The year my 6-year-old son found freedom in an unconventional haircut
Our five-year-old son David had been begging us for a Mohawk haircut for almost a year, since the end of last summer. But as a budding kindergartener, we didn't want him to start his school career branded by a wild haircut. My husband Peter and I figured David would forget all about his unusual coiffeur request when next June rolled around, but no such luck.
To David, summer meant one thing: Mohawk.
Soon after the last day of school, David embarked upon a campaign for his new hairstyle. On July 5, Peter and I relented. Bill Brooks, who has a barber shop on Main Street in our town of Rosendale, took the task at hand quite seriously, studying David's little coconut head in the mirror, turning it this way and that. In a few seconds, my son's golden-brown locks began falling to his shoulders and littering the linoleum.
When I looked into David's angelic face, I barely knew him. Except for his unmistakable smile ? and David was beaming ? my child was almost unrecognizable.
At first, I didn't understand the entire significance of David's Mohawk but slowly it became apparent. This seemingly small decision was a mammoth one in an almost six-year-old's life ? he finally had a say over something, even if it were just his own head.
Grade schoolers trod through a world in which they are constantly being told where, when and how to sit, how loud to talk, what and when to eat. For David, the freedom to choose how to wear his hair was huge. Picking such an unconventional do was a blatant statement of his individuality.
Maybe it was my imagination but I could swear David was swaggering about puffed out proudly like a mini peacock. He had always been an active, wildly joyous boy, and this new haircut seemed to perfectly reflect his ebullient personality.
In McDonald's, David politely said, "Thank you" to a tattooed biker who muttered, "Nice haircut, man."
Too bad his grandma didn't agree. "I'm going to give you a smack when I see you!" my mother-in-law said to me when we sent David to Florida for a visit. I suppose he didn't look so cute and cuddly anymore.
But it wasn't just my mother-in-law who voiced this sort of disapproval. I noticed parents of tow-headed, curly-haired toddlers flashing looks of mild horror when they caught sight of David zooming through the playground. "How could you give your son a Mohawk?" one astounded parent came right out and asked.
"Why not?" I shot back. "It's his hair."
We didn't let David get a Mohawk for biker boys' approval or for shock value. We let David do it for himself. Long after the Mohawk was gone one important thing would remain: the self-confidence that comes with having made an independent decision. And that tiny sliver of freedom of expression would make all the difference.
Sometimes David wanted to wear his hair spiked like a brazen rooster. Sometimes he wore it fluffy and downy like a baby chick. He wore his Mohawk to summer camp (where another older camper sported one too; they considered each other with knowing nods) and to Vacation Bible School.
David's Mohawk said that he was a free spirit, that he'd made an unconventional choice which he thought through and stood by. It told me that when my son grew up, he would be strong, unique, resolute and would do all right for himself. He was already well on his way.
So, it was with a bit of sadness that I said goodbye to the sun-bleached fringe of hair running down the center of David's scalp when he got his school haircut this autumn. 2005 was the summer David taught himself to swim, ride a two-wheeler without training wheels and learned to read. This was our Mohawk Summer. And there will never be another one exactly like it.
Will David decide to get a Mohawk again next year? I don't know. Maybe he'll opt for an electric orange mane this time. But there's one thing I do know: hair grows in and bright colors fade, but a healthy sense of self lasts a lifetime.
Cathy M. Brown is a freelance writer who lives in Brooklyn and Binnewater
(outisde Rosendale) with her husband and six-year-old son.