My son is newly two-years-old, and has long, blonde, curly hair. Aside from the fact that it’s usually a bit wild, it pretty much looks like the kind you’d find on toddler beauty queens — and we have no intentions of cutting it any time soon.
Sure, we’re nearly constantly bombarded with mis-assumptions about his sex due to his hair, and family members are always quick to ask us when we’re going to finally cut it. We’re given all kinds of reasons as to why we should — because people often think he’s a girl; because it can be hard to control; because it’s too “different” and other kids will make fun of him, etc.
But as a Sociology-degree-with-a-concentration-in-Gender-and-Womens’-Studies –toting Offbeat Lite mama and a high-school-Sociology-teaching Onbeat daddy, these were things we not only knew would come with this choice, but were expected and we do our best to handle them with grace and generosity.
The first reason we decided not to cut our son’s hair was due to the old Jewish tradition of Upsherin — which is to not cut a boy’s hair until he’s three years old, upon which a ceremony is held and the hair removed and weighed. A donation is made in the same weight of the hair, and it symbolizes the move from infancy to formal education in the Torah and Hebrew language. While I’m only tangentially Jewish, we thought this would be an awesome way to pay a nod to my ancestors while kind of giving the gendered world of child-rearing the finger.
So reason number two was really that we didn’t want our kid to subscribe to traditional gender roles if that didn’t fit him. He also has a very unusual, un-gender assuming name to help with that. We do as many parents do — he has both trucks and a play kitchen; clothes in every color of the rainbow (yes, even pink); and he has just as much fun playing with my shoes as he does his dad’s. As long as he’s happy and learning, we don’t really care if he’s “doing” the “correct” gender.
Over time, we caved a bit to pressure (there was SO MUCH and it came on SO FAST) and said we’d probably cut it at two, before he’s old enough to understand other people’s comments about his hair. However, that day has come and gone now, and we have so many more reasons NOT to cut his hair than we have TO.
Aside from the fact that when it’s combed (which is honestly rarely) it’s just straight up beautiful hair and that dealing with his hair now is giving my husband practice for when our daughter gets more than fuzz on her noggin and sure, we get a kick out of trying to ponytail it because my son makes it a game, we’ve developed very deep, strong emotions and attachment to all those blonde locks.
The biggest part of our new reasons was the discovery of our son’s learning delay. He’s had several health conditions which have impaired his pick-up skills a bit. The largest dent is in language – he just doesn’t have it. So we can’t really explain to him about getting his hair cut and being nice to the hair dresser and know that he understands. The potential for an EPIC tantrum at the barber is something we don’t really see the value in chancing. It would only serve to make everyone involved miserable, and who wants sharp objects near a kid who can’t voice his frustration or fear?
Hand in hand with that is the way he’s learned to communicate with us. When he’s upset or scared or hurt (either feelings or physically), he pulls one of our hands up to the side of his head so we can stroke his hair. These are some of the sweetest moments we have with him, where he allows affection to take place and we have the tools and understanding to give him what he needs in that moment. We don’t want to take that from him or from us, and stroking inch-long hair is COMPLETELY different than running your fingers through nine-inch-long hair.
This small method of communication has done a lot to help us help him with his frustration, anxiety, and let’s be honest, full-out toddler rage. It gives us a chance to connect with him in a way we haven’t yet been able to. And through these interactions, he’s learned that by showing us what he wants or needs in a way we understand, he can actually get those things without screaming and rolling about on the floor or worse.
So why won’t we cut our son’s hair? Not just because it’s become a symbol of our Offbeat-ish-ness or because of tradition or education or any of that. It’s because it’s the conduit through which we can express our love for our son to him that he understands, and that he can express to us in a way we understand.