How It Looks When It Tapers

My son is starting his senior year in high school on Monday. Whenever anyone asks, “How old is D. now?” and I tell them he’s in his last year, they always say, “Wow! So you must be looking at colleges?” And I say, “We’re starting the process, but he is thinking about doing a gap year.” 

And the whole time, I’m thinking, “Damn straight! Put it off as long as possible!”

I’m ready to keep D. around as long as he wants—within reason. I do tell him if he wants to take a year before going away to college, that’s fine, but no matter what, he has to be a productive member of society.

D. is on the young side—his birthday is August 31, so he’s still 16—most of the boys in his class are a year older than he is. So it’s not surprising that he’s considering community college or working for a year before launching that life of sleeping through 8:05 am classes and pulling all-nighters for mid-terms (thank goodness).

D. is my only, so I am a bit overprotective. My ex and I separated when D. was only five, so for many years, it was just D. and me against the world. Of course, now it’s D. against the world—not in a rebellious kind of way, but in an I’m-almost-a-man-I know-how-the world-works-and-don’t-tell-me-differently kind of way.

This week, D. and I went together to get our hair cut—sometimes he’ll get a quick trim while my color is processing (all those years raising him have taken the pigment right out for some reason). My hairdresser M. has been cutting his hair since he was born—literally, when D. was still in a bouncy chair, his dad used to bring him to the salon and he’d race around in his walker while his dad got a haircut.

A few weeks ago, D. told me he was thinking about getting his hair buzzed. His girlfriend and I were horrified—not because buzz cuts are bad, but because he has such nice hair. It’s light brown, blond highlights in the summer, a bit of wave to it year round, and it falls right no matter how long it is. We tried to dissuade him—I even asked him how he would feel if his girlfriend got her hair buzzed (and he didn’t seem to like that idea at all for some reason).

His hair had gotten very long—he hadn’t had it cut in several months, and his Catholic high school has a strict rule that boys’ hair can’t go past the bottom of their ears or cover the nape of their necks. So he had a firm deadline of needing a cut this weekend.

D. sat in the stylist’s chair, and she fastened a cape on him, pumping her foot to raise him up to the height of the mirror. She asked him what he wanted. He said he was thinking about a buzz cut, and she and I both gasped, “Really?” at the same time. I was hoping he had dropped the idea. D. said he was considering it because of football, and the less hair he had the cooler he’d be. But he wasn’t completely convinced he wanted to go for it, so she said she’d start by cutting it short and then see what he thought.

There ended up being so much hair on the floor after the first round that he almost could have made a donation to Locks of Love. As M. cut, the three of us talked more about to buzz or not to buzz, and he even asked me, “What do you think?”. I just kept saying, “It’s your head, it’s your hair, do what you want.” I even heard myself say, “It will look good no matter what you do,” and “What about you shave it all off?”. Secretly, I was thinking, “please don’t buzz it!”

Once M. finished what she fondly called “Haircut Number One,” he looked carefully at it, and said, “I’m going to do it!”

I shruggled, and M. said, “Okay! Haircut Number Two!”. She pulled out her different clipper attachments, and told us that Zac Efron was wearing his hair that way now anyway, and she always thought D. looked like Zac Efron. We laughed about that—she once saved a People magazine to show me a picture of Zac when he was in High School Musical and said all the ladies in the salon were talking about how D. looked like a young Zac.

M. started buzzing over the top, and partway through, threatened to leave a pseudo-mullet. But when she began working on the back, with D.’s chair turned so his profile was in the mirror, I felt myself start to cry. I knew that hairline, that profile. Only this time it wasn’t blond, and it wasn’t on a six-year-old boy, but it was brown, and the face under it was not my little kid, but a young man.

Because D. was turned sideways, he could see me—he studied me carefully. When he saw the tears running down my cheeks, he said, “What?”

I’m sure he was thinking, “There goes my crazy mother.”

But I hadn’t seen that his forehead, that hairline since he was six or seven. It caught me off guard. That buzz cut was shaped the same, looked the same at the edges, only this time it was on a man, not on a little boy.

It was on this young man that I sort of know. I know him, and yet not really. I don’t know who he is becoming or where he is going or what he will look like when he gets there. And I don’t know how all of that will affect he and I—who we are together. Andy by the way, there really isn’t as much of an “us together” anyway. Now, it’s he and his girlfriend, he and his path, he and whatever his vision quest is going to be. And I’m just on the sidelines, sitting there with color in my hair, pretending I’m younger than I am, pretending that not everything is going to change in the next year or two. Pretending, just for now, that everything will be how it always was.

And yet D. somehow knows it’s different—that big changes are coming. He probably thinks about it far more than I even know. Maybe that’s why he wanted to get a buzz cut. It’s the beginning of a new era—and sometimes, one must dramatically mark such an occasion.

Note: The picture above is of D. on his first day of school of first grade. I told him I will have to take a picture tomorrow so I can compare. I think he’ll humor me.