I stared down a kid in the street. I’m not particularly proud of it, but the kid was staring at C. More accurately, she was staring at C’s head.
It all started at the end of last week when I asked C if he was ready for a hair cut. I’d been asking him every day almost for about a month. His long, beautiful hair was constantly falling into his eyes, and he would shake his head to get it out. He’d asked for a barrette, but then didn’t like the pull of it on his hair. We’d agreed that a hair cut was in order, and finally, on Friday, he’d said yes. I suggested we go to the hair cut place, but he said “no mommy, I want you to do it.” I sat him in the kitchen, took out my hair cutting scissors, and set to work. C was pretty cooperative, but even so, I gave him the worst hair cut I’ve ever given him. If it weren’t for his cheery outlook, he’d have looked just like a neglected Romanian orphan.
Dave and I agreed that the child would need a proper hair cut. The other day, or “last morning,” as C would say, we went to the place where you can sit in a race car while getting a trim. Only his hair was already so short that a trim to get the cut even resulted in a buzz. What began with my intention to get the hair out of his eyes turned into a military issue hair cut.
He looks good, no doubt. He’d look good no matter what, he’s a beautiful boy, and I tell him that. So much so that I asked him if he liked his new hair cut and he said “yes because you can see my whole beautiful face.” His beautiful face is evident, and so is the long, wide scar that runs across his head, from ear to ear. I know every day that this scar is there. C knows it’s there. We’ve talked about it. We call it his super hero scar. When he meets people he sometimes asks “where’s your super hero scar?” And lots of people have one, or two, or more, and are glad to show him, to share this super hero ness with him.
So when this little girl stared at him… well, I stared her down. I didn’t want C to see her staring, and I didn’t want him to figure out why. I didn’t want him to feel judged, all because I couldn’t keep my scissors to myself. I felt like such an asshole. I hoped that his friends didn’t look at him differently because of it. If you’ve been following along on facebook, you’ll know I had a minor freak out about the whole thing. The positive responses were reassuring, but still I wondered what would happen when he went to school the next day.
The next day was the last day of school. C had a Stepping Up Ceremony, where his whole class sang and recited the Hail Mary. He went to bed excited, but me, the asshole mom with the free-wheeling scissors, was nervous that his friends, who’ve never seen the scar on his head, would judge him, or stare, or ask hurtful questions, or even worse, do that thing that kids do when they don’t understand, stay away from that which they find confusing.
Turns out nobody cared but me.
I miss his long hair. I miss the childish look it gave him. The buzz cut makes him look older, more in charge, more in control. It makes him look like he doesn’t need me so much anymore. Mostly it makes him look like he’s made the choice to look like a bad ass, and I don’t think I was ready for a four year old bad ass. I’m looking at his hair and making involuntary judgements about what that hair indicates in terms of his reactions in the world at large. The hair cut emphasizes his rough edges as opposed to his soft heart. It shows off his toughness, his super hero ness, instead of his dear cuddly interior.
It makes me remember how when I was a kid, and streaked my hair blue with a combination of Manic Panic and water proof ink, my mom would say things like “there’s more blue today, you must be angry.” I hated when she would say that, but she wasn’t wrong. C’s hair makes him look like he’s made a choice about how he wants to be perceived, and chosen an aspect of a uniform that represents an identity with which he’d like to identify. He hasn’t, he just has a mom who needs to relinquish her grip on the scissors, but he will. I wonder who he will decide to be. I wonder how his super hero scar will be integrated into his personal narrative.
The outside gives glimmers to the inside. The choices we make about our appearance are indicators of how we feel about ourselves, clues to where we want to fit in with (or without) the people around us. I used to know so well exactly what C needed. It was clear, he didn’t have to tell me. But now… when I saw him on stage during his pre-school graduation… There were some expressions on his face that I didn’t recognize. There were some reactions that he had that were unexpected. There were things that he could do that I didn’t know he could do. Afterwards he played with his friends, and as they ran around the cafeteria like four year olds on a sugar rush, the only one who stared at him was me.