Update: A version of story has been published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: New Moms. Check it out!
Today I took Isaac in to get a haircut. I love our little local shop and it is just a few short blocks away from our house and provides a perfect outing walk. As I was walking to the shop I remembered Isaac’s first haircut. I think every parent looks on their child’s multitude of firsts with love, pride, and happiness. I wish I could do the same with Isaac’s first haircut.
It started out on a cold morning soon after his first birthday. Tyler and I had decided that it was probably time for Isaac to get his hair cut for the first time. He looked a bit like a roughed up hippy and while we found it cute we had gotten a few polite comments from family members that alerted us to the fact that it looked “shaggy” and “unkempt.” Social pressure led us to believe that by not cutting our son’s hair we were making a statement against the establishment and we didn’t want to seem Un-American. Off we trotted to a salon that specialized in children’s hair. “Make you child’s first haircut memorable” it boasted. That was what we wanted, so we swaggered into the shop and proudly announced that it was our son’s first haircut.
If I was expecting balloons and a parade I would have been greatly disappointed when a girl unexcitedly pointed to a sign that read “please sign in.” I looked around and there was nobody in the shop. My husband and I were baffled, but figured they must have lots of appointments and a busy schedule so we signed our son’s name. The girl was sporting a nice skeleton tattoo on her arm along with her short spiky black hair and extra thick mascara. She was sipping a Snapple while she watched a TV over in the corner above one of the styling stations. The sneer on her face did little to assure me of her ability to work well with children, as I would expect any shop specializing in children would provide.
Tyler and I looked eyed each other while we tried to communicate with our special marital telepathic abilities. “Should we go?” I tried to wiggle with my brows in Morse code. “No, too awkward to leave now” he shrugged and coughed in wordless response. I did notice him eye the door longingly. Isaac began to fidget and wanted to play with the toys in the waiting room. Several of the books were chewed around the corners. Perhaps this was done by some feral child who had been dragged in from the wilderness by a concerned family member to get a haircut, I mused. I knew some people who would do this for animals and then release them back out into the wild.
The girl finished her Snapple and then calmly walked over to the counter. She checked the sign in sheet “uh…Isaac?” she asked as she looked all around the (empty) room. My husband jumped up and presented Isaac to her. “It’s his first hair cut!” I announced proudly. She looked unamused and asked, “Which chair do you want him to sit in? We only have one that is for really young kids.”
I quickly thought about this choice. Was it a trick question? I appreciated her illusion of choice though, first ask me where I wanted him to sit then direct me to the only choice available: brilliant! The chair she directed us to was a seat that resembled a battered circus elephant and was about four feet off the ground. It had a little bench for him to sit on, but no back and the place where he could stick his feet was too shallow. It also lacked a seat belt, but I could see evidence of where one used to be. It was frayed around the edges; the feral child had already been here. And it seems he escaped.
Lacking any sort of safety mechanisms, my husband bravely volunteered to hold our son in place while she cut his hair. After a moment the girl agreed. But she warned: “don’t get in the way ok, my scissors are really sharp.” Yikes, was that a threat? I suddenly began to worry for my husband’s safety. I hoped he wouldn’t try anything shifty, “no sudden movements” I tried to telepath to him, but he was looking away. Darn it, he was on his own.
My husband began to lift Isaac into the seat and as he was doing so I noticed that the seat was covered in hair. There was brown hair, blond hair, and some others mixed in between. Gross! Either the seat had not been cleaned for a few appointments or the calico feral child running around Chico with a well gnawed on copy of ‘Goodnight Moon’ clutched in his jaw had immediately preceded us. I quickly stopped my husband from putting Isaac in the seat. I hoped this didn’t qualify as getting in her way, her scissors did look pretty sharp right about then. “Could you maybe clean off the seat first?” I asked timidly. She looked inside the seat and let out a huff followed by an eye roll. I don’t know if she was annoyed by my request or angry at the hair for not blowing off magically on its own.
