The Blessing of a Bad Haircut

As published in The Rye Record on November 8, 2012

From the first time I cut the crusts off a peanut butter sandwich, I have been chewing on this thought: By doing too much for our kids, we’re probably doing too little. Seldom has this been more apparent to me than on a recent Saturday at Frank’s Barber Shop. I made my normal comedic entrance, dragging my 13-year-old son, whose hair had recently grown past Lacrosse Flow and was speeding toward Crystal Gayle. The young barber motioned us toward chair number one and asked me what I wanted done with my son’s hair. Too cool to be characterized as That Kind of Mom, I told him, “Whatever he wants, it’s not my hair.”

The haircut was halfway over when a 10-year-old boy walked in all alone, and I immediately realized that I actually was That Kind of Mom. What in the world was I doing there, supervising my teenage son’s haircut? It wasn’t as if I had nothing else to do. Our food supplies were down to two eggs and a packet of soy sauce, I had a pile of laundry in the basement the size of my Volvo, and a little exercise wouldn’t have killed me. Yet I was sitting at the barbershop, watching his haircut as I did when he was 2.

I focused on this other boy and imagined his knowing mother dropping him at the curb with nothing but his own survival skills and a $20 bill. I wondered if this was his first time or if he’d been master of his own hair for years. I admired that mom, for her wisdom and for all of the things she was allowing this child to learn by letting him fend for himself.

First of all, he had mastered the art of walking into a room filled with strangers. The most confident of us still struggle with this, being the one to swing the door open to a row of turned heads and judging eyes. Once inside, he had to make eye contact and announce his intention to have his hair cut in order to secure his place in line. This is no small task for the under-70 pound set.

Once in the chair, he told the barber exactly what he wanted. No mumbling, no shrugging. This convinced me that the quickest cure for “I don’t care” is a visit to the barbershop. The stakes are high and the consequences last three to four weeks.

I’ve been lecturing my kids for years about speaking up and expressing themselves, when all I needed to do was let them gaze into the barbershop mirror to see the price of indifference. Imagine a whole generation of children who are just one Prince Valiant cut away from embracing verbal communication.

And how about a free vocabulary lesson? Try to explain to your kids the difference between a couple, a few, and several and watch their eyes glaze over. But when the barber asks if they want several inches cut off, and they shrug in ignorance, they are in for a visual demonstration that will be immortalized on picture day.

I don’t know who that brave kid was, but I do know that he got a great haircut — and that I want to meet his parents. Someday he’s going to choose a university, a spouse, a necktie. And he’ll do it with the assurance of a guy who knows how to ask for a “Number Two buzz cut”