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Getting Clipped

Some mothers mark the passage of time in their children's lives with the Big Moments: first teeth, report cards, first hockey goal scored, the time they caught chicken pox, and that public speaking contest that garnered second prize. Some of us see our young male brood transform into young men with changing complexions, every-other-day shaves, and that strange voice of squeaks and baritones coming at you in uneven, startling tones for both emitter and listener. I mark the usual rites of passage in haircuts.

With my eldest son, haircuts were a major event worth a fair share of Kodachrome. The haircut was done 'in town'. The trip in cost me plenty in drive-thru McDonald's, time, gas, energy and a large tip for a specialty child's hair stylist, sic, a baby-sitter sporting shears and a notable lack of patience. This place was called Hair Play. When this son was three, Hair Play inexplicably bit the dust and I had a second son, who in addition to having the lightest, downiest head of hair that hardly needed to be cut, meant trips into town were getting that much more fatiguing.

Unlike the concept of two cats being less trouble to keep than one, two sons demanded far more than simply double my maternal energy. Besides, son number two, visibly quaked at the very notion of a hair acut. At two-and-a-bit, he would sit and quivering and shivering in his heightened chair causing the lovely Chantelle to ask if he had the ague. I would have been embarrassed but my his brother, by now a veteran client, usually fell fast asleep before they even got to his sideburns and we had to prop him up to finish the cut. There was a short space of time where I brought both boys to "Hair Jungle", so that they could
play while the other one was tended to. Leaving was fraught with tantrums reminiscent of Patty Duke's performance in The Helen Keller Story and I decided that I had better things to do with my life than mind my kids on the gym equipment at the haircut place for several hours after the haircut. I could also spring for the lollipops that seemed to be the major draw. It is my humble experience that many places that specialized in do's for the juvenile, are clueless when it comes to boys' hair because so much of their focus is on entertaining their juvenile customers.

By the time my third son was still rather young, I was a single parent and haircuts again, took another turn. I had a short stint with a home hair clipper product that made a chain saw sound each time it was turned on. I studied the brochure that came with it and tentatively approached the boys with the Swellco unit. Inasmuch as I am a trained pastry chef and should have some modicum of small motor skills, I could not seem to manage an even cut. Also, each time I turned the darned thing on, it gave off an unexpected jolt of power and sound that made me clutch the counter and caused my sons to all bolt like spooked cattle.

"Maybe we should oil it or something,' I murmured one day, reading the manual again. No one answered. All three were under the kitchen table, wide-eyed, mute, and distinctly mistrusting. The Swellco Barber-At-Home was stowed away for a future yard sale.

Chronically pressed for time, I got my own hair dresser, Marilyn, to come to our home. This was a great advantage and I fairly preened with my ingenuity. Here we had a personalized service coming to our own abode. Tips were far more modest (cake, coffee and a fresh bread were part of the exchange), all three, or four heads could be done in quick time, and appointments were scheduled to our convenience. One last errand, one less task on my list. It did get kind of crazy - between Marilyn's schedule and ours - she, running from her salon to tend to us, and my sons and I - fitting cuts in between hockey, Hebrew and piano lessons, baseball, and friends and well, life. It was a feat to get all three, and sometimes me, in the same place, at the same time, and the same place in our hair growth.

A peak moment came when the only time we could all accommodate each other was once, at 7 o'clock in the morning - before the day began. Marilyn rang our bell and blearily, each son faced: the chair. (Incidentally, if you think of doing this, do keep a Dust Buster handy). In lieu of Hair Play's jungle gym, there was free TV (ours) food (bagels) and relatively good company (i.e. all the clientele were related by blood).

Well, well, well, this is great, I thought, I have hair cuts under control. There was a certain time in the evolving process of my single parenthood when I thought if I just organized myself properly, the total illogic of one person taking care of three others, running a house, and having a full time job, would go unnoticed. Home haircuts were one. Each errand economized in some way was an extra hour or two I could put into something frivolous like earning a living, doing laundry, or feeding people.

One day, my sons grew up. Oh no, not like into voting adults but into male creatures. "No more Marilyn" they affirmed. We want a man cutter. A "real barber". I had notions that their dad would take them but somehow haircuts stayed on my terrain. A couple of months ago, we found a local barber at the mall - Joe's? Vince? Louie? Good enough. Taking the three of them out is much like being an urban horse handler - they are hyper and bouncy, and jockey for position with every yard we cover. We are, shall we say, noticeable.

At the barber, there were six chairs. My sons sat down (at this time they are, and were, 7, 11, and 14) and I saw with a certain pride that they occupied half the barbershop. "They all your boys?" asked the owner kindly. "Yes". "Very nice, Madame, you did good. You don't want no girl? Yes?" "No". "That's fine, Madame, bravo. You did good".

Each son had another fellow tend to him - attentive and polite, asking each what their preference for cuts was, quietly, discretely confirming with me. Twenty minutes later, three very handsome lads twirled out of their seats and we left. I felt like a queen.

We have been back several times. Somehow, the barber knows there is no Dad around and rightly or wrongly, they seem to treat us with even more courtesy and a slight demure curiosity. For a short time, I was somewhat miffed about this - thinking taking your sons to the barber is Classic Dad Stuff. For a time, I saw many things I did with the boys in sexist terms, solo-parenting terms and these small events seemed to underscore my own unresolved feelings. But subtly, and most single parents will confirm this, you come out of a certain zone, taking on more confidence and shredding regret and blame and emerge as an entirely different sort of parent. Not better or worse as a co-parent, solo parenting just reinvents the whole concept.

Haircut time is a blessing and I get this great experience every two months. The boys look forward to it - oddly enough, it is a bonding experience for them to each other and to me and yeah, well, frankly, the interaction of adult males in their lives, albeit a trio of barbers, is a good thing. Maniacal time-manager that I am, I do not fret I am wasting time while I sit there. I am relaxed and happy not to be orchestrating everything. My sons are getting older so perhaps a lot of that nice feeling comes from the fact I am not squeezing two or three toddlers into snow suits, while paying the tip and searching for a seuss. Beyond that, seeing my boys captive in their barber chairs, gives me a chance to see how they've grown every two months.

Their hair gets clipped: snip, clip, snap, snap…deft touches of comb, clippers and scissors and hands, like wings, flutter around the nape and crown of my offspring. Their hair falls and swirls down like the leaves of autumn: Jonathan's dark, almost black straight hair, Gideon's tousled, coarse hair, the hue of clover honey, and Ben's still silky wheat colored locks. I sometimes wince - wondering if Samson's mother felt the same. Even the discarded bits of hair seem all at inconsequential but precious. I see the clippings meld in on the floor and have a flash of regret over this silliest of losses. It is hair, for goodness sake!

Done. I look up. The three barbers look at me expectantly. My boys - well, it is that time again - that moment of my-goodness-we-are-all-getting-older and they look neat for a split second. This is what a moment of joy is all about, seeing imperceptible steps towards manhood unroll before your eyes. My sons won't always come with me to the barber, nor even each other. But for now, we are here, in this moment, celebrating a rite of passage - without taking out a billboard - at the mall barbershop. I don't know why it is, but we feel most like a family in this mundane setting.

The joy thing? It lasts for two minutes. Then it is a shove, push, a squabble, I-get-the-front-seat and who-didn't-do-homework and pizza again for supper. Reality checks - gotta have 'em otherwise you could write a novel simply sitting, waiting for your sons, at the barber.

Marcy Goldman

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