People often mistake my sons for girls. I correct them gently—I use “he” or “him” instead of “she.” Still, these strangers are deeply mortified. “I’m so sorry,” they say. “I didn’t mean…” And they leave it hanging, as if to say my sons looked girly would be some type of slur.
I always brush it off. “Don’t worry about it,” I reassure them. Because when your sons have long hair, people are going to mistake them for girls. It’s part of the territory.
I’ve always liked long hair on men. I used to beg my college boyfriends to grow their hair; I spent fruitless years trying to keep my husband from the hairdresser. I loved the way long hair looked on little boys. So I knew that when I had boys, I’d grow their hair out.
Boy No. 1 almost thwarted my plans. He came out bald, and stayed that way, resolutely, for almost a year. But his hair soon started growing—except it didn’t grow straight down. Baby No. 1’s hair fuzzed out like a miniature Einstein. Baby No. 2’s hair grew out straight and shiny and perfect, and he rocks the surfer look down past his shoulders. It’s still too early to tell with Baby No. 3, but he’s working up quite a crop of beachy curls. I love them.
My mom objects. So do my in-laws, all of whom would prefer traditionally precision-cut little boy styles. My in-laws sweetly keep their mouths shut. My mother says she wishes she could march the kids down to the barber. These objections come mostly from a traditional sense of gender roles, where little boys have short hair and little girls have long hair, and Dick and Jane both live with Spot, and all is right in the world. I ignore them.
I’ve had other objections to my boys’ hair. Someone once told me they looked unkempt, and while I laughed at the time, I’ve since learned a little trim can keep hair in shape without compromising length. My oldest son’s hair did look unkempt: it fuzzed in all directions, his baby hair frizzing out the rest of it. So while it hurt, while I didn’t want to do it, I cut off his baby hair so his real hair could grow longer. He looked like a poor shorn little sheep to me. But he likes his short hair and says it’s going to grow long.
And that’s the key: My sons like their hair. My oldest says he’s growing it out. My middle son, the one with the surfer hair to his shoulders, will tell anyone who asks that he’s growing his hair down to his knees. The baby’s too young to have a say in his hair yet, but when he is, I’ll ask him. And if he says he wants his hair cut off, off it’ll come (with some sniffly tears on my part).
My middle son knows that long hair comes with some maintenance. We have to be careful things don’t get stuck in it. If that does happen, he gets a bath, and he has to get his hair washed and conditioned. Every morning, I brush his hair; some mornings, I straighten it with my straightening iron. He claims that he likes it. Either way, he knows he has to stand still.
Other kids sometimes mistake them for girls, call them “she,” or wonder why the girls are wearing Star Wars shirts. We correct them, of course, and mostly, they get it. My boys have yet to encounter the mean kid who uses their hair as an object of ridicule. Maybe that’s because boys with long hair is more common these days. Maybe it’s because I hang out around hippies.
I love their long, silky locks. I love that they, not some arbitrary dress code, decided what they wanted their hair to look like. But most of all, I love that their hair is an expression of who they are. It’s long. It’s beautiful. It’s different than what you usually see.
And that’s amazing.