Thursday, June 9, 2011

Big Boy, Sad Dad?

     It wasn't Zachary's first haircut. It was his fourth. In 17 months. (He is blessed to be in a gene pool where the hair runs fast and thick.) But this fourth haircut struck a little fear and a little sadness in me...

     Zachary's hair was not a problem between Jenny and I. Not until, out for dinner one night, the waitress asked us if we were ordering anything for our daughter.
     Zachary's hair had already been cut three times at this point. But "Baby's First Haircut" was really just a ritual snipping of a few loose ends and a photo op for Mom and Dad. For his second haircut, Jenny was still reluctant to cut much from Zachary's curly locks. The curls were mostly at the back of his head and, especially after bath time, it combed back into a marvelous D.A. (that's a duck's ass for you young-ins. Go Google pics of "Fonzie", "Young Elvis" and John Travolta in "Grease". That's the word that you heard, that you heard, that you heard...) But I digress. The point is Jenny loved his hair and refused to have it cut short this second time as well.
     I didn't see my wanting Zachary to have a short haircut as a stereo-typical male opinion. I honestly thought he looked uncomfortable and used that as my only argument - that and pointing out how much he'd been walking into walls lately. Zachary is my first child, as many of you know, so I may not have the politics of child-raising down pat, but I've been around long enough to know you don't mess with a mom when it comes to her child's appearance. So, I didn't attempt to rock the boat for Zach's second haircut either.
     But after that. Well, I began to voice my opinion a little more often:
     "Wow," I'd feign surprise. "Look how fast his hair is growing back. It's almost as long as it was before his haircut. Maybe we should go shorter next time?" (Always phrase things as questions to keep a happy relationship happy. Another lesson I learned the hard way.) 
     I think the opinion expressed by me in the above paragraph would have been better received had we not been driving home from his actual 2nd haircut. But you live and you learn. It took awhile but, by the time Jenny was willing to go for haircut three, I had talked her into losing the curls. To this day, I don't know how I did that, which leads me to believe she talked herself into it somehow and I still hold no sway in our happy relationship.

     It took awhile but Jenny got used to Zachary without the curls. Still, sometimes, I'd catch her looking at old pictures and sniffling. She finally got over it at the exact same time that the curls grew back. About two weeks after that third haircut. I was beginning to think we didn't need a barber to tame Zachary's hair. We needed Weed-B-Gone.

     It was about four weeks after the third haircut that our waitress made her little faux pas. I realized I needed to go to bat for my son. I needed to put my foot down. Lay down the law. As we left the restaurant and headed to our car, I silently worked up a head of steam. My head filled with all the self-righteous excuses I had for wanting my son to have a short haircut. As we entered the car to head home, I looked over at Jenny and said, "Do you think maybe it's time for a short haircut?"

     Oddly enough, Jenny simply replied, yes