When the hair was cleared we continued with our goal: finally our son’s first hair cut! It was already proving to be the memorable experience that they had promised us. I couldn’t wait to see what kinds of memories the actual haircut would provide.
She began with a few snips and then grabbed the buzz cutter. As the buzz cutter hummed away my son started eyeing the thing with desperate concern. His little chest was rising up and down dramatically and already his lip was starting to protrude out in warning that he was about to cry. “Maybe not the buzz cutter today,” I suggest. She barely took her eyes off the television program she was watching as she replied, “Can’t do that, we have to use them.” Huh, I didn’t have any experience with hair cutting, so I was unaware that certain utensils were required. I wondered what they did before the invention of the buzz cutter; perhaps this is why long hair was so fashionable then? I would have to google that when I got home.
Isaac began to cower into my husband as she came closer. When his head was completely buried into my husband’s chest the girl gave out an annoyed sigh. “I can’t get to his hair from there.” My husband tried to move away in hopes to expose some of Isaac’s head for her to work with, but Isaac’s death grip coupled with my husband’s security lock on his body was not providing any entry. I tried to help, but we all had little success and by this time Isaac was wailing and trembling. Isaac’s first haircut doubled as his first traumatic experience. We were doing a great job as parents racking up the first experiences today.
Someone was holding him down, another was prying his head from a safe location and someone else was coming at him with sharp objects that were fashioned after implements of torture. The buzzer squealed and hummed in the background. I tried to dash away all the Sweeney Todd musical numbers and scenes that kept popping inappropriately into my head.
I tried to suggest more forcefully “Can we try to just use the scissors?” The girl was exasperated now. “It will take longer,” she grunted. She didn’t look happy to be the one serving us and continued to go at Isaac with her tools. He screamed and cried and fussed, but she battled on with her task with what would have been gusto, but for the utter lack of enthusiasm. I kept interjecting suggestions here and there and she would assure me that those suggestions would not work for some reason or another.
Finally we were done, and Isaac’s face was red and wet, and he still had a look of horror. I stood shocked with my mouth open at the whole event, while my husband’s face turned various shades of red. I could tell the experience of holding down our screaming son had triggered his fight or flight response. Meanwhile, the girl brought out her most torturous instrument of all and in the most sarcastically excited voice I had yet heard her utter she exclaimed “Smile” and I heard the hollow click and whine of a classic Polaroid. The flash blinded all three of us. If I ever am able to wipe this memory from my temporal cortex, I now have a picture to remind me and place all those horrible memories right back in there.
She gathered up some locks of hair off the floor and haphazardly plucked out the brown hairs that most obviously didn’t belong to my son. When it seemed she was pleased with her selection of blond hairs she taped them on to a yellow photocopied certificate and signed her name. She promptly misspelled Isaac’s name by giving him two s’ instead of two a’s and asked us how to spell “Smith” so she can get it right on the certificate. I didn’t correct her, since I was getting excited thinking about being freed from this place. I thought back to the chewed books and began to understand the stress children go through in this shop and forgave them their transgressions. I mildly wondered if I could chew on a few books while I waited for my husband to finish paying. She pasted on the picture with an Elmer’s glue stick and I realized that the smell of the glue that used to bring me lovely memories of school projects will forever be associated with this trauma.
We loaded up in the car and both my husband and I were speechless. Our son was still whimpering in the back seat. I decided that just this once I would allow him to use the pacifier I stash for naptime emergencies. He took it with a shaky hand that resembled a deprived smoker lighting up. I glanced in the window of the shop and saw the girl already back in her stool and enjoying what was left of her Snapple.
Just then we saw a happy couple walking toward the shop with their smiling little preschool girl. I had the urge to be a good citizen and warn them, but before I could roll down the window my husband was speeding away.
I turned to him instead and said, “Let’s never go back there.” He looked at me with appreciation and replied, “Somehow I knew you would say that.” As the shop faded into the distance the Polaroid began to slowly reveal the picture of the shock and horror that was our son’s first haircut.
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