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My 6-year-old boy has been growing out his hair for about a year now.
"Don't cut it," he pleaded last summer. "I want to grow it long, like John Lennon. PLEASE MOM, PLEASE!"
I was quick to cut his baby hair, and then to buzz his toddler hair, but who am I to argue? He likes to twirl his hair before falling asleep, and he wanted to see how it would look. And so we went for it.
I didn't expect it to last, I'll tell you that. I figured he'd get tired of hair creeping into his ears, falling over his eyes, and he'd inevitably claim defeat. I certainly didn't expect it to grow in so gorgeous, with perfectly placed highlights and an enviably soft texture.
There was a lot I didn't expect, to be honest. Things like...
1. The "she" pronoun
"Oh she's so pretty!" a wide-eyed man stopped me in the grocery store, genuine and sweet. I looked at my boy, dressed in a blue Transformers T-shirt and jeans, smiled and moved on.
My eye doctor looked at him and asked, "How old is she?"
The cashier at a local deli remarked on how adorable "she" is.
I've found that having a long-haired boy means struggling with whether to correct a stranger and engage in some awkward explanation/apology/reassurance, or to hope the person stops talking and moves on.
2.Hoping he doesn't hear everyone calling him a girl
And hoping he doesn't feel hurt. Having a long-haired little boy means inevitably explaining gender norms and why, exactly, people think he's a girl. It highlights how young these gender stereotypes and identities start, and how effortlessly they're drilled into our littlest kids' minds.
3. And realizing he's already hearing mean comments from kids
It's hard to watch your kid struggle with the idea of changing himself in order to fit someone else's standards.
Once. He cried once.
"I want to cut my hair," he said in the shower, in sobs. "All the kids at school make fun of me. They say only girls have long hair."
After he calmed down and thought it through, he decided to keep his long hair. He likes it. He knows he's not a girl, and he also knows that boys can have long hair, too. It's hard to watch your kid struggle with the idea of changing himself in order to fit someone else's standards, and yet no amount of questioning or gender confusion has budged this kid from his long-haired dream. And man, I admire that.
4. Mean comments will come from adults, too
We hear a lot of, "Why would you want to grow your hair long? Do you want to look like a girl?" Facepalm.
One person even—jokingly, I'm sure—asked if he was "pulling a Bruce Jenner." (Maybe it was the stone-cold look on my face, but that guy clearly wanted to eat those words after they flew out of his mouth.)
5. Grandmas across the world will have an opinion
"GET THE HAIR OUT OF HIS EYES! CUT IT!"
6. Strangers will make assumptions about my own psychological state
Obviously I wanted a girl, and now I'm forcing my son to fill that role—the horror. Clearly I can't let go of his baby-ness, insisting he keeps his hair long for my own emotional ease. Find any long-haired little boy and you can trace him right back to a crazy, clingy, mentally disturbed mother. At least that's what Internet commenters will have you believe.
7. His hair will become a major conversation topic
For every awkward, rude comment we hear, we hear three, "OH MY GOSH HIS HAIR IS SO GORGEOUS" remarks. Within the last week, he's been compared to a mini Brad Pitt and Thor.
8. His hair might even become part of his identity
I'm watching his hair become a source of comfort, strength and security—it's what helps him stand out; it has become his identity. Everywhere we go, people have an opinion or a compliment. And so I'm careful to remind him that he isn't his hair; he'll be just as special and lovable if he decides to cut it all off.
No matter what he decides to do with his hair, I'm proud of him. I'm proud of him for following through with a goal, despite the rude comments and social norms. I'm proud of him for saying, "This is me, and I like me, no matter what you think."
And to think he learned all of this through his hair.