Hair today, gone tomorrow

I’ve always had a hard time when it comes to haircuts. It’s a crap shoot trying to choose the best time to go. Does it just look horrible today or will it continue to look horrible until I do something about it? I generally end up making an appointment after a couple weeks of follicular dysfunction only to have it look amazing the day before it’s destined to be snipped.

My apprehension around all this has grown with the introduction of children, only now it’s focused on them instead of me. How typically motherly of me. It took me more than two years to get the boy’s hair cut, even though he was constantly being mistaken for a descendant of Kenny G. I had this notion that cutting his baby curls would somehow strip him of his baby-ness, like a miniature Samson losing power at the hands of my maternal Deliliah.

Interestingly, he started using actual words not long after the first cut. Up until then, he communicated mostly in grunts. Perhaps he had been channeling Encino Man. I have since come to the conclusion that he fares better with his hair short, even if I don’t. And at least I knew the girl would never cut hers.

“I want it down to my butt,” she’d say, emphasizing butt as any six-year-old is wont to do. Sounds good to me, I’d think. Except when it came time to brush it.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, she made a big announcement. She wanted it cut significantly and, strangely, on June 29th. I pointed out that this would thwart her plans for butt-length hair. She didn’t care. I marked June 29th in my mental calendar under “We Shall See.”

I’m not entirely sure where the idea came from. I suppose we had been planting the seed over the past few months. She has ridiculously thick hair that lands somewhere between wavy and curly, depending on the humidity. After a season of swimming, it had more in common with a bale of hay than a head of luscious locks. Add to that the fact that she never wants it tied back and you get a mess of hair that spends most of its life being dragged through mud, dipped in food, and caught in zippers.

This wouldn’t be such a big deal if we actually remembered to bathe our children every once in a while. Showering her had become quite an ordeal, so we were likely more focused on self-preservation than personal hygiene. One of us would stand there with the shower door open, manipulating her mound of hair in an attempt to get it clean all while listening to her increasingly deafening protests. Basically, bathing her is the reason why I’m now questioning the capabilities of my ear drums.

After several of these therapy-inducing incidents, I told her one option would be to cut her hair. It may have actually come across as more of a threat, but the idea of wielding scissors around a resistant styling victim didn’t seem prudent, even if it would release me from bath time hell.

In the days leading up to June 29th, she told everyone and their dog about her plans. Perhaps it was her way of psyching herself up for the day. Perhaps it was her way of psyching me up for it. For while she seemed entirely unfazed, I was kind of freaking out.

Part of me was scared that she would hate it. I was flashing back to my childhood, when every cut was a lesson in raised hopes and dashed dreams. I remember once asking the stylist to make my hair longer on one side. Obediently, he cut one side to the top of my ear and the other side to the bottom of the other ear. It didn’t occur to me until I saw a photo years later that all I actually wanted was for him to move my part from straight down the middle to just off the side. That one got a lot of weird looks.

The other part of me was filled with nostalgia. There’s a lot of history in that hair! Most of it has been with her since she was three, save the half inch we had trimmed off every year. Cutting it off would be like saying goodbye to my little girl. Saying goodbye to those adorable mispronunciations, like granola (“granunga”) and spaghetti (“pasketti”). Saying goodbye to her bouncy little run that looked like a bunny hopping down the street. Saying goodbye to those epic tantrums that made me think she had a brain tumour. Hmm… maybe this isn’t such a bad idea after all.

June 28th arrived and I had yet to make an appointment. I texted a couple of friends to ask where they take their kids, but really, who’s getting an appointment with a specific stylist on such short notice? My excuse was I was letting the universe decide but really I was in denial. The next morning, I called a place at the mall and asked if they did kids’ hair. I told the receptionist my situation—that my six-going-on-twenty-year-old had decided to get a drastic cut—and wondered who she would recommend.

“Sam has an availability at 11:15,” she said. “He has kids so he gets it.”

E was a little nervous when we arrived, but that seemed to be more about meeting someone new as opposed to the task at hand. He popped her up in the chair and, with fair warning, grabbed a ponytail’s worth of hair and chopped it all off. An amazing thing happened in that moment. She seemed… free. She tossed her head around like a dog that had finally lost its collar.

In the few short days since the cutting, a kind of metamorphosis has taken place. She got up the next morning and ran her own bath. She has taken her plate and cup to the counter without being asked. Tonight, she gave herself a bath, ran a fresh one for her brother, then put herself to bed.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately about letting go of old patterns, shedding your old self to make way for new thoughts that lead to happiness and authenticity rather than staying rooted in conflict and pain. Elliot’s haircut didn’t rob her of any precious part of herself, it released her from the past. She not only looks more mature and confident, she actually is. She is smiling more, and so am I.

The Cult of Personality


Someone once suggested that I’d know I was truly grown up when I became the same person around my parents as I am around my friends. I’m not sure why this was deemed to be a barometer of maturity. Frankly, I'm not sure any of us want to go through life being the same person at every turn.

I had an interesting revelation along these lines in the not so distant past. I noticed that my voice tends to jump an octave in certain situations, like when I’m ordering in a restaurant or calling an appliance repair shop. I fully understand why—all the women in my immediate family do the same thing—but the fact that I do drives me bananas. It’s as though I’m saying my regular voice, which is a bit smarmy, isn’t feminine enough for mass consumption. I go overkill on the pleasantness, leaving the other person thinking they're talking to a delusional housewife who’s been a bit too liberal with the quaaludes (or whatever be the modern equivalent).

I remember reading an article once about how babies enjoy our playing the part of babbling idiots. It was something about the higher pitch resonating a vibe of happiness in their new little brains. By the same token, they also enjoy the deeper tones Dad provides, likely because that voice sounds a bit more relaxed than Mom’s overly enthusiastic attempts to get a smile. In my own experience, I notice a happier, sing-songy voice when trying to sway my toddler’s opinion, a somewhat less annoying tone when speaking to my four-year-old, and an arguably tired and grumpy voice when speaking to my poor husband. Sorry Luke.

It reminds me of another article a based on a book co-authored by Elizabeth Dunn. The book is actually about how to spend money more happily (apparently this is challenging), but in it she suggests we should all try to treat our partners a bit more like strangers. Think about it. If you are in a similar situation to me, your significant other comes home around the time your children are turning into gremlins because you either haven’t yet presented them with dinner or you had the gaul to give them something other than hot dogs and cheese pizza. You’re not at your best. You’re not feeling the love. So they walk in the door and you’re thinking, “For the love of god, make the screaming stop!” as a dinner roll goes flying across the room and they're thinking, “Uh… hi?”

But let’s say they brought someone you’d never met home for dinner. Social etiquette makes it challenging to embrace anger when there’s a new person around. It feels as natural as wearing your underwear on the outside of your pants. So you’d probably laugh off the insanity, greet your guest and put on your best show. Eventually, you'd likely forget that you're supposed to be angry and end up having a good time. 

It would be interesting to know at what age we start to experiment with these different masks and whether it’s even a conscious undertaking. Most of us don’t have a personality switch we actively flip depending on who walks through the door, it just seems to happen like a pavlovian response. If it is even possible to reach that plateau of full growth (god, I hope not), perhaps it's not through being the same person with our parents as we are with our friends or with our spouse as are with our children, but through recognizing the difference and understanding the manifestations.