This is Son #3 at the beginning of the summer, pre-bangs debacle. And yes, this is his real mad face. Boy does not mess around!
Super Cuts is exactly the place you want your child to have a meltdown. Not only is everyone there holding sharp, pointy objects but the walls are lined with bottles of expensive goo and the floor is coated in hair. Best case scenario (and by best I mean worst): your kid will knock said bottles off the shelf, continue his tantrum by rolling around on the floor, stand up looking like a multi-hued Yeti and then bolt out into the parking lot because everyone is laughing hysterically at the kid dumb enough to lick the floor of a budget hair salon.
Which is how I ended up with one leg flung across my 7-year-old’s lap, effectively pinning him to the seat, sweating while I did my best Cirque-du-Soleil back bend trying to explain to the stylist standing behind me (and as far away from my sobbing son as possible) what to do for his back-to-school haircut. I was just trying to avoid the Yeti situation! I’d hate to make a scene.
See, every summer I forego hygiene and let my kids run like wild things – getting marvelously dirty, way too freckled, skipping shoes, subbing swim lessons for showers (hush) and never cutting or combing their hair. (Except for church on Sundays when I slick it down with spit and my hand in the foyer, the way moms have been prepping little boys for church for centuries.) But the ‘fro festival has to end sometime – I always know it’s time when my husband comes home from work and says, “If we’re going to raise hobbits then at least make elevensies happen” – and so a week before school resumes I drag them all in to get sheared.
This is definitely one of those moments where I say, “This will hurt me way more than it will hurt you”, and mean it.
The drama this time around was because Son #3, my soon-to-be second grader, for some weird reason has decided his forehead must be covered in hair at all times. He wants bangs that touch his eyelashes but everything else shaved down to his scalp. Basically this is his dream:Photo credit: Lanvin (Side note: If you’re bored, Google “reverse mullet” and behold the wonder that is Kate Gosselin’s height-of-fame haircut photoshopped onto everyone from an infant to Shaquille O’Neal. Although Eminem is Working. It. You’re welcome.)
You guys. The child wants a reverse mullet.
Of course, as his mother, I wanted something a little less Johnny Depp circa the Edward Scissorhands years and more like I Won’t Be A Hellion in Your Class circa… never. So the stylist and I went back and forth, suggesting different cuts and lengths, hoping to win him over to something less extreme. But he wasn’t having it. The only time the tears stopped flowing was when I finally broke down and showed him a picture of a young Justin Beiber and my son, bless him, yelled, “Justin Beiber?! Do you hate me??”
All three of my other children had quietly had all their hairs trimmed up during this time and were now, along with the rest of the annoyed patrons, staring at my sniveling son. “Okay, fine, have it your way,” I said through gritted teeth and stalked off to the other side of the room to look at pictures of well-kempt little boys and imagine.
Five minutes later he was finished. Buzzed up the back and then bangs that fell to his eyes. She’d made an attempt to “blend” it on the sides but it looked awful. The stylist couldn’t even meet my eyes as she handed him back.My son was grinning. He loved it. Of course he did.
I tried to tell myself that was all that mattered as we trudged through the clothing store to find them all pants that fit since they’ve all shot up like 20 inches this summer. But as I watched him settle on 3 pairs of the same athletic pants – the only pants he will wear – I felt the fight welling up in me. What did he care what his hair looked like? He never sees it anyhow! The last time he voluntarily looked in a mirror was when he ate so much cotton candy he dyed his teeth green.
All I wanted in life was to have three cherub-cheeked boys dressed in identical striped shirts, bow ties and cuffed jeans and instead I have one kid who wears whatever falls on him when he walks to his closet, another who will only wear basketball shorts (preferably dirty) and a reverse mullet and the third who is so preoccupied in his own thoughts that he actually forgot to put on pants one day last year – jumping in the car with sweatshirt, backpack, socks tennis shoes and… tighty whities. (It took me pointing it out to him before he even realized his error. Which is why he still needs a mom.) Heck, even my daughter Jelly Bean won’t let me dress her anymore! All that’s left to my fine-tuned sartorial senses is haircuts!
Plus it was for his own good, I harrumphed as we then stomped through Costco, because I’m a masochist and also because the kids needed new backpacks. What if his teacher sees him and thinks he’s a (second grade) punk? What if the other kids make fun of him? What if Adam Lambert forces him to join his band and I never got to see him again except on TV during the Teen Choice Awards??
That night I couldn’t sleep. It wasn’t the haircut. It wasn’t work. It wasn’t the back-to-school madness. It wasn’t haircuts, Kohl’s and Costco all in the same day. Or rather, it was all of those things. Death by a thousand worries. No matter how hard I tried to will myself to sleep the more my mind raced. All the experts say not to just stay in your bed and fret so I decided to get up and get some things done, even if it was 2:20 a.m.
Or maybe this is my problem.
And then it hit me. The solution!
Five minutes later found me stalking silently down the hallway to my son’s room, with a comb in one hand and a brand-new pair of school scissors clenched between my teeth (because I’m a pirate?). I slipped into his room, watching the hall light fall across his serene face, his bangs lovingly plastered to his sweaty forehead. I knelt down next to his bed and ever so softly reached across and picked up a piece of hair, gripping the tiny scissors in my other hand.
