Four weeks ago, my oldest son Blue had his bar mitzvah. If you’ve been through this with your child, you’ll surely recall the pride you felt as you watched him in his shining moment. If you haven’t, you may know something about it: the years of Hebrew School, the six months of lessons, the preparation at home, the impromptu belting of prayers in the shower, the ridiculous cost of the party. I went through all of this, but now that I’m four weeks away from the frenzy of scrambling for an extra favor for the kid whose soccer tournament got rescheduled at the last minute enabling him to come (by the way, I pledge my allegiance to anyone starting a movement to outlaw favors), and buying a cart full of two-liter soda bottles because the caterer doesn’t do “kid drinks,” I realize that one of the most fulfilling moments for me had nothing to do with the service or the party.
It happened on the preceding Tuesday, October 23rd, at around 4:00. Tuesday is our only free day with no Hebrew School or sports or dinner at the boys’ cousins’ house. That’s when we shop for suits (when we have to) and see the doctor for well visits. This particular Tuesday we had carved out for pre-Jewish-rite-of-passage haircuts, which may not seem like a big deal. Lots of boys have their heads shaped and sideburns shaved in advance of a big event.
Not my Blue. This is a child who grew his hair for thirteen months, Blanket Jackson style, just because, and because I let him – two months in, I didn’t think it was a battle worth fighting, and sometime around four months it became a righteous cause bigger than both of us. Anyway, G and I ultimately got him to ditch the Blanket look in exchange for some high priced wooden bats from Disneyworld. Subsequent to this bartered-for haircut, he promptly let the locks grow again.
As I was planning Blue’s bar mitzvah and working as hard to nail down t-shirts sizes for 80 children (some of whom, post-party, I’ve still never met) as he was on his Haftorah, I let him know that there was one bar mitzvah present from him I wanted: a haircut. I braced myself for an “are you serious,” a “wow mom,” an elegant yet simple “no,” or tomatoes flying toward my face. Much to my surprise – and I’m still not sure how it happened – he said okay.
As that all important Tuesday drew nearer, I gave him gentle reminders, trying to walk the fine line between making sure he knew it was almost showtime and not overdoing it lest he get spiteful and call the whole thing off. He didn’t falter. Maybe my acquiescing on the photo booth guilted him into it. Whatever it was, I didn’t care. That Tuesday, I took my boys to Supercuts, where Dimples had had a haircut he liked right before school started. The few times I’ve taken Blue to an upscale salon, the haircuts haven’t been that great, so I went for straightforward, familiar and no appointment necessary. The lovely woman to whom I owe, well, my happiness, sat him down in the chair and walked around him. She walked around again. And again. She was a longtime Supercutter, so I was confident she could do the job, but this was, to put it mildly, a thick head of hair, and she wanted to be sure how she was going to approach it. She knew he had a huge weekend coming up.
I looked at Blue for signs of hesitation or reversal, but he was in. After many laps around the chair, this wonderful woman took the razor to him and chunks of coarse, brown hair fell hard to the floor. It was a shocking sight, but Blue didn’t back out. I made eye contact with him through the mirror and he was smiling, a little, just enough that I felt my eyes well up and had to turn away. Like the sun, he was too bright, too close. I was the most emotional I had been in all of these countdown days. Forget the meeting with the Rabbi or the realization that this major event was upon us. Blue told me he would do something that had the potential to make him self-conscious, uncomfortable and unable to recognize himself on the eve of the biggest day of his life, and he was following through.
This blessed woman spent 45 minutes sculpting and crafting, pruning and fine-tuning, until Blue had morphed from your run of the mill, undistinguishable overly hairy teenager to a young man whose gorgeous light eyes I could see, and whose short hair made him seem older and taller (even Dimples, loathe to give a brotherly compliment, said so). Now, I could look. I couldn’t stop looking. I also walked around him, checking him out from all angles, reacquainting myself with his neck, his forehead. I asked if he was okay. I bought him gel. His mood was even, kind of hard to read…certainly not overjoyed, but nowhere near despondent. I too tried to play it cool, but felt anything but. When we got in the car, I asked if he could see himself keeping his hair short and he said that as soon as his bar mitzvah was over, he would start growing it again. He did this for me, purely because I asked him to. He took his inalienable adolescent right of self-absorption and turned it on its head, turned his head toward the buzzer and never looked back.
Liz Kingsley lives in Westfield with her girlfriend and their five children. During the day, she teaches Special Education and Basic Skills at a local elementary school, writes poetry and columns about her family, and directs The Writers Studio. At night, she collapses from exhaustion.
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