My son was four years old the first time he had an opinion about his hair. His thick blond hair bounced up and down as he ran, and it brought me absolute delight. When he asked to shave it off, my heart sank. I allowed myself to explore the unusually strong feelings I was experiencing, and when I came up for air, I decided to say yes. Saying yes for me has been about more than just “choosing my battles.” It has been an active choice to allow my children to show me who they are and who they are becoming, apart from me.
When he was fifteen months old, my audacious and spirited son had strawberry blond waves that bounced along his neck. Fine hair had grown in evenly on the front and sides, but growth in the back was slightly faster, giving him a charming toddler mullet. With bluebonnet season around the corner, my mom scheduled professional pictures with her friend, an accomplished photographer. Since this was going to be our first time photographing my son with bluebonnets, I decided it would be the perfect time for his first haircut.
My family of origin had a long history of taking pictures in bluebonnets. The bluebonnet is the official flower of the state of Texas. Every spring, these wildflowers appear as fields along the roadside and open areas throughout the Hill Country. During this time, it is not uncommon to find cars parked along the side of the road with children sitting among the flowers for families to capture their annual bluebonnet photographs. Some of our sweetest family photos are the ones among the flowers.
At the time, our little guy struggled having water on his head and was showing aversion to touch, especially around his face. One of the salons in the area offered a unique experience for children where they could sit in a kid’s car and watch television as a distraction during the haircut. Not to mention, they had a “baby’s first haircut” package, which included a certificate, before-and-after haircut snapshot, and a lock of hair. I was all about that. Growing up, I loved looking at the silky, brown ponytail of hair that my mom kept from my first haircut. Having this same memento for my son mattered to me at the time.
When scheduling the appointment, I made a conscious choice not to tell my mom about our plans for the haircut. I was convinced that if I told her, she would want to come to the appointment with us. Walking through the “firsts” as a new parent felt complicated for me. Although I loved that my mom wanted to be involved in our lives, I also felt like I was fighting for space that was just for the three of us.
On the day after the haircut, we waited outside my parent’s house for my mom to open the door. I was anxious but excited to see her face when she saw her grandson’s new haircut for the first time. I was not prepared, however, for the response that we received. As she opened the door, the smile fell from her face and tears took its place instead. She had few words, but I was attuned to reading her disappointment.
Unbeknownst to me, my mom was delighted when she realized that my son would be close to the same age my brother and I were when we had our picture taken in the bluebonnets for the first time. She loved that we had not had our first haircuts, but instead we had that precious baby look with gentle curls sweeping across our necks. She had never imagined we would cut his hair before the picture, thus shattering her hopes for her first grandchild to look similar to her own children’s pictures.
We can either choose to give our children freedom or maintain control. We really only have a short season before these little ones begin to have opinions of their own.
Yesterday, while sitting in the same hair salon, my son scrolled through pictures on my phone of boy’s haircuts while waiting his turn. I listened as his stylist explained to a coworker how he selects a different style every time he comes. Each time he finalizes his decision, she looks to me for approval before cutting his hair. I smile and say yes. She usually follows it up with the “Are you sure, mom?” look. Each time my response is yes. Yes to LeBron James, yes to Eminem, yes to Cristiano Ronaldo, including zigzags and lines.
As my children grow, there will be seasons of dependence and independence for all of us. My hope is to hold gently and release freely as we grow in connection and understanding together.
Bethany Cabell, a lover of simplicity, is often inspired to write by the relationships she holds as a wife, mom, and a physical therapist. Bethany, her husband and their boys returned to life in Texas after wandering off to the Midwest for a season. What she once pictured her life to look like has forever been changed by her two sons. Navigating this messy and beautiful path of parenting two children each with their own unique challenges, she finds grace and beauty in the gift of each moment.