“Keep her calm” the stylist at Pigtails & Crewcuts says, “If Mom freaks out, he is going to freak out. “ I get control of myself and muster up a smile at my beautiful blonde curly-headed boy.
My son is behind the wheel of a police car-shaped barber chair, his hands gripping and steering like he’s going around the curves. My heart is in my throat and I can feel tears pricking the corner of my eyes. I’m going to cry.
“Shhh,” my husband says, rubbing my neck. “It’s going to be okay.”
“But what if it’s not?” My words come out half sob. I imagine myself grabbing the scissors from her hand. I scoop my son out of his police car, race out the door and I fly up into the sky like Superwoman, our curly hair blowing in the wind as we soar above the city.
“I’ll never let them cut your hair, NEVER!” I scream defiantly as we fly away into the wild blue yonder.
“How did we get here?” I whisper as she makes the first cut. I want to look away but I can’t. It’s his first haircut and I don’t want to be there, I don’t want to watch her chop off his lovely locks. Even though his hair gets matted easily and people think he’s a little girl, each snip feels like a knife in my heart.
I’ve been dreading this day for months, ever since my father looked at my son over Skype and said, “That boy needs a haircut!”
Then when my sister came to visit, she tugged on his hair and said, “Ugh, he’s getting dreadlocks, you need to cut it.”
My husband had also joined Team Cruel Cut, and started asking me on a regular basis, “When are we going to cut his hair?”
I always responded with, “Never.” But he wouldn’t stop asking even though I kept saying belligerently, “I don’t want to cut his hair. I never want to cut his hair, and I’m in charge.”
I was scared that if we cut his hair it would grow back straight and there would be nothing of me in my son.
Then one day I answered differently, surprising my husband and myself when I burst into tears. I finally confessed the truth that I hadn’t wanted to say aloud: I didn’t want to cut his hair because I was worried that his curls would be gone forever and his curls are the only thing that link me to my son in the physical looks department.
People mistake me for his nanny. I’m half black, with tan skin, dark hair and brown eyes and my son is one-quarter black but you would never know it from his milky complexion, blue eyes and blonde hair.
I was scared that if we cut his hair it would grow back straight and there would be nothing of me in my son. It was a ridiculous notion. It was irrational, but the emotion behind the thought was very real.
I also realized that although my husband and I are only having one child and we're confident in that decision, I sometimes secretly dream of a little girl with brown curly hair and tan skin— the daughter I will never have. Cutting those curls was like cutting her away, and all the dreams I had when I was pregnant of what my child would look like.
So I continued to comb out the tangles in the evening during his bath. I smiled when people said, “Oh, how old is she?” And life continued as normal.
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Then he got another cold, and the doctor advised us to take him in the shower and steam him up. It was a beautiful bonding moment, the kind of moment where your heart is full of love and you marvel at the perfection you have created. I nuzzled his damp cheek and stroked his wet curls.
Then I felt something that was not hair.
I removed the foreign object from a snarl—it was a dead fly. Yuck. Suddenly, all of my crushed dreams of having a child that looked like me and insane yearnings for another baby went right down the drain along with that tiny fly corpse.
I handed my husband our slippery toddler. “We’re getting his hair cut tomorrow.” And that is how we ended up at Pigtails & Crewcuts.
My son’s first haircut turned out adorably but as I reflected on this milestone in his life and all the crazy feels, it gave me pause. I realized I need to be more aware of my motivations when it comes to my son so that I don’t inadvertently stifle him or stop him from pursuing his dreams or interests because I have some subconscious hang up. Unfortunately, there's no handy guide to tell me what’s right or wrong.
Managing our sometimes strange psychological behavior is challenging enough without throwing in an whole other person, but in an uncharacteristic fashion, I’m going to give myself a break. Mom-ming is hard, but haircuts will get easier.