Sunday, September 19, 2010


In becoming a mother, I knew there would be a variety of roles I would have to assume, including teacher, nurse, cook, and chauffeur. The one job I had never anticipated having to learn was barber. As I was cutting Alex’s hair the other day, I realized that I have been his personal hair stylist for more than fifteen years now. Fortunately, he likes the way I cut his hair, and his hair is easy to manage, straight and medium in texture—pretty much the same as mine, even in its color. The only tricky part is dealing with a couple of cowlicks he has, but I have learned to tame them over the years. The best part about cutting Alex’s hair is not the money that we save by my doing it for free, but his cooperation and even contentment as I trim his hair. He is always ready and willing to have his hair cut and seems to look forward having it done every four to six weeks. He’ll sometime come and ask me to cut his hair even when it doesn’t really need a trim, and I have to assure him that his hair is fine. As I cut his hair, he sits as still as a stone, yet he seems pleased to have me working on him. This calm attitude lies in sharp contrast to his earliest experiences with having his hair cut.

When he was little, we took Alex to the barber exactly three times before deciding this was not an option for him. The first time, I took him to an elderly gentleman who was very sweet with Alex and his tears all during the haircut, but he seemed to feel bad that Alex was upset. The next time I took him with my dad to my dad’s barber, who gave Alex a good haircut despite his constant crying. This barber, however, scolded Alex for crying, which put me on the verge of tears. The next time, I told Ed that he could take Alex to the barber since I found it heart-wrenching to watch him sob during his haircut. This time was apparently the worst for Alex because he came home with his face and eyes red and bits of freshly-cut hair mixed with tears and snot all over his face from crying so hard. Ed, upset by Alex’s tantrum, was not eager to take Alex back to the barber again after that experience. All three of these times at the barber occurred before we knew that Alex had autism, and looking back, I’m sure he was having meltdowns because of sensory overload, probably from the buzzing of the hair clippers and perhaps from the pulling of his hair as it was cut. Nonetheless, I decided that we would either have to let his hair grow, or I would have to learn how to cut a boy’s standard haircut. Opting for the latter choice, I bought a home hair cutting set with clippers and attachments, scissors, and a video showing how to cut hair. In my usual fashion, I watched the video several times, even pausing to write down notes and draw diagrams, before I was ready to tackle Alex’s hair. Because he had been so upset by his other haircuts, I knew that I would have to work fast and hoped that Alex wouldn’t be too hysterical, and I prayed that the first haircut I gave him wouldn’t be awful. Thankfully, the tips I’d learned from the video helped, and his haircut actually turned out fine. The most surprising thing, however, was that Alex never cried or became upset the entire time I cut his hair. Moreover, he was more cooperative than one would expect from a very young boy, and I was grateful that this was a pleasant experience for both of us.

Through the years, he has continued to be congenial during our home haircuts. When the weather is warm, we trim his hair on the screened porch, and when the weather is cold, our kitchen doubles as a barber shop. He and I like to listen to country music CD’s while I shear the back and sides of his head with clippers and trim the top with scissors. Sometimes he will play handheld electronic games to entertain himself during the haircut, pausing at times to brush off stray hairs that have dropped onto his game screen. For many years, I used an old towel with a hole cut in the middle for his head to keep the clippings off his clothes, but now we have a hairdresser’s cape that I bought at a beauty supply store, which works much better than the towel ever did. In all the years I’ve been cutting Alex’s hair, I’ve only had one minor mishap. As I was using clippers, they became stuck in a tangle, pulling off the haircutting guide comb, and he wound up with a small bald patch in the back of his head. Fortunately, a ball cap covered it nicely until it grew back, which didn’t take long. We never told him about it, so he was none the wiser. Now his main concern is that he has enough hair left in the front to twist with his fingers while he is thinking, but he prefers that the rest of his hair be kept short, which makes hair care easier for him. Every time I cut his hair with good results, I’m pleased that I was able to learn a skill I’d never thought I’d have to master out of necessity.

“I will be your God throughout your lifetime—until your hair is white with age. I made you, and I will care for you. I will carry you along and save you.” Isaiah 46:4

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