Not Just A Haircut

The Padawan has been asking for the last 5-6 months about cutting his hair. I told him in February, “let’s wait till March”.
In March, he didn’t ask. I asked him, but said he liked his hair and didn’t want to cut it. In April, he said once again, “I want to cut it all off” – I said, “let’s wait till after Ren-Faire, so you can be a pirate. We’ll cut it in the summer”. Time rolled forward, we got distracted by spring and summer activities. It didn’t come up, so I didn’t ask. He started asking again a few weeks ago. He said the other boys at the park all had short hair and said they thought he was a girl.
I have always tried to reenforce that others’ opinions don’t matter nearly as much as how he feels inside. If he likes it, he can keep it long. If he doesn’t, he can cut it. It has always been up to him. I ask – “do you like your long hair?” The answer has, up to this point, always a “yes”. Always.
But, the more time passes and the more others’ opinions and loaded questions like, “don’t you think he’d enjoy having short hair?” are placed in front of him, the whole situation has made him super self-conscious about it. To the point where he now can’t stand the hair he loved and defended just a few weeks ago. Less than six week ago in fact, he was telling me, “I love my hair, it’s special to me and no one else has it. It protects me and don’t cut it.”
The decision to cut it has always been in his hands, once I was certain he really wanted it.
I asked him on Sunday if he wanted to cut it. He said yes. There was a different quality in his answer. A solid sure-ness I’d not heard before. I asked again, “you want it gone?”
“Yes” he said.
“For sure?” I asked.
A clear, confident, no question or second thought “Yes.”is how he replied. The kind of “yes” that is a full sentence wrapped up in one word.
It was time and I couldn’t say no.
So, we did and now it’s done.
Two feet of hair. Gone. He was absolutely ecstatic and has been every day since. He wakes up every morning and runs to the mirror to check, making sure it’s still short. He giggles and squeals with joy like he’s opening a new gift every morning.
He says “the boys will like me now and not think I’m a girl”.
This hurts my heart. I mean, I’m okay with him cutting his hair because he wants short hair, but cutting hit because he cares about what others think makes me sad. I know, at least in part, it’s because every time a boy thinks he’s a girl, it’s reenforced with comments like, “well, if you had boy hair no one would think you were a girl”. So, if I’m honest, I have to admit that even though I am happy to have honored his wishes and I am happy that he is happy, I am still mourning this situation as a whole. It’s like if someone stopped wearing their favorite shirt because someone at school kept telling them it was stupid. It’s someone who changes their interests and ideals simply to fit in, denying their true selves.
It’s peer pressure, not a real choice. I feel sad that he is only 6 and has already done something to conform to make others happy. And again, YAY that he is happy… I just wish I’d felt it really was his choice and not others’ expectations manipulating his perception.
As I was feeling down about all this, a friend of mine said something to me that I hadn’t even considered. She walked up and congratulated me on this incredibly momentous occasion.
“Um… thanks? I’m just glad he likes it” I said, and smiled.
I didn’t understand.
She continued to remind me, as a child with autism, my son recognized a social norm.
She stopped for a second to let that sink in.
It didn’t and I was feeling like I was missing something…
She continued by pointing out that he understood he was outside of that norm and wanted to take steps to be part of it.
Then, she stood back a moment with an expression that seemed to say, “OMG don’t you get how amazing this is!?”
I let that new perspective wash over me. I had never thought of it that way… I railed against the entire situation because I didn’t want him to feel like he was bowing to a social norm when I hadn’t even recognized the miracle of him recognizing a social norm!!
I had to fight my urge to just start bawling. She was right-that is huge. So, so huge!
As much as it is a sign of him growing up and gaining his own opinions, (which is hard, I think, for any mama to some extent) it’s also a sign that he is developing in ways we weren’t sure if he was going to.
It is rare for a child with autism to recognize that social norms even exist and here mine is, not only seeing that norm, but recognizing where he was in relation to it, and asking to take specific measures to bring himself closer to it.
She congratulated me. She hugged me as tried not to cry, and as she apologized for making me want to cry, she said just needed me to see how beautiful this moment really was. As much as it might make my heart ache for so many reasons… it truly is a beautiful moment, showing how far he has moved forward in this last year. She wanted to make sure I saw that, through the challenge of letting go of my own wants to give him what he needed. What he needed in this moment, was a haircut.
This moment is so much more than just “a haircut”. It’s a door opening into a whole new phase of life and I’ll admit, I’m not doing super great with it from a mama perspective.
It’s proof that we have shifted. Gone is the infant and toddler phase, the pre-school phase… our family is officially stepping into an entirely new season of our lives.
It’s terrible. It’s beautiful. It’s scary as hell and incredibly exciting all at once. I love everything about right now as much as I hate it. I want to be selfish and withhold the world from him in the exact same moment I want to show him ALL THE THINGS.
I cannot wait to see what happens next for this beautiful, young spirit who has so blessed me by being my son. I have learned, and will continue to learn from him, maybe even more than I could ever hope to teach. I am in awe of him every day and so grateful for each moment. Onward and upward, as they say… into the wild, into the crazy, open blue sky.

Can I Carry You?
Brad Anderson

I guess that I can hold you
one more time before you grow
and tell you that I love you
so that you will always know.
Please let me tie your shoe again.
One day you’ll tie your own.
And when you think back to this time
I hope it’s love I’ve shown.
Can I help you put your coat on?
Can I please cut up your meat?
Can I pull you in the wagon?
Can I pick you out a treat?
One day you might just care for me,
so let me care for you.
I want to be a part
of every little thing you do.
Tonight could I please wash your hair?
Can I put toys in the bath?
Can I help you count your small ten toes
before I teach you math?
Before you join a baseball team
can I pitch you one more ball?
And one more time can I stand near
to make sure you don’t fall?
Let’s take another space-ship ride
Up to the Planet Zoor.
Before our Cardboard Rocket
doesn’t fit us anymore.
Please let me help you up the hill.
while you’re still too small to climb.
And let me read you stories
while you’re young and have the time.
I know the day will come
when you will do these things alone.
Will you recall the shoulder rides
and all the balls we’ve thrown?
I want you to grow stronger
than your Dad could ever be.
And when you find success
there will be no soul more proud than me.
So will you let me carry you?
One day you’ll walk alone.
I cannot bear to miss one day
from now until you’ve grown.



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