Like anyone with a crush, I know I should play it cool. I shouldn’t gab about the object of my affection or stare like a love-struck fool. But I can’t help myself. The fact is, I’m crazy about my 4-year-old son’s hair.
My own crowning glory is — well, less than glorious. Straight, fine, and unremarkable, it’s never curled or bounced without chemical or mechanical intervention, an enterprise I abandoned long ago. This was the hair I expected to see on my own children. Sure enough, my first boy was born with hair that was straight, fine and unremarkable, just like mine.
The genetic roll of the dice that produced my kids involved another player, of course.
Ever since I’ve known him, my husband has kept his dark hair close-cropped. But I’ve perused the evidence in my mother-in-law’s photo albums and the stack of high school yearbooks she keeps on the shelf.
The pictures show a skinny guy with a goofy smile and the hair I’ve always craved. Thick, springy curls cascade from his head in those old snapshots, the kind of hair people claim is “wasted on a guy.” That guy’s genes, I can only surmise, are responsible for my second son’s hair. Hair that hasn’t been seen on my side of the family tree for a good long time.
Unlike his brother, Nate was born with a headful of wispy fuzz. I couldn’t bring myself to cut it until he was 2. By then the wisps stuck out crazily in every direction. A friend urged me to get out the shears. “It’s time,” she said firmly. When I balked, she used the phrase “electrified chicken” to describe my toddler’s head.
Shorn of the wisps, Nate looked older, almost manly, in the vulnerable way of small boys. But soon, to my surprise, little bouncy spirals began to sprout from his head. I regarded them with fascination. I’d never seen such hair up close, never imagined curls like these could possibly be related to me.
When Nate confided at age 3 that he wanted to let his hair grow long, like a cool, older kid at preschool, I could barely tamp down my excitement.
One year later, my boy has a riot of curls hanging to his shoulders in perfect, golden corkscrews. They bounce when he walks; they spring back like an old-fashioned telephone cord when gently tugged. I can’t keep my hands off them.
Yet even as I accept the compliments of strangers (yes, he does resemble Shirley Temple, now that you mention it), I’m conscious of my shaky position, poised atop one of parenthood’s notorious slippery slopes. It’s one thing to rejoice in attributes my kids possess that I lacked. (I couldn’t be happier, for example, that my second grader thinks math is easy.) But parental pride can so easily slip into possessiveness.
As I run my fingers through Nate’s hair, I remember the curls I yearned for, growing up. Now, at last, I’ve got them. True, those ringlets aren’t mine, not exactly. But I can’t deny that my investment in my son’s hair is as proprietary as it is aesthetic. It’s an uncomfortable realization. I don’t want to be the kind of mother who boxes her child into a narrow vision of who he should be — or what he should look like.
Not that my boys will let that happen. Like all parents, I know my children will eventually embark on activities I hesitate to endorse. Despite my position that jumping out of airplanes is a Very Bad Idea, Nate is remarkably consistent in his ambition to skydive. And I’m pretty sure that one day, like his father, he’ll to want to cut those curls. When that day arrives, I’m determined to hand over the scissors — metaphorically speaking — with as much grace as I can muster.
Until then, I’ll try to keep my crush to myself.
Kate Haas publishes Miranda, a zine about motherhood and other adventures. Her writing has appeared in Salon; Brain, Child; Babble; and the Toronto Star. A former Peace Corps volunteer and high school English teacher, she is currently a freelance editor in Portland, Oregon, where she lives with her family. Read more about Kate at katehaas.com.