Kimmy McMahon Walter surely was no saint, but if you were lucky to be loved by her, it oftentimes felt like you were loved by one. Her sass matched her experience and she always let you know what she was thinking. She was blunt and honest no matter what you threw her way. And throughout her short life, quite a bit was thrown her way.
As time went on Kimmy morphed into someone who was humbled – not hardened – by life’s untraditional challenges. She was positively changed by time. In the end of her life she became closer to people she loved. She reached out more. She asked for help. She recognized the totality of life.
She became comprehensively “Real”.
I couldn’t say it better than the classical story of the Velveteen Rabit by Margery Williams and I can’t think of a more perfect person to represent its profound story than Kimmy McMahon Walter:
“Real isn’t how you are made” said the Skin Horse to the rabbit.
“It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”
“Does it Hurt?” asked the rabit.
“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse.
“When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”
“Does it happen all at once,” he asked…. or bit by bit?”
“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse.
“You become.” He said.
“That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in your joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
Kim was very Real. Because she was very well loved and not easily kept. Her absence will make us all become a little more Real, too.
We as people who love her can never be hopeless in loss, because we can not be irreparably broken. We become what we are becoming. We only become more Real by loving and living. Just like Kimmy.
Today we say see you later to the wild spirit who lives on inside the hearts of her children and the people who love her. Today with these life lessons and throughout the ebbs and flows of this grief- we will all become just a little more Real.
People with curly hair live by different standards. Having curly hair comes with more than just super consistent upkeep and products; it comes with a certain shame. It comes with prep, planning, and praying the weather doesn’t go rogue. It comes with feeling like you’re not beautiful because you were born with hair that cannot adhere to social norms and trends.
Many of us were not taught how to use or how to love our curly hair, but rather to hide it. We straighten it, we tame it, we try to do everything we can aside from embracing it. Now that I am a mother, I think differently about the concept of “beauty” and how I want my daughter and future women of the world to respond to what that even means. I want girls (and women) to know it’s okay to embrace their curls.
Getting Back to “My Roots”
My daughter is not a curly girl, so it never crossed my mind to make extra effort when embracing mine. One day, at a playdate, I met a perky little girl whose hair spiraled perfectly. Her mom, a brunette wavy haired woman, proudly mentioned that she was helping her child learn how to train her curls and how to love them. Research lent her methods, patience lent her success.
I remember trying to think back to a time when I embraced my curls. There was a *very* hot moment in college, but that was it. The thoughts continued: What if I had a curly girl or boy? What if my daughter has a curly friend? What if ever there was a curly girl who never ever saw a curly mom, because curly moms were too unwilling to literally let their hair down? And worst of all…what if my willingness to throw it in a messy bun all those times, created an inevitable unwillingness for a curly girl to embrace who she is?
Goodbye Tamed Shame!
When sending curly girls and boys out into the world it’s imperative we do so with support and resources. On my quest to return to my roots, to be an example and begin to love my curls, I learned many tips, tricks, and methods. With these three tips, we can try to work together to encourage girls (and women) to be confident and fully cultivate their curls.
1. Encourage experimentation and be a role model. Give them tools to experiment. Bad hair days happen to everyone, not just curly girls. Don’t give up on embracing the curly life. Trial and error is a part of figuring out what works best for your curls. Be an example. Little eyes are always watching. Go on mama, let your hair down!
2. Eventually, embrace a method. While there are many out there, I’m going to give it to you straight – so many of us are personally LOVING the Curly Girl Method. It has a few basic rules, tools and groups, which bring together a wealth of knowledge from the web to flawlessly train our curls.
3. Let children decide their own idea of beauty. The concept of loving what you look like is hard for most adults. It’s not any different for children. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. Help them redefine their own idea of beauty by helping them understand that beauty is not what we look like, but rather who we are inside. With that, they can always be confident about who they are.
It’s important for children to start developing their personal autonomy at a young age. It helps build confidence and allows them to think and act for themselves. It’s our job as parents to help locate the tools for our children to do that! For some of our children, it starts right at the top of their head – with the very curl of their hair – take it from a curly girl.