For those of you who don’t have kids, obviously this was a perfect plan: First, kids sleep like rocks! Second, kids are like fauns! He would wake up tomorrow already having forgotten the trauma of the day previous, his hair would look reasonable, his new teacher wouldn’t think he was a hooligan and Adam Lambert would have to stick with Flock of Seagulls.
For those of you who do have kids, obviously this was the most idiotic plan I’ve come up with to date: First, kids aren’t dumb. Second, see item the first.
As I leaned forward to do the first cut, I was interrupted by a stabbing pain as a Lego pierced my knee cap and I had to quickly shove my fist (not the one with the scissors!) into my mouth to stifle my scream. As I sat down to rub my knee and regroup, an incident with a woman in the grocery store from a few days prior popped into my mind. Because insomnia.
Earlier that week I’d been shopping for food (my main job these days is fueling growth spurts (and flushing toilets)) when I came to the freezer case. As I perused the fish, wondering if Barramundi was on the “good fish” or “crap fish” list (turns out it’s a good fishie!), I noticed a woman in a wheelchair come over. The freezer case was almost waist high on me and so she was unable to see inside it from her seat. Immediately I went over to help her. (Not because I’m such a super duper nice person but because I’m actually not. There is a very small, selfish, petty part of me that I fear will overwhelm me unless I beat it back on the regular.)
“What would you like? I’ll grab it for you!” I chirped. As I reached in with my healthy hands to pick up the food, I noticed her hands and arms which were contorted and twisted in a way I imagined must be very painful.
Instead of answering me, she used her elbows to hoist herself up on the side of the case and then reached inside and picked up a package of bison (girl’s got good taste!) by holding it between the backs of her hands. As she dropped back into her seat she gave me a look that I will never forget.
“Don’t help me unless I ask for it,” she said curtly and wheeled off.
My face burned bright red as I stammered out an apology to her back. All I said was “Oh, I’m so sorry!” But I wanted her to know I hadn’t meant to be rude! I was just trying to do a nice thing! I just wanted to help! I swear! How do you know how much to help someone?
I hadn’t been able to stop thinking about the woman since it had happened. My first instinct had been to be defensive but as the sting of her reprimand had worn off I began to see the wisdom in it. Why had I automatically assumed she couldn’t get the meat herself? Just because I couldn’t imagine being self-sufficient in her condition didn’t mean that she was bound by the limits of my small-mindedness. Clearly her independence was hard won and something she was very proud of. I should have waited to see what she did first, waiting to see how she would handle herself instead of looking for how she couldn’t.
As I thought about the incident, and especially that look she gave me, my gaze returned to my son, now drooling on his dragon pillow pet that I’d tucked lovingly under his arm just a few hours earlier. Instead of seeing a recalcitrant little kid trying to defy me, I suddenly saw him as a young boy trying desperately to bridge that gap between small child (oh those long lashes resting on his baby-round cheeks!) and young man (oh those long, strong legs and giant feet!). And he didn’t know how to do it any more than I knew how to let him do it.
I considered his bangs. And then all the tears at the salon. I hadn’t meant to be rude! I was just trying to do a nice thing! I just wanted to help! I swear! How do you know how much to help someone?
It’s the parent’s lament: How do you know when to help your child and when to let them do it themselves? Even if they might get hurt? It’s such a hard balance to strike, waiting to see if they can swim themselves or if they need a life raft. My instinct, I’ll admit, probably tends towards the overbearing. I want so much for them not to hurt, like I did, that I want to take their choices away from them and make do it them my way – the “right” way. I don’t want to wait for them to screw up and learn from their mistakes, I want them to just learn it from me without having to go through the messy middle!
But of course that’s not how growing works. Not for kids. Not for adults. We have to be able to make our own mistakes. (And if we’re talking hair, heaven knows I’ve made more than a few of my own! I can already feel my parents laughing through their computer screens. In hindsight, long bangs seem like nothing compared to the time I dyed my hair bright orange with cheetah spots. It took me years of bizarre parts and up-do’s to grow that mess out.)
As I sat on the carpet, my heart aching more than my knee, I realized that my son is not me. My son craves independence, to be different. He’s the third kid and the third son. He wants to make his own way. Telling him not to do something is a basically a huge neon sign for him blaring DO IT. Me, I was the first kid. I wanted someone to tell me exactly what to do and how to do it so I wouldn’t fail. And honestly I still do.
Still holding the scissors, I stood up and leaned over to kiss his forehead. As my lips met his skin, his eyes flew open and he saw me standing over him, inches from his face and holding scissors. In the middle of the night. I expected a cry of indignation or fear or even anger. But instead he smiled sweetly and said, “Oh I hoped it was you!” Then he turned over and went back to sleep. He trusts me that much?
Someday he’ll do big things. I’ve known it since the minute I first met him. I just hope I won’t be standing in the way when he does. (Okay, and I hope he can see through his bangs when he does them! But I promise I’ll never try and give him a stealth haircut in the middle of the night again.)
How do you know how much to help someone? You listen.
Updated to add photo of son #3 post cut. I’ll admit it, I first didn’t include an after shot because once I looked at it I realized it’s not that bad at all. Which makes me look even sillier for going all night-stalker on the poor kid. But then that’s kind of point of this whole post, right? The problem had everything to do with what was in my head, not on top of his. Plus, having the back buzzed makes the hair on his crown stick up and who doesn’t love Alfalfa??