Most parents get very little proper training in the art of raising children. But you know what? We learn a lot of it along the way. Diapers are changed at first tentatively, then smoothly, so that eventually you can do it at 2 a.m., in the dark, naked, without your glasses—indeed, without remembering that you even got out of bed to do it.
Psychological techniques evolve, too: the bargaining, the manipulation, the sneaky tradeoffs. (“Okay, I’ll get you an ice cream cone, but you have to promise to be good for the rest of your life, okay?”) After a year or two of parenting, you even get to the point where you can visualize the other things you’re going to have to learn along the way. It all seems like it’s beginning to make sense.
Then comes something unexpected. In my case, it’s the ponytail. Now, for most of my life, I’ve had relatively little hair. I think in maybe 8th or 9th grade, I tried to grow my hair out long in hopes of replicating the Tony Hawk over-the-eye SoCal ‘do. It didn’t work, and so I’ve spent decades closely cropped, sometimes almost to the point of skinheadedness.
Which is to say: Until recently, I had never put a person’s hair in ponytails. My little sister never asked me to, nor did any of the cute girls in high school. And my wife, Jean, has always been able to take care of that task herself.
But now Sasha is into ponytails, and in a big way. She wears them almost every day, sometimes one in back, sometimes one on each side, and it’s a pretty smart idea—if not, her hair falls messily into her face. Yuck. Often, Jean is the one wrapping her hair up in colorful, fake-gem-accented bands. But almost as often, it’s me. And I invariably fuck it up.
I mean, I understand the basic principle: push through, twist, repeat. But somewhere along the way, it gets messed up, usually toward the end when the loops get tight and my fingers fat and clumsy. No, that’s not right: It gets messed up from the very beginning, because I don’t actually know how to arrange and separate and pull up the hair into a proper proto-ponytail shape before threading it through the elastic. And so, even if I do manage to produce some semblance of a ponytail, a closer look will usually reveal that it’s horrifically flawed, the work of a half-blind mental patient with hooks for hands.
Of course, I know that with practice I’ll improve. But what really gets me about this is how it took me by surprise—I never expected to have to do ponytails!—and has me worried about the future. What other skills will I suddenly be required to master?