For Moms of Boys with Long Hair
His hair. He’s twenty-two now, but I think about his hair, how it blew gently upwards in the wind, how it hung over his face at age ten or eleven, down to his chin, at times down to his shoulders, and how his eyes peered out and twinkled—or glared—and how protected he was. Back then, while he was still shorter than me, I could stroke his hair, gather it lightly in my hand when he stood next to me, or touch it briefly as he walked past. I could feel the softness of his smooth, straight hair and study the tones of light brown and auburn, the same color as mine, an exact match before the gray. Sometimes I wished he’d agree to cut it, but I held that inside like breath. One time, a stranger said they thought he was a girl, and I wondered how that landed on him. I wondered, did it affect him?
I think about how, in his teens, he’d swish his head like Justin Bieber, the king of boy hair at the time, and how my boy’s hair would swoop to the side, revealing just enough of his face, so handsome, as I’m sure the girls noticed, and he’d flash a burning glance of mischief or a tender smile, and everything was easy. That same swoop of hair had flowed on his toddler head, the baby hair I stroked when I nursed him, and when he cried, that sweet, wispy hair that grew long and straight so quickly. And I remember how reluctant I was to cut it that first time, and probably I’d put it off too long—one of several times I needed a push. But finally, that milestone at age one, how many photos I took of him in the barber’s chair, poised high on the booster bench and surrounded by Gentle Ben’s, the sports barber that all the neighbor moms recommended. How he sat innocently in the chair for that first cut, like some kind of initiation into the man’s world, and how I saved those cut hairs in a white paper envelope, one of the first attempts I made at keeping him, keeping his childhood in my hands.
And then there were the times in high school when I wondered what he’d look like if he cut it short—would he get better grades, a better job, or a letter of recommendation? But there was my instinct to stay back, and my ever-mixed feelings, loving his hair, loving his uniqueness and how that hair became part of who he was right then, and how I didn’t want anything about right then to change.
And when he joined the swim team, I think about how he crammed that long hair into a swim cap and probably didn’t wash it after practice, despite the large bottle of shampoo I tucked into his backpack, and how he swam fast anyway and started to really show talent. And then, the day he decided, with his whole team around him, to shave it for the big swim meet, to give him that edge, and how I wasn’t there when it happened, but how excited he was to tell me the story later, with his deep voice and his big smile. How it took me a few minutes, a few days, to get used to his fuzzy-shaved head, and how, when I asked him if I could feel the newly-cut hair, the buzz-cut on his perfect, lumpy crown, he said, “Yes, Mom,” and leaned down gently to me like a giraffe or a nanny. And how I had to reach up to touch it, as he had grown much taller, taller than me now, and how it no longer seemed to be mine to touch without asking, and maybe he bristled once when I tried to anyway, and how it wasn’t mine to keep, in an envelope or any other way, but his, and I think about all the haircuts he’s had since then, on his own, and all the ones he will have.
Toni Halleen is a lawyer, writer, and communications workshop facilitator, and her work has appeared in Structo, WSQ, and the StarTribune.