A Little Off The Top, That’s All

Originally posted May 1, 2008

The surest tip-off that times-are-a-changin’ was this simple statement: “Mom, I need a new comb,” Noah announced one recent morning. It could easily have been overlooked in those stumbling-around-to-get-out-the-door moments before school, but my ears perked up and I realized immediately that this seemingly benign request portends something more profound than his mere need for a comb. Since when did Noah care about his hair? This was the moment that I grasped the inevitability of his growing up.

There’s no going back now.

For us, adolescence looms large on the horizon. Holly already commandeers the telephone as masterfully as any teenager, and those legendary hormones are definitely dawning in Noah’s nearly ten-year-old body. We’ve already survived a few stellar bouts of sarcastic moodiness, and had to break it to Noah that the cut on his nose was actually a pimple.

Aside from refusing short haircuts for the last year, Noah didn’t give a hoot about his appearance until recently – but now he gets more face time in front of the mirror than I do. I find myself actually having to herd him out of the bathroom so I can tame my own tragic hair adequately enough to avoid stopping traffic in the drop-off lane at the kids’ school.

My next car won’t be a Mercedes, but it will have tinted glass.

“It’s like a monster on the side of my head,” Noah moaned one morning as he pointed to the funky lump of hair sticking out above his right ear. I concealed a smile and ushered him out to the car.

A determined problem-solver, Noah came up with a solution the next morning:

“I took a head shower,” he proudly stated, as he slayed any would-be monsters by running a comb through his unruly wet mop. “Head showers are complicated,” he observed. “Water runs everywhere.”

“I have highlights,” he discovered another day.

Noah was two years old the last time he had a decent mop of hair. But then he got his first hair cut.

I thought it’d be no big deal. I protested vehemently whenever my Mother-in-law told me it was time, but I wasn’t really consenting to a real haircut, just a little off the top. So he didn’t have to use his forearm to push the offending mop out of his eyes, so he’d avoid causing any fender-benders behind the wheel of his kiddie-Volkswagon. A little off the top. That’s all.

I got more than I bargained for, however.

Surrounded by older men who waited their turns for their umpteenth trims, and held by his Daddy who’d just had his neck cleaned up in the next chair, Noah looked like he belonged. His jaws worked two fat hunks of pink Double-Bubble bubble gum while he fiddled with a toy truck in his lap, unfazed by the whole ordeal.

My ordeal.

The barber teased that I might cry.

“Nope,” I barely breathed, denying the growing lump in my throat as I paced the linoleum with my camera. As Noah’s golden locks fell to the floor I suffered flashbacks. Of hundreds of afternoons whiled away as he nursed before his naps, when I raked my fingers through his curly mop. Of how I absentmindedly reached down and parted his hair as we took our daily walks to the creek to throw pebbles in the water.

But it was the “First Haircut Certificate” presented by the barber, proclaiming that Noah had “officially graduated from babyhood” that did me in. Not so fast, I thought, as my tears finally fell, on the sidewalk outside the shop.

I eventually grieved the curls and grew to love that clean-cut, above-the-ears little-man haircut, but then Noah put his foot down last year when his friend grew his hair out.

“Austin’s hair is really long. I want it like that,” he decided.

Noah’s hair is finally long again, threatening his vision and curling past his ears. I love it. When I move to brush a strand of hair out of his eyes he flinches if we’re in public or heading off to school.

“Mom, you know I hate that,” he sighs. I guess we’re engaged in that classic mother / son dance of separation, this time around. I haven’t learned all of the steps yet, but I’m giving it a whirl.

I wouldn’t dream of cutting his hair short again. Like it’s even up to me, this time.

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