Chloe plopped down beside me on the couch, a beaming smile spread across her face. Her eyes bright with excitement. Chloe vibrates; she always has. “I know what I want for my birthday this year!” she exclaims. We are a few weeks out from her big day, her 11th birthday. I can’t recall what we did for her 10th, had a few friends join her for pizza and a movie I think. She’s number three in our family, and has always just gone with the flow. She’s the pleaser in this bunch. “What?!” I ask. “Don’t say no without thinking about it” she says. “I really want to shave my head and donate my hair to one of those groups that make wigs for kids with cancer. I just really don’t care about my hair and think I should give it to someone who really does care and can’t have their own.” My initial thought is she hasn’t thought this idea through, but also I’m clearly impressed with her depth. She just cut a ton of hair off and got bangs, which was met with enthusiasm by friends and family who initially advised against this change. 

She wanted to push further. I knew she didn’t have enough hair to donate to Locks for Love and other similar charities, and told her as much. She said ‘well, I still want to. I will do research and see if I can give it to someone.’ I told her not to make any rash decisions and just marinate on the idea a bit. I secretly hoped she would change her mind. She didn’t… She presented me with a website that uses hair scraps of really any length to fill pantyhose-like tubes to help soak up oil spills and for use in storm drains. I told her I didn’t think she needed to shave her head for this organization – maybe we could just encourage local salons to give hair scraps to this group instead of to the trash! She challenged me. “Why do you care what I do with my hair? What if Holden asked if he could shave his head? What would you say?” My ten-year-old is right, why do I care what she does with her hair? “I told her the truth. I wouldn’t care if Holden shaved his head, but she is still my little girl, and it’s hard for me to imagine her with a shaved head. I secretly wonder if kids will tease her and parents will make assumptions about her. Will they assume she questions her birth gender, that she is rebelling or has “issues”? 

Pretty lame, right? On the one hand, I am afraid for her; she is such a kind soul. I don’t want anyone to make fun of her. On the other hand, I must have some insecurities about how this will reflect on me. As a mother and a pediatrician, how do I support my kids’ challenges to the status quo? I admire young girls who question stereotypes, challenge norms and re-invent themselves. Most of us never have the courage to be different on almost any level that counts. And I truly believe that lack of willingness to question conformity leads to stagnation and the absence of creativity.

If we don’t explore ourselves when we are young, how will we have the courage to do so as an adult? 

Chloe got a pixie a couple weeks later and I still look at her and marvel at how cool she is.  She was never worried and she never cared when a couple boys teased her at school. She smiles with her whole heart at all of them, and it melts me. She told me a boy in her class told her directly that he really hated her haircut. She told him it was ok because she didn’t cut it for him anyway. She told me this while laughing… Perhaps there were moments of regret, but if she had them, none of us knew about it. She held strong and showed me that she is more resilient than I thought. I know it is just hair, but it is symbolic of so much more, especially for a middle school girl. 

We need to encourage our children to be themselves, to respectfully question authority and to create persuasive, thoughtful arguments to support their wants. We need to let them make choices that although not catastrophic, can fill them with regret. We need to let them see how some people will judge them and question them, so that they can learn to temper their assumptions of others. Empathy, compassion and acceptance are the flowers that develop from the seeds of failure as well as discomfort. Change is the greatest stimulus for growth.

I really can’t wait to see the adult this girl becomes.