Apparently when I was a toddler, I took to ripping out my hair by the handsful. My mother recounts with sadness the story of taking me in to have my beautiful curls (what was left of them, anyway) cut off so that my hair would be too short to grab and yank.
In kindergarten I rode the bus with a group of older girls who tormented me every single day with the assertion that I was surely a boy, because no girl would have hair so short.
Thus began The Hair Wars between my mother and me. I had certain ideas about the way I wanted to wear my hair (long), and she had certain OTHER ideas about my hair (it should be short), and we are both, ah, well, perhaps just the teensiest bit willful. You can imagine how it went for the next twelve years or so.
Eventually I was allowed to grow out the back of my hair; the area from the crown forward was still cut short in a style I have spent many years in therapy recovering from. Still later I was allowed to grow out the short section, and around age eleven or twelve I begged to be allowed to cut a small section of bangs. The request was denied (I cannot remember how it went down; likely I was only told not to do it myself, and maybe there was an offer of a visit to the stylist but not soon enough to suit me, who knows) and I cut them anyway.
Suffice it to say that in middle school I was not yet capable of wielding the scissors responsibly; the resultant “trim” left me with a short triangle of hair that suggested I had bribed a drunk gibbon to cut my bangs for me.
I would like to tell you that things got better for my hair, shortly thereafter, but it was a long and difficult road for my follicles. Part of what I remember most clearly about it was how it was always a battle.
As a parent, myself, now, I am a VERY big proponent of the “pick your battles” school of philosophy. Not a parent, or otherwise unfamiliar with this concept? It goes something like this:
Children will argue with you about the color of the sky, given the opportunity. Make wise decisions about what truly needs to be made into an issue, because otherwise you will keel over from the stress of the CONSTANT ARGUING.
I resolved early on NOT to argue about hair with my kids if I could possibly help it, because I only have so much energy and I figured better to reserve my righteous indignation for things like why they can’t get a tattoo or eat sugar directly from the canister. Also, I remember that feeling of IT’S MY HAIR, WHY CAN’T I DO WHAT I WANT WITH IT.
Thus far, I’ve been okay with Chickadee. She, of course, wants long princess hair and would happily grow it down to her toes if allowed. Our deal is that she can have it as long as she likes, provided that she takes care of it—that means it stays clean, detangled, and generally out of her face. She’s let me cut it short and she’s had it long and of late has settled in fairly well with a just-below-the-shoulders length.
She often wears it ways that I happen to hate. Her latest is parting it soooooooo far over on one side that the part is just barely above one ear. If she wore a clip of some kind it might be okay, but NO, she doesn’t need a clip. It’s much more attractive to just let all that hair continually flop down onto her forehead like some tween combover. Or she’ll put it into a weird configuration of three or four or five ponytails, with pieces sticking out here and there.
I bite down hard on my tongue and only speak up if the rules are violated. And the rules don’t say I have to think her hairstyle is hip, just that her hair be clean and free of tangles and out of her eyes.
Truth be told, I was feeling pretty proud of how well I’ve navigated this particular issue true to my plan. So much of parenting smacks you in the face with a reality utterly unlike what you imagined; here was one issue that was smooth sailing.
Well, reality has decided to have a laugh at my expense: Monkey has decided he wants to grow his hair out.
THIS WAS NOT PART OF MY PLAN.
Boys are not supposed to have IDEAS about their HAIR. Certainly not at age SEVEN. I mean, yes, SURE, I was expecting this from teenage Monkey, perhaps. But at 7? I still have to tell him not to put his fingers in his nose. He’s just supposed to sit down and let me cut his hair.
But he has decided he doesn’t want his hair cut. The style (at least around here) is for boys—granted, mostly in middle school and above—to wear their hair over their ears, shaggy, and quite a bit longer than the standard “little boy hair cut” we’ve done for so long. (You know the little boy hair cut. Short in the back and over the ears, slightly longer on top.)
I know I could just say no and cut it, but I also know that at this age I let Chickadee make her own choice. The problem, really, is that I (incorrectly) assumed that it wouldn’t be an issue with Monkey.
After about three failed attempts to corner him for a hair cut, I had to Deal With It. Which meant I had to decide whether I would institute a double standard, or just lay down the ground rules. God, I hate it when I have to examine my own biases and admit I’m being an ass.
So. The same rules apply, more or less. Hair has to be clean. Hair cannot be in his eyes. The “detangled” rule for Chickadee comes from her hair being so limp and fine that a gentle breeze will tangle it up in a giant rat’s nest. Monkey’s hair—while not as curly as mine—is thicker and wavy, but doesn’t seem to tangle the way his sister’s does (perhaps because it’s not long enough yet). What it DOES do is poof up in strange ways, giving him that timeless look of permanent bedhead. Which means his third rule is “no bedhead.”
When he’s just had a haircut, sometimes he doesn’t even have to brush it in the morning. The way it is now, he has to wet it down and brush it thoroughly to stop it from looking like something died on his head. I was SURE he’d tire of the extra work in under a week, but he’s still at it.
He looks like… he needs a hair cut.
This afternoon he left me do a few quick snips just to remove the overgrown Vulcan sideburns and little rat tail sneaking down the back of his neck. I blew the little pieces of hair off the back of his neck and pronounced him done, and he checked himself in the mirror, patting down an errant wave on the back of his head.
“How’s that, buddy?” I asked. I had a fleeting hope that he might ask me to cut the rest.
He considered his reflection for a second. “I look COOL,” he announced. He struck a pose and winked at his superstar self.
I discovered that it’s possible to chuckle and bite your tongue at the same time.