She wanted to grow her hair out long, to look like a mermaid, like “a real ballerina.” These gendered ideas got in her head, and she refused any time we offered her a haircut.
Then, yesterday, with no warning, my 4-year-old started cutting her own hair with my sewing scissors.
I’ve changed my hair many times, and it’s almost always been an outward sign of my inward angst, a way to recreate myself, to deal with changes outside of my control, to have something I can control: my own body.
Sometimes a haircut is just a haircut, but what about when it’s not?
Age four has been quite a parenting challenge, harder for me than everything except the very beginning. She was very verbal very early; this ability to communicate allowed her to get what she wanted more often. When we couldn’t do things her way, I could explain why; she could understand, and she trusted me.
Lately, even though she understands, even though she believes me, she often struggles, just to see how it will play out: What if I refuse to brush my teeth? What if I pee my pants on purpose? What if I keep climbing on Dada, even though he said No?
I understand it’s all developmentally normal, but damn, is it hard. And it’s hard for her too. What does a 4-year-old have to feel angsty about? How about everything.
Kids feel so powerless. My husband and I do everything we can to empower her, to only let our power overrule hers if we have a really good reason. And that’s why, when she started randomly cutting her own hair, we let her. We offered guidance and help, but ultimately, it wasn’t about us.
She had just come home from two nights in a row at her grandparents’ house, where she always has tons of fun. She walked in the door excited to show me the art she made, to tell me about riding her bike, but she didn’t want a hug.
So, to recap: I don’t see my kid for days. When she comes home, she doesn’t want to touch me. Next thing I know she’s cutting her own hair.
My impulse is to hold her close to me, to put her head to my breast, even though she hasn’t nursed for years, to say, “It’s okay. You’re home. Whatever it is, you can talk to me.” But the thing is, she doesn’t want that. It’s me who wants that. She’s still my kid, but she’s not my little baby anymore.
Her body, her choice; and right now, she’s asking for more autonomy.
How it went down: I’m sitting on the couch, stitching a feminist patch on a dress for my Etsy shop, and my daughter asks if she can help with the cutting. I find a little embroidery floss for her to snip.
“What else?” she says.
“Nothing else needs cutting right now. Want me to let you know if I need something else cut?”
“Yes,” she answers, as she lifts my sewing scissors to her temple, and just like that, cuts off a 4-inch lock of hair.
“Did you just cut your hair?”
The biggest smile on her face: “Yes!”
“Okay, um, first thing, please put that hair in the trash. Second, did you mean to do that?”
She walks to the kitchen trash can, puts the lock in there, and proceeds to immediately cut off more hair: there in the kitchen, next to the trash.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa, Tzivia. Let’s get you in front of a mirror.”
In the bathroom, I switch out the sewing scissors for some real hair-cutting scissors.
“Dada’s really good at cutting hair. Want him to help you?”
“No.” She’s already trying to shut the door, to shut me out.
“Do you want me or him to come in with you, just in case you have any questions?”
“Nope, I’ve got it,” she says, and she shuts the bathroom door. Her inside. Me in the living room. I can hear the scissors going “snip.” About five snips in, I get out my phone and post on Facebook: “Tzivia’s in the bathroom with the door closed, cutting her own hair.” I don’t know what else to do. I can’t just sit and sew.
I message my mom too. Her reply: “You will do what you want, but I wouldn’t let her.” She clarifies that her concern is safety, not hair.
My mind is all over the place, thinking about my own childhood and all the many times I got the message, “You can’t; that’s not safe.” It’s a quick haircut. Just a few minutes. And she loves it. She’s so proud. She cut part of the hair on one side. Basically, she made bangs. And she even cleaned the hair off the ground, threw it into the bathroom trash, all by herself.
She says yes, that I can run my fingers through her hair. She’s giggling. She gives me the biggest hug, the hug I’ve been quietly hoping for since she got home.
She’s feeling capable and beautiful, and now she’s ready to snuggle up, to be my dear little one. But on her own terms.