I’m Secretly a Barber

Around the time Calum was about a year and a half old, his hair was becoming pretty shaggy, but it was so beautiful. It had finally morphed from the scraggily mullet he sported for the first year or so of life, into a luscious blonde mop atop his head. The back of his hair was getting much longer, probably three quarters of the way down his neck, when we agreed to cut it. There was a strategy meeting between Mike and I on what to do about a first haircut. We decided, in order to avoid the butchered look so many little kids get at the barber, that we would invest in an $11 pair of haircutting scissors, and that I would perform a few subtle snips.

I set things up at the house as close to a real barber shop as possible. I took one of our counter stools, which are industrial style with a large, adjustable screw at the base of the seat to change the height, and I jacked it up to the highest setting. I seated Calum on top, wrapped a towel around his little shoulders, and gave him a lollipop and an iPhone. Despite my effort to keep him still, the operation was conducted on a moving target. The first haircut actually went fairly well despite my squirmy client; I cleaned up the back a little, left the top long, and sent him on his way. He thanklessly zeroed me on a tip.

Since then, only I have ever trimmed Calum’s locks. I announce to friends and family anytime he has a haircut and wait for them to say, “It looks good!”, which is what every normal person says about someone else’s haircut to their face, no matter how shitty it turns out, and then I proudly announce that I am his stylist. Admittedly, there have been a few screw-ups along the way, and I haven’t quite mastered the fade of a boy’s hair but, most of the time, they have been alright…and free.

At the time of his diagnosis he was not quite toe-headed, but a beautiful light blonde so, when we realized his hair would all fall out from his chemotherapy, I was pretty bummed. We motored on nevertheless and added to our home barber shop investment with a pair of buzzers. After the first couple weeks of his treatment, we preemptively shaved his head in order to avoid the emotion of watching his hair come out in clumps. We realized however that, although his hair thinned out quite a bit and drastically changed to a coarse, hay-like texture, it wasn’t totally falling out. It wasn’t until his fifth and sixth months of treatment, where he received his most powerful chemotherapies, that he lost all his hair. I remember one evening giving him a bath and seeing his hair glistening in the water. I ran my fingers through it and, this time, it effortlessly detached from his scalp in chunks. I was really upset by the visual representation of his illness, but again marched on and took the buzzers to his head the very next morning to bring it all the way down. Little by little, the tiny remaining hairs shed and only a light layer of peach fuzz was left covering his head. Lucky for us, Calum is only a little boy and, in addition to the fact that he hardly noticed his hair was gone, he could wear a baseball cap without sacrificing any gender norms. It took about a month or two after that treatment cycle ended for his hair to start coming back, but I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly it returned and also by the fact that his hair, though now a very dirty blonde, had regained the silkier, softer texture it once possessed. The maternal ritual of breathing in my son through the scent of his hair could finally resume. I could experience, once again, that euphoric rush that only a mother knows when she buries her nose into their hair and smells her own children.

Lately, particularly in the last couple of months with the kids being in school and life returning to such a more normal version of itself, things have been monumentally easier both emotionally and logistically. Calum had his fifth birthday this past weekend and even had a party with friends from school. It was like a dream come true. This type of normal just felt so far away when Calum’s hair was falling out last year, so when I noticed a lot of loose hair on the back of Calum’s shirt this past Sunday, it startled me.  I ran my fingers through it to examine, and was shocked to see all the small hairs between my fingers. His hair was falling out again, and this isn’t really supposed to be happening at this stage of treatment. Last month his dosages were increased to account for his height and weight changes, which may be the reason behind it, but we weren’t prepared for another round of hair loss. I don’t know what is going to happen. Perhaps since his medications are lighter than they used to be, he won’t lose the whole head of hair again, but we have to just wait and see at this point. It’s been hard on me because, right when I felt like life was getting easier, and even though it is getting easier, we got this tough reminder that Calum’s body is still being infused with poison regularly. It’s already been going on for so long, and we’re only a little over halfway done. I have recently noticed that, when he wakes up nauseous and needs to throw up, he is now tall enough to have to kneel down in front of the toilet, where for so long, he was small enough to stand. Still though, I am reminded we are so lucky. I cried last week as I saw Faye jump from my bed to rub Calum’s back at the toilet one morning. Though he’s still not through this battle, though he’s still throwing up and losing his hair, he is here and many haircuts by mom await him. He just turned five and he is so happy and, despite the tough days, so am I.

5 thoughts on “I’m Secretly a Barber

  1. oh man, i am weeping reading this and just loving every word you write. you’re amazing and so is Cal and what a sweet sister Faye has become, they will always share a special bond. she has been instrumental in getting him through this time i am sure. love you all xxxxx

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What a remarkable writer and even more remarkable mother you are. I am so moved and so inspired by your essays…,Cal MSU not know it yet, but the rest of us know how lucky he is to have the gift of YOU as his mom. You are an incredible power of example to me.

    Liked by 1 person

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