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We Never Guessed Our Daughter's Pigtails Would Teach Us So Much About Life

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My husband, Evan, always told me he didn’t do girl hair.

Ponytails, pigtails, braids – forget it.

As our second pregnancy progressed and we envisioned our little girl, we saw pigtails. Blond, whispy pigtails pulled up on the sides of our daughter’s head, bouncing as she toddled curiously and playfully around our home. 

On the night Brenna was born, Evan met some of our doctors at the NICU and had a hard conversation about her prognosis. She lie in her little isolette, barely moving, as her thick skin encapsulated her body, every part of her looking raw and painful. Evan sobbed as our vision of bouncy blond pigtails was ripped from his mind.

Growing hair was something we gave up on early in Brenna’s life.

Her severe genetic skin disorder, Harlequin Ichthyosis, typically causes the hairline to recede and hair growth to be sparse because the body makes so much skin that it kills off the hair follicles. 

When Brenna was born, we could see clumps of dark hair grown into her skin. As those original plaques of skin began to peel off, they took her hair with them.

Eventually, though, as Brenna grew older, tufts of white-blond hair began to emerge from her scalp around the back of her head.


And that same dad who was adamant that he didn’t do girl hair? He’s become the primary caretaker of Brenna’s emerging locks.

Every day during Brenna’s rigorous bath to exfoliate her extra skin layers, Evan concentrates on Brenna’s scalp, first rubbing over and over in circular motions with a washcloth in a way that’s both gentle and vigorous.

Then, he so carefully and so lovingly combs out her hair, gently picking the comb from the bottom of her scalp so by the time he’s done, the comb contains clumps of skin, Brenna’s scalp is smooth and her hair is beautifully full and brushed out.

One evening, as I prepared for her post-bath routine (ear scoop, towel, PJs – check, check and check), Evan was taking longer than usual to finish up bath time. Just as I was about to ask if he was almost done, he laughed loudly and exclaimed, “Look at this!”

I peered into the tub as I entered the bathroom to see Evan gently twisting tiny curly hairs near the base of Brenna’s neck.

And there they were.

Our blond pigtails.

We laughed, and we took pictures, and we exclaimed to Brenna how beautiful her hair looked as she proudly patted her head.

And suddenly, fashioning pigtails into our daughter’s hair became so much more special than we ever imagined.

It made me realize how often the rest of life is like that.

Sometimes, when something is different than we anticipated or hoped for, it leaves us disappointed, confused or grieving a kind of loss.

Hurdles often come up in life, or we face the unexpected on our way to living out our dreams. We expect one thing and end up with another, and that feels like failure or letdown or disappointment or loss.

Too often, we see things for what they aren’t – how something doesn’t look, how something didn’t happen.

But so much of life is like our daughter’s pigtails.

To me, Brenna’s barely-there pigtails stand for years of hard work, love and care… especially care from her daddy, who after insisting he “doesn’t do girl hair,” spends so much time each evening lovingly scrubbing and combing around her head, proud of those beautiful tufts that he untangles and dismayed if he accidentally tugs too hard and causes strands to fall out.

To witness a father’s tender acts of hair care and the joy that comes from playfully styling that hair into little mohawks and twisty pigtails, brings so much beauty into our lives.

Sometimes, we may need to step back to see things for the beautiful that they are and could be. What we first grieve as a loss or disappointment in our lives may show up as beautiful experience, if we look a little harder. 

We all have our own expectations and dreams of pigtails, and some, maybe even most, of those may not look like we’d planned. But when we can see the beautiful in the unexpected, we learn to find joy and celebration in what is, instead of mourning what isn’t.

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Originally published: February 3, 2015
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