For the second time in a week, my twenty-month-old son woke up in the wee hours of the night. The culprit was a cough, but because of an itch on the back on his head, he could not get back to sleep. He kept rubbing a spot right above his neck, which bothered him for a good hour.
I suspected eczema, so I decided to shave his head. I figured I could trim the part just above the neck. It would give his whole look a clean-cut edge, and make it easier to douse that dry patch in hydrocortisone cream.
I dropped him into his highchair, turned on the Teletubbies and stood behind him with my Remington Lady Trimmer. He watched, I trimmed. But the shaved part went all patchy, and I could not even it out. The transition to the longer hair above it was also too abrupt: a sudden plateau. He looked like a disheveled Friar Tuck, and he kept turning around to see the source of the buzzing.
I called my husband. “Do you have anything against me shaving off all of his hair?” Nope, he didn’t mind. The kids had always had their first few cuts from me. After we hung up, I googled How to give a buzz cut on e-How.com. The three steps seemed simple enough. But they were not. My son kept saying “ow” and his hair would not shave off in clean strokes like on Full Metal Jacket. His head was covered in uneven, blotchy, dirty blonde islands. His face even had hair stuck to it, because he kept wiping off his snot with the back of his hand. The beard made his face itch.
I called my husband again. I told him I was having some trouble. I said our child looked like a baby prisoner of war.
He said he’d be home in ten minutes.
As I stood there, wondering what to do, I started to laugh. I laughed in the uncontrollable way that I do when I realize things are absurdly beyond repair. When my boy wouldn’t let me near him anymore, the laughing went right over into crying.
His older sister looked worried. “Mama, you’re crying.”
“Yes, I ruined your brother’s hair.”
“Mama, don’t cry.”
“Okay.” But I could not stop. He was quiet, because he had never seen me weeping. I told him I was sorry and that next time, he could sit in the car chair at the barber shop because I would never do this again.
Upstairs in the bath, while I lathered his head in lavender-scented shaving gel, my daughter read me a book from the pink reading chair she had carried into the bathroom to sit next to me. Once she stood up, just to lean her cheek against mine. When her older sister came home a few minutes later, she said that her brother looked weird. Then she went to his room to pick out clothes for him to match his new ‘do. Then my husband walked in and started singing soccer hooligan songs.
Then he told me not to be so hard on myself.
My husband was right. There was nothing left to do but let it go. And for a few weeks, my son will be bald because of me. Everyone and their mother will have something to say about it. Church people, school people, the-staring-at-the-grocery-store-and-the-post-office people. Get in line. Yes, my son looks like Lex Luther. Yes, it’s all my fault.
My boy keeps rubbing his head, as if he is trying out his new scalp. But he – and his sisters – have gotten over his new look. It is hard to forgive oneself, but it is harder to remain whole in the face of self-flagellation. If I look at the way my children embraced me in the moment of my utter weakness – runny mascara, blotchy baby scalp and all, I see why God would have us enter heaven as they do. My children have got it down. They are so quick to forgive. They are so eager to love and forget the rest.
My son’s hair will grow back. Until that happens, I will imitate my children. I will embrace the consequences of my botch-up job, so that I can let these consequences go.
© 2013 Anastasia Hacopian