Disclaimer: The only reason my wonderful mother is not front and center in this photo is that she declined to take pictures until she was in “the right mood.” I was instructed to find something and make it work… And on that note: Happy Mother’s Day!

The relationship between me, my mom, and our hair could rival the depths of unexplored oceans. Hours of laughter, tears, and words that often go unsaid have been intricately braided, flat ironed, washed, and curled into every strand of hair on my head since I was a youngin’. My mom was a cosmetologist. She’d also been a cheerleader who made her way to performing in Superbowl 19 before I rudely interrupted what sounded like a rather fun life (sorry, Mom).

My personality developed with stark contrast. I don’t smile as much as she does. I hated cheerleading and quit after one attempt in junior high school at what was called “the Boosters.” Technically, I quit cheerleading before having the official opportunity to try out. There was a similar outcome when I attempted to be a Flag Girl.

I have no natural cosmetic talents beyond basic eyeliner, lipstick application, and hair brushing as needed. In my mind, as needed does not mean daily. The idea of being primed and prodded tends to bring out the worst in me, but my mom has always convinced me to suffer through the hours of my discontent. All I had to do was agree to sit down, and the rewards would far outweigh my momentary tantrums.

When my butt finally connects with the chair, it’s as if time plays tricks on us with the sun setting at an unrecognizable speed.

Some of our best moments are rooted in shallow observations and her snazzy comebacks.

Her braiding magic once made my ego swell beyond the confines of reality.

Another example was after a photo shoot when I sat down to have my have restyled to my usual preference.

Her analysis was accurate. Someone else deserved credited for my brow perfection. My horrid brows would be returning the following day.

On a more serious note, we’ve witnessed each other change over the years. I’ve watched her transition from finger snapping and swaying to the music of Keith Sweat to passionately singing gospel and reflecting on God’s grace. She’s listened to me ramble on about my (severely) inconsistent dating life and gave me advice. Of course, I seldom listened.

We spoke in heavy tones about friends and family we’ve loved and lost and how the heartbreak never disappears — it only becomes more bearable each day. All the while my butt was in the styling chair, excluding the time she braided my hair as I fell asleep crying.

I’ve learned so much during the countless hair transformations crafted by my mother’s hands, but these are the top lessons that have altered the course of my life for the better.

Results of the purple urple hair session with my mom.

I’m no longer the girl filled with unrealistic expectations and reactive behaviors with little logical thought. Physically, mentally, emotionally, my legs are steady on the ground and I can grow flowers beneath my feet.

People who love you can feel your pain. We all wear our insecurities differently, but your unbalanced energy tells on you in the presence of people who care. My shame shines through in pajamas, self-isolation and negative self-talk.

My mom can feel when something is wrong and invites me to have my hair fixed as a pick-me-up during my lowest moments of depression. She also feels that wallowing in my self-pity pajama party is fine, but I still need to take care of my body and hack my brain to acknowledge the importance of self-care. I agree.

Growing out of phases isn’t easy. Do it anyway. I was caught off guard when my mom glanced at my side shave and said it was time to let it go. I’ve shaved the side of my head for two years now, and I’d begun this journey with expectations. I planned to be over 65 and getting a senior citizen discount at the Golden Corral with my side shave.

Less hair meant less to do, and it’d be a hassle to regrow and blend well with the rest of my hair. My mom’s advice was simple: Get creative. Figure it out. The hair will be back in no time. She was right. It’s no point to hold on to things just to avoid the difficulty that comes with growth.

Be timely and over prepared. You make more room for mistakes and stress out about the time you don’t have because you didn’t take the time you had to prepare.

You won’t have true love until you love yourself. I’ve always serial dated because I wasn’t in love or at peace with myself. I always needed a distraction. But you can only distract yourself with other people for so long. You need to truly know and love yourself first.

And how the heck do you expect someone else to be with you when you can’t even date yourself long enough to know what you want? I waited too long to take this advice. When I finally listened, love found me.

One day, you’ll be tired of settling. When that day comes, will you tap out or level up?

A greater plan and better life await if you don’t see yourself short. Settling for unfulfilling work. Settling into unfavorable circumstances. Settling for people who don’t value you and hoping they will see your worth. One day, you’ll be tired of settling. When that day comes, will you tap out or level up?

When all that compromise brings you to your knees, you stop making excuses and being afraid. You change. We tap into our full potential when we stop convincing ourselves that others have more to offer in this world. Your existence is a gift, not a competition.

I don’t have all these lessons down to a science, but I try. During our last hair session, laden with purple and black hair and coronavirus conversations, I knew I’d been doing a fairly decent job when she said these words:

I’m no longer the girl filled with unrealistic expectations and reactive behaviors with little logical thought. Physically, mentally, emotionally, my legs are steady on the ground and I can grow flowers beneath my feet. I thank my mother for this, and I thank her for all the glorious hairstyles along the way.

Curated on Medium. Published by Zora and Blank Page. Public Voices fellow of the OpEd Project and the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication.