I wouldn’t call it a rash decision or a thoughtless action. No, there was a lot of talk for a number of days leading up to it. But I will have to say: my reaction to it came as a surprise. Yesterday Mark perched the Eldest on a stool, and with the hair clippers buzzing, cut off his curls. He dragged them with ease over the outline of the Eldest’s head, staccato motions of transformation. Large clumps of his golden-straw hair dropped on the patio. And I immediately felt that I clearly had not thought this through.
For one, I was certain that he wouldn’t possibly entertain the idea of something so loud and buzzing so close to his ears, his face. Yet, this time it didn’t faze him. Already knowing that this is how Daddy gets his hair cut, and so choosing to follow that very same path, he is brave beyond any flicker of uncertainty. Even given the choice to leave his hair at the longer setting or click it down once more for a closer cut, he choses the closer cut to resemble Mark. Yes, this boy admires his daddy so.
Mark stands back to look, comes in closer again for one or two more finishing touches. With pride, the Eldest pop up off the stool, eager to see the results. I feel a roll in my gut, because I know that I’m not looking at any sort of small toddler, no glimmer of baby here. With his hair cropped close to his head, he looks all arms and legs. His physical body demands to be seen for what it is: a boy child, four and a half years proud. Even my touch to him signifies as much. I rub my hands up and down his peach fuzz with playfulness, different from smoothing curly locks out of baby eyes.
It catches me throughout the day, this new look of his. As I turn from the dishes in the sink to ask him to set the table, I’m startled by this lanky boy-face who answers me. The stark reality of his porcelain face, his forehead no longer hidden behind careless curls, forces me to swallow hard, tears stinging the corners of my eyes. It’s not as though I haven’t been aware of his growing up, hard and fast. I watch it minute by minute, day by day. But maybe that’s why: those are the bits and pieces of growing up, the sands that shake down into the larger picture. What stands before me almost seems like a leap out of one frame and into another, so abruptly.
This dear boy, though, is every bit as much my baby as he was the day he was born. It’s now late afternoon; I wake him from a nap. This is itself a tender moment, not occurring very often, but today after joining his brother and sister playing with Mark in the Littlest’s room, he wants nothing more than to curl his long legs into my body and let me hold him in the rocking chair. It is just as much a reminder to me as it is to him of where we stand with each other: we belong, always, even in the growing.
And I, too, forget that each day he marks out more of his own life for himself, less reliant on me to do so. He has things he likes; opinions all of his own. How he wears his hair is less my choice now and more his. It is just hair after all, and back it will grow, quicker than I can imagine. And maybe he’ll let those curls come in, spill over his ears and forehead in time for the fall, to keep the chill away. Or maybe he won’t. Mostly, I’m just glad that as he stands in front of the mirror, rubbing his head in exploration, he smiles wide when he catches my eye.