Learning to care for your curly kids hair is a part of putting essential tools in their “toolbox”. Caring for your children’s hair and caring for your own is important, but teaching them to take care of it is equally important.
I am 4 years old and I spend my time with my grandma while my dad is working. She is my first memory of feeling loved – truly loved – as a child should be.
She lets me play and imagine.
She redirects me in a calming way when I can’t help in being but mischief and brown hair. I eagerly burst through her front door and the sound of it closing brings comfort.
The day stretches out but as early morning turns into early afternoon, I start to feel sick, act out, get a tummy ache, and need more attention. It’s almost time to get picked up and go home.
I don’t want to go home.
Can’t I just stay here forever? I can’t say these thoughts out loud and I don’t understand what I am feeling.
Back at home the front door closes and the yelling starts.
I don’t know what I did wrong, but it must have been a crime worse than murder because I’m being yelled at so fiercely that I wet myself on the doormat. Now I’m being yelled at harder because I made a mess. I could clean it up myself but I am frozen in place because I am so scared.
I am trapped and I am small.
I am nearly thrown down the dark basement stairs and there I sit at the bottom as the door closes. It’s dark and cold but it’s quiet and I feel safe at the bottom of the stairs. I had a puppy that got into some antifreeze down here and I wonder if her ghost lingers in this damp space. I pretend she keeps me company.
I sit in the dark for what feels like hours but also feels like not long enough – he hasn’t forgotten that I exist, and that is what I silently hope for.
I am a fast learner, I quickly realize what to never do and what to never say. I learn to be seen and not heard. I learn to smile in public and if I do a good enough job acting the part, then behind closed doors it won’t be so bad.
He uses the love that children inherently have for their parents and my fresh fear of abandonment to manipulate me.
I guess I don’t really know how to do anything right. I never know what will happen behind closed doors.
I am in first grade and I am having trouble with math. I need help counting pennies and I am not understanding what is expected of me so the pennies get whipped at my face. As I start to cry I am ordered to clean them up. I finish the homework and I never ask for help behind closed doors again.
I never ask for help in public either. I learn to figure it out on my own.
It’s very hard to be perfect but I sure try, because behind closed doors I am the reason for my fathers pain and anguish; maybe if I’m perfect he will be happier.
I look like her, you see.
As my brown hair grows more unruly and my big brown eyes shine brighter, I am sure he sees her face instead of my own. I am told from well-meaning grown ups that I look just like her. Inside I get that tummy ache feeling. He hates her. I look like her. He hates me too, but I don’t understand that feeling either.
As I get older I have the freedom to close my bedroom door and it stays closed.
Behind closed doors I now have my own space and there I sit. Alone. But it’s quiet and I eventually learn to hate the sound of someone knocking on the other side. I am being summoned to be yelled at or being summoned to be his pseudo-wife.
There are tasks to preform and it’s up to me to keep the whole show running. I never really get any peace behind closed doors.
I live in a nice house and I am clothed and fed. I get good grades. I don’t make mistakes. I don’t rock the boat. I don’t know how to relax. I have headaches all the time. I am shy and reserved. I am polite and I respect my elders. I am an all-American girl and from the outside looking in he is worthy of praise for doing such an outstanding job.
If only you could have seen what it was like behind closed doors.
Maybe you would have helped.
Now I am grown and he can’t hurt me anymore. I still have anxiety and while I want to shout from the rooftops about what happened behind all those closed doors, I am held in place by fear.
I deserved it, don’t you see? That’s what he made me think.
But that doesn’t make sense.
I look at my own children and I can’t fathom treating them that way.
I catch myself raising my voice and losing my cool because this is the example I was shown growing up. This is how children must be handled, clearly. Except…that’s not right.
So, I shut that door.
I start to turn up the volume on the voices in my head that quietly whisper away the doubts.
I feel the pennies hit my face.
I listen to the girl at the bottom of the basement stairs.
I feel the tummy aches.
I won’t treat my children that way because they do not deserve that.
I shut that door. Because children don’t deserve that.
And when it finally closed, the voices behind it whispered to me – “neither did you.”