One of the problems with having two sons and then a daughter is that one can go a little overboard in delighting in matters that are the exclusive province of little girls. Thus it was that my son the teen-ager plunked down $16 of his hard-earned money for his sister's first dress, and thus it was that I took great pleasure in letting her hair grow down to her waist. She was, after all, the only female in the immediate family who had any natural curl -- not to mention natural blonde -- in her hair.

She reached the age of 5, having had nothing more than an occasional trim. If her hair wasn't down, it was up in a pony tail or braid, which not only appealed to my old-fashioned bias but, more importantly, made her hair easy to care for. Our mornings are hectic enough without another extensive hair-styling routine.

Rapunzel, however, she was not. Her fine hair got knotted. Brushing became something between an ordeal and sheer torture. This is not a child who suffers either gladly, and recently she began adamantly refusing to have her hair brushed. The more she refused, of course, the worse the tangles became. Finally, things got to the point where something had to be done.

One recent Saturday, my neighbor -- a Frenchwoman whom I trust in all matters of beauty -- assured me that if the hair were cut into a pageboy the curls would return in three months. I made the great decision: Perhaps her looks would be changed, and yes, she would lose her curls, but the price she had been paying for beauty had gone too high. I promised her it wouldn't hurt.

"Yes, it will," she said, beginning to weep. "Trust me. I know it will." Her friend from next door arrived and gave her a full-scale briefing on this mysterious process, which eased her fears considerably. Off we went to the hairdresser's, my camera in hand for this historic occasion, my daughter clutching her blanket.

The hairdresser took one look at her and said something like "oh, my." Another hairdresser took one look at her and said: "How much do you want to cut off?" Then she took four inches of the blondest, waviest hair in hand and said: "This much?" The moment of truth had arrived. Before I knew it they had snipped off her locks and handed them to me. It took a half hour and practically a full can of "Happy Hair" spray and half a jar of conditioner to get the tangles out. They cajoled her, encouraged her to be brave, and fed her bonbons. Other women getting their hair done tried to distract her.

At one point toward the end, she'd had enough. She started to weep. "You didn't trust me," she said accusingly.

I had no idea what she was talking about. "What do you mean?"

"You didn't trust me. I told you it would hurt."

The ordeal was finally over, and before long she was propped up in a chair while the hairdresser cut her hair into a pageboy and then blow-dried it. There was not a single curl left. Out came the curling iron. She curled the bangs and the ends of the hair under. She sprayed it lightly. Katherine looked in the mirror and this huge smile spread over her face. I should have known right then I was in trouble.

I took her to see her grandparents, and they made the appropriate fuss over her. We went to pick up her brother at a birthday party. Suddenly she was surrounded by 9-year-old boys telling her how pretty she looked. Parents told her she looked adorable. She darted off with the boys at one point and then stopped dead in her tracks. She touched the sides of her hair and started walking very slowly, so as not to disturb her hair.

After we arrived home she hurried up to the mirror. "My hair's messed up," she wailed.

"No, it's not," I said. "But the curl always comes down a little bit."

Sunday morning I started to put my hair up in electric curlers, a process that has always been of considerable interest to my daughter, who routinely announces: "You look like George Washington." This time, however, she came darting into the bathroom, announcing: "I'm next. After you do your hair you have to do mine with the electric curling iron."

This we proceeded to do, and I discovered in the process that my daughter's new hair is not only thick, but straight as a stick. Twenty minutes later, however, we had at least temporarily returned her hair to the stylish standard she had rapidly become accustomed to. She looked at it in the mirror and nodded approval.

And then she turned and smiled at me. "You know," she said, "you are going to have to do this every morning from now on."