Our little fellow has always been prone to sensitive moments. As an infant, he could and did charm anyone close enough to catch his eye, but he had a deep distrust of our friendly pediatrician. Immediately when we would walk into an exam room, his body would tense up. When I set him down on the paper-lined table (surrounded by office-provided toys,) he would cry and reach to be picked up. For about nine months, he cried all the way through every exam. Then one day he just seemed to be fine with it. Given his history with the doctor, I was naturally anxious about taking our little man to his first haircut. We took him to a kid-oriented salon where he sat in a tiny fire truck for his cut. He opted out of the clippers (in his nonverbal way) but the entire ordeal was shockingly uneventful.
Fast-forward four years.
Our sometimes-sensitive baby is now a precocious five year old. He makes friends easily. He loves building and drawing everything that is in his imaginative brain. He is never at a loss for words. I had almost forgotten his wariness at our first pediatrician’s office. Then, we made a trip to our regular barber shop to see his regular stylist for a regular haircut. He insisted that his brother, two years younger, go first. This was not unusual. When it was his turn, however, he climbed into the chair full of the full-body tension that I had seen so many times when he was a baby. He asked the stylist more and more questions about what she would be doing and what tools she would be using. While she attempted to talk him through it, she began going through the motions of preparing his hair to be cut.
It’s hard to explain to non-parents the combinations of feelings you get when your child melts down in public. It’s at once embarrassment, defensiveness, anger, and sympathy, with no telling where one feeling ends and the next begins.
As the stylist lifted her scissors to my child’s head, but before they touched his hair, he began to scream, “NO! It hurts! Stop!”
His distress escalated from there. Nothing I could do would calm him down. He did not end his full-volume, purple-faced meltdown until he was allowed to descend from the stylist’s chair. We left the salon with a shaggy-headed 5-year-old on a fresh set of tears because kids who didn’t get their hair cut couldn’t have the ceremonial exit lollipop.
Over the next several weeks, I tried to talk our logic-loving boy through what had happened. We agreed that he could try again, and I let him pick the day and a special new hairdo from Pinterest. When the day of the second attempt came, I was pumped up for a successful visit. I had rocked this mom thing, and he was prepared to face the beast and come out a stronger kid–practically a man.
And then the exact same thing happened again.
Defeated and dejected, I took a crying shaggier-headed five-year-old home and thought through contingencies. Could we shave it against his will? No, too traumatizing. Should we let it grow out “like Thor?” Since he hated having it brushed, that seemed like a bad option. I decided we would just have a third attempt at a haircut where he was in control, and that eventually this challenge would pass. I also desperately hoped it would be on the third attempt and not the seventh.
On this third attempt, we tried a new barber shop and a new stylist. I also offered my big kid something he hadn’t done since he was a baby: I offered to let him sit in my lap. His acceptance of my offer reassured me that his anxiety was sincere, and that he needed a type of support from me that invoked the softer side of motherhood. He curled up in my lap, the stylist’s cape draping us both, and I experienced one of those occasional moments when you realize how small they still are despite their big words and independence. He sat with minimal tears through a cut done by a patient angel-of-a-stylist. By the end of the haircut, he was feeling confident enough to let her use the clippers to clean up around his neck. While she finished, he asked, “Would you text Dad that I let her use the clippers?!”
I sure will,buddy.