My son shaved his head this weekend. Bald as a proverbial cue-ball. Except that Michael’s head isn’t the smooth, clean ivory of a billiard ball. It looks more like a bad egg, fragile with lumps and bumps, tinged blue-grey with five o-clock shadow. The bones of his skull are clearly visible through the stretched skin.
My son is not yet an angst-filled teenager with pierced body parts and a tattoo. He is a thoughtful, sweet 12 year-old who’s interested in Star Wars and basketball. So why the shaved head?
Michael has always like short haircuts. He thinks Marines look cool. He likes not having to brush his hair. Every time he gets a haircut he tells the barber to get out the electric clippers and give him a “one buzz, please” while I frantically signal Mario in the mirror. Michael had been bugging us for awhile to let him shave his head. He threw all the basic reasoning we had ever used as parents, right back at us:
“You always say a bad haircut isn’t a big deal.”
“It’s my head, why can’t I shave it?”
And the eternal plea:
“You never let me do anything I want.”
Adding to our parental dilemma was the fact that my husband remembered fighting with his father over hair. But back in the day, it was my husband’s hair that was too long. His father demanded the crew cut. Back then, my husband David vowed that when the blessed day came that he had a son of his own, he would never fight over hair. He vowed to be a cool father who would OK any hair style or length.
So it was my husband’s bright idea to give in. Let Michael shave his head. Small acts of rebellion for small people, was his reasoning. Let him learn that everything you wish for might not be as much fun as you imagine. It was our experiment in parenting. I just tried not to watch as the hunks of soft light-brown hair fell away from my baby’s head.
There was some initial glee of flashing his bald head at his friends - and watching their shock and amazement that he had actually done what he had bragged he would do. Michael’s basked in the glory of being “the kid whose parents let him do anything.” I’ve cringed, because it’s obvious that I’m the parent who has no authority or control over her child. But now that the novelty is wearing thin, Michael is realizing that maybe being bald isn’t best.
Strangers stare at his head wondering what medical misfortune has befallen him. Girls bug him, asking if they can touch his scalp. Most surprising, he’s cold, all the time. In one swoop of the clippers, Michael went from living in shorts and flip-flops to bundling up like Grandma intended. He loops a sweatshirt over his shoulders in case the breeze picks up. His baseball cap is his constant companion. It’s only been a few days and already the novelty is wearing off. Thank God.
From the beginning, my husband’s plan was to let Michael have this small victory and we would win the eventual war. Let him get the rebellion out of his system when it was a relatively harmless kind of rebellion. I had no such illusions. I didn’t really believe that just because we let him shave his head, he would lose all interest in staying out late, tasting beer or begging to drive my car in a few years. I didn’t think it would work, but it has. For at least this week.
Michael has stopped bugging us about things he’s not allowed to do. He had the opportunity to make a big decision and doesn’t seem eager to take on any further responsibility. He tested his wings and has returned to the nest for a sweater. Making adult decisions hasn’t turned out exactly the way he planned. And that’s exactly what my husband and I had hoped for.
We took a small parenting risk - - a cosmetic one with no long-term consequences - - - and I think it’s worked out to our advantage. Granted, I’ve had to reconcile myself to the fact that every adult who sees Michael’s bald head must be wondering “what kind of nuts his parents are!” But we hope that Michael has learned his lesson. As he gets older he’ll have plenty of chances to test his autonomy and have to live with the results. Because after all, hair grows.