One of the first things I noticed when my babies were born was their hair, a prominent cowlick for my oldest boy, evident even amongst the ickiness of birth. “That’s a lot of hair!” visitors would remark. And it was. Thick and curly, and neat Shirley Temple-esque spirals for his brother. It’s hard to cut that sort of hair. It’s hard to let it go. Not just for the loss of curls but for the sudden transformation it triggers: from babyhood to boyhood in one foul snip.
Hair – lots of it – keeps them hovering in neutral territory blurring gender lines and allowing babies to stay babies for longer. I held hold off, and held on, for as long as I could. I made it to eighteen months before Jasper had hist first haircut, and only then because he was having trouble seeing. I trusted only Paula, my own hairdresser, to do the honours, to cut not to cull. She placed his curls in an envelope without having to be asked. She’s seen enough mums go through this.
It was even longer for Otis, his spring-like coils deceiving, making it appear shorter than it was. Only when wet could you tell it was shoulder length. When it got in their eyes, and only then, would we go to Paula. I would hover nervously policing the operation to ensure all was not lost.
They have been mistaken for girls more than once. Even in head to toe ‘boy colours’. “That hair is wasted on boys”, people say. Not if I have any say.
Which I won’t for much longer. One day they’ll insist on cutting it all off. I just wasn’t expecting it so soon.
“Mummy, can I tell you something?” Jasper says to me three days into his school life. “I want short hair like the other boys”.
I’d had it cut especially for school, anticipating the potential pressure of peer groups where for the first time, weighed up against a lineup of short backs and sides, he might wise up that he looks different. I danced behind the barber chair (Paula wasn’t available) choreographing the chop, issuing directives, signing off on each snip. It was a considerable cut by my standards. He looked like a different person. But not, as it turns out, by his.
For my friend Jess – also clinging to her son’s curls – salvation came with One Direction. “I took a deep breath and asked if he’d like to have short hair like the other boys”, she told me. “To my relief he said, ‘No thanks. The One Direction guys have long hair, Mummy’”. Fabian helped the cause too. Her son’s hero soccer coach has a man bun. The one time she did get his hair cut short – a misunderstanding with the hairdresser who whipped the razor out – she cried.
My colleague Ahron (cropped like all respectable male news reporters) says his mum cried too when he had his first hair cut at four with his dad. “Mum found out, went to the salon with her broom, and kept my hair!”.
For my friend Susanne, her ten year old son’s haircut had much higher stakes. She had no choice. It was falling out anyway from chemotherapy. His dad shaved it for him in her absence. “Thankfully a kind nurse swept it up and put it in an envelope”, she says. “I cry just thinking about that envelope”. Manning, blessedly, now has full health and full hair.
It is a mum thing. We fear once the hair goes that so do they just a little bit. They no longer belong just to us but step into their own. Without wisps softening their face, they look taller suddenly. Edgier. Relying on their own resources to shape their personality rather than what comes naturally.
It can always grow back. They tell mums that when we cry over cuts. Yes. But they won’t.
This article was first published in Sunday Life Magazine and DailyLife.com.au March 2015