[What I had for breakfast today: egg and rice and fermented greens, again. What I had for breakfast yesterday: nothing, because regret. Read on for an explanation.]
In the winter of 2007, while I was in my third year of graduate school, still living in New York and had just started dating Adam, I was both in need of a haircut and low on funds for holiday gifts. I saw an ad on Craigslist offering sixty dollars in exchange for six inches of hair, and I thought, Perfect! I'll get a haircut AND money to buy presents!
This is a thing normal people do, right? I mean, go to the apartment of a random Craigslist poster and let him do things to your head with sharp pointy things. You've done that, right?
No. You have not, because you are smarter than I was then. To keep the story short, I left the random Craigslist guy's apartment with three twenties in my coat pocket, thoroughly creeped out, and with about a full foot length's less hair than I went in with. I'd needed the haircut because my hair was down to my waist, but I walked out with hair above my shoulders. And I wept, walking along the cold, crowded Garment District streets. I called my sister, and I called Adam, and I called a bunch of friends, and everyone was very nice and said great things like "it'll grow back so fast!" and "you look great no matter what!" and "I know a stylist that'll make you happy to have short hair!" and all the kind things that people should say when you have a terrible haircut.
But none of it soothed me. For weeks, I cringed every time I looked in the mirror. I woke up and went to sleep soaked in remorse. The cut was on my mind at work, in class, out with friends. I talked about my hair endlessly, obnoxiously. I can't believe the people that were my friends back that are still my friends today. I mean I was the worst.
And through it all, I kept asking myself (and the extraordinarily tolerant people all around me) why I was so bothered. I was an assistant intern at my school clinic by this point, which means I'd cared for people who'd been in horrible car accidents, were struggling through cancer treatments, had been abused by the people they trusted most. There was no reason a botched haircut should rate so highly on my list of troubles.
And meanwhile, why was I so vain? Didn't I believe people shouldn't be judged on their appearances? Couldn't I make myself feel okay about this one part of my body not looking the way I thought it should look?
I thought a lot about why my hair mattered so much to me. I wondered if it was about cultural identity. About sexual freedom. About claiming my own appearance as a way to feel more control over my life. I still don't have a good answer, other than maybe I am just really vain.
So then two nights ago, I cut Kamal's hair. I just wanted to trim his bangs a little, get them out of his eyes, so that he didn't have to keep looking up at me from underneath them.
Here's where we ended up.
I don't know how I managed to take a good two inches of hair off when I'd meant to cut only a quarter of an inch. I don't know what happened. I do know that the minute I realized what I'd done, my stomach dropped and my palms sweated, just like they did after random Craigslist guy finally handed me a mirror.
I smiled at Kamal and told him how nice it was to see his lovely face. Meanwhile, my body was having a full-blown freakout. No matter how many times I told myself "it's just hair, it'll grow back, he's cute no matter what, don't teach him that appearance is important," I felt--and I'm embarrassed to tell you that this is not hyperbole--devastated. I felt panicked, bereft, and regretful to the point of pain. My heart raced, my guts roiled, my skin grew clammy.
And I knew, intellectually, that a lot of kids have had and survived a dreadful Mom-haircut. But I couldn't stop myself from spinning out about it, to the point I had trouble both sleeping and eating--which is beyond silly, I realize. My reaction was more appropriate to something like having accidentally harmed Kamal, in a real and serious way. I know families all over the world, and in my own neighborhood, are facing actual problems, life-threatening problems. I know a haircut on a four-year-old is not an actual problem and doesn't even deserve comparison to the kinds of things children are called to confront in our time. And yet, my emotions were doing their own thing, wreaking havoc all over my body.
So what is it about hair? Why does it incite such strong feelings? I know I'm not alone here--I know other parents have wept over their children's hair too, and I know other grownups have had haircuts they grievously regretted. But it's a regenerating tissue. It grows back, relatively quickly, compared to the way the rest of our body grows.
I have so many things to be grateful for. So many! That Kamal is healthy and happy (and could not care less what his hair looks like, because he's FOUR), that Adam is everything Adam is, that the garden is full to bursting of food and flowers. All those things, and a million more. And Kamal's funny bangs do not change any of those things. But I still feel something stronger than chagrin when I look at photos of his long bangs, and then I feel silly for feeling it, and, well, hopefully I'll be able to start feeling more logically in the weeks before his bangs grow back out.