I notice a trembling during the first tumbling pass of her practice floor routine. It’s an imperceptible shake of the scrunchie that only a paranoid eye can detect. During the second pass there is a visible flop. By the end of the warm-up I know I’m dealing with bun failure. It’s just minutes to the official start of the competition.
From across the gym, the coach’s eyes meet mine for a moment and I mouth, “I’m sorry.” The coach has the steely calm that you would expect from a former Olympic alternate. In that second of connection, I know I’m on bun-making probation. She summons my daughter to the side of the gym. I watch as she crafts a perfect bun without a hairbrush or additional gel faster than a double back handspring, back tuck.
It’s strange what triggers my competitive drive. I don’t care if I win races or games but I am not going to be humiliated by a bun.
I’m not a girlie girl but not quite a tomboy either. I’ve had the same hair style, long and straight with bangs, for my entire life. There was a three year exception for my break-up Pixie, of which a year and a half counts toward growing my hair back to my proto-type. I color my hair and that’s it. I didn’t go through a playing-with-hair stage as a child nor do I embrace hair creativity as an adult. It’s not a coincidence that both my girls have long straight hair.
Gymnastics is austere. The focus is on power, form, grace … and the bun. Nail polish, dangly earrings, make-up and visible undergarments are not allowed during competition and will result in deductions – as do bun failures and excessive fly-aways.
The bun is so central to the competition season, that parents, i.e. moms, are required to attend a coaches’ meeting on the how-to’s of bun-making. The tutorial is open to all parents but I have yet to meet the bun-making dad. Until that moment, I lived blissfully unaware of the ConAir Bun Maker. We are instructed that the end goal is a uniformly shellacked head with a frozen donut of a bun garnished with a metallic scrunchie.
Almost anyone can construct a bun that will make it through bars and beam, it’s floor and vault that tests your skill.
After my first bun trials, I fantasized about the practicality of fashioning a bathing cap with a super-glued bun hair piece for the girls to wear at meets. Half-jokingly, I shared my vision with the other moms at the gym. Many reacted with thoughtful consideration. These are confident women leading productive lives, and yet bun angst is an accepted part of parenting a gymnast. We all have our individual coping mechanisms.
This is my process. My daughter sits on a stool to provide 360 degree access to her hair. I’m on a step ladder high above her head – again for access. It takes a Conair Bun Maker, 16 clips, 4 elastic bands, hair gel, a can of hairspray and a scrunchie to make one bun.
The first challenge is to double elastic a smooth pony-tail at the correct height on the back of the head. Gel. The Conair Bun Maker thingy goes to the base of the ponytail and the hair is fanned out over it. Two more elastic bands and more gel. Then comes the white water rapids of bun making – wrapping and clipping the hair to form the perfect bun.
My middle aged eyes make it hard for me to see where all the clips go. My reading glasses help but they fall off my nose as I look down from my osition on my step ladder. Once in place, I apply more gel and we head outside with the can of hairspray and a scrunchie.
It’s always a battle; even the most relaxed girls get wonky. Somehow it always ends up as bun-maker mom vs. gymnast. There’s a lot of worry and doubt on both sides during the twenty minute process.
After the bun is done, everyone is exhausted from the performance anxiety. We pack up the competition bag with extra clips, hairspray, and elastic bands in preparation for the unlikely, but always possible, unfortunate occurrence of failure. Mercifully there is an immediate car trip post styling where we decompress and arrive at the meet with the bun business behind us.
That is, until vault and floor. That’s when even the most adept bun-making mom holds her breath a bit.
With many seasons of buns under my belt, I am secure that I have this down. I can proudly declare that I’m a better than average bun-maker. I still stress too much during the process but I have not had another failure. At meets, I marvel at the buns that are on the tail of the perfection bell curve. That will not be me, I have worked hard for my place just slightly to the right of the midpoint on the curve.
Parenting has made me master the unexpected, from potato gun-making to cello tuning. By now everyone is aware of the benefits of learning new things to maintain an agile brain as we navigate our later decades. I am not able to cobble together enough time to learn a new language and I’ve never been a big fan of word jumbles or Sudoku. Instead, I will stick with bun-making until another new and odd skill presents itself on my parenting path that will challenge my middle-aged brain. Older parents are lucky in that regard. It’s not a matter of if, but when.