"Cut my hair," she says, with that all-purpose, pleading tone, the one she uses for popsicles and new shoes and just one more game of cards.
I don't want to cut her hair. She's twelve ... almost thirteen, and that means she owns an opinion or two. I'm not as this-or-that as I was last year, or the year before. I can't get away with bordering-on-funny anymore. She rolls her eyes and looks out the window at nothing--hoping, I sense, to distance herself from my corniness.
"No," I say. She doesn't know the words I hold back. It might be the last time, Tera. You might look at my handiwork, roll those eyes again, and sever this connection with finality.
"But, Mom--you do a good job. I like your haircuts," she says with soulful panache.
I don't say a word, but the room is thick with my worry. I'm not ready for a last time, I think.
"Just this one more time," she says.
"What if I ruin it?"
We're both surprised. She's not used to seeing me uncertain; I'm not used to dropping that veil and stepping out into the light.
"You won't," she says. Now I'm twelve, and she's the mother, buoying me in all my sinkable spots. "Just try. If we don't like it, we'll go down to the salon."
When did she become so rational?
My feet drag on the walk to my bathroom. Bending down to retrieve the black box from under the sink, I sigh. She's getting her way. And I'm afraid.
She hoists a kitchen chair out to the patio, plops herself down, and tells me how it's going to go. "Two inches," she says. "Maybe three. Just to here."
I watch her slender fingers clasp a spot on her almost blond, almost brown hair. "And if you go a little shorter, don't worry. It will grow."
I used to be the one to say that. When she was three, and four, and seven. "It will grow again, honey. Nothing to worry about."
I hold the scissors in the asked-for spot, draw a breath, and cut away a summer/winter/fall's worth of growth. Guide my hands, I beg the sky.
She giggles when I hand her the first silky clump of just-freed tendrils. There's still a little girl there. But it's the almost-woman I'm worried about. Will I pass her test? Will there be a next time?
Fifteen minutes pass. I've cut what I can cut, and I can't stall the verdict another minute.
"Go look," I say.
She looks. She stands in the living room surveying her sassy locks in our giant mirror ... and grins ... and tosses her head. "I like it," she announces. And then she's running upstairs for a shower, and her first go at the blow dryer.
She's not through with me yet.