45 pm

Thanks Melanie, I really appreciate your thoughts.


Michelle Liew April 11, 2013 at 2:43 am

I always say that people should never enforce their idea of what’s right on others. You and your mum are in my prayers!


Julie Satz April 14, 2013 at 11:15 pm

Just to add a different perspective…I have a 6 year old daughter and hair-brushing in the morning is a downright traumatic event! I’m worried that one day the neighbors might call that authorities on me upon hearing her shrieks (only in anticipation–I swear I never even run the brush all the way through!) She’s snuggly and “daughterly” at times, and tough as nails at others…it’s hard to know how our relationship will evolve over the years, but I would be overjoyed if it resembled what you have with your mom. Daughter or son, a close parent/child bond is what we’re all hoping for. Em, you and your mom are in my thoughts every day. XO


ohboymom April 15, 2013 at 9:59 am

The visual of you brushing A’s hair made me laugh! I so appreciate your thoughts, both on my post, as well as for my mom. I think I owe you a phone call too…xo


Roshni April 15, 2013 at 1:43 am

I remember reading this on the Huffparents and I just loved it! I too get the same with my two boys! :(


ohboymom April 15, 2013 at 9:58 am

Thanks Roshni and yeah it seems to be a common theme with parents who have kids of all the same gender, whether 2, 3 or 6!


Mama Kat April 21, 2013 at 12:11 am


I read your story and wanted to share something! I was the youngest and had all older brothers. We were taught to brush our mom’s hair from the time we were little. And she brushed ours. Now I have four daughters and one son. We all love our hair brushed and my son actually does the best job….My children are all married with their own children, the youngest being 3 weeks old. For mother’s day, they are all getting very nice hair brushes, and for this reason: Fifteen years ago, my oldest daughter was leaving for a day trip with friends ( she was 18 years old). I was nervous and when I got up early to go to work, for some reason, I decided not to go early but to go into her room and brush her hair while she slept. It was such a privilege and how grateful I am to listen to the prompting, Later that evening, she was in a fatal car accident and that early morning hair brushing was my last chance to serve her. I’m so glad I did. Spending quiet time with each child brushing or stroking their freshly washed hair is a treasure! Never stop doing it, boys or girls alike! Enjoy and God bless, Kat


ohboymom April 21, 2013 at 9:24 pm

Kat, Thank you so much for sharing that with me. I am sitting here with my eyes welling up and feel privileged that you shared that on my blog. I love the literal and symbolic gesture of gifting your children with hair brushes. If you don’t mind, I may borrow that idea and do the same with my sons (and I love hearing how your son does the best hair-brushing of all). Thank you again and I hope we can continue to share stories/comments/support and on each other’s blogs.


Mama Kat April 21, 2013 at 11:51 pm

You’re so welcome. Hair brushing is such a treat in our home. Incidentally, I might just say one more thing, my son’s wife has dealt with cancer the past two years (she is in remission now) and as hair brushing is such a gift to another, once his wife’s hair was lost, it even brought more meaning to our family. Kind of crazy, but we do treasure that opportunity to brush each other’s hair….never to miss an opportunity to serve one another….life is too short! Take care, Kat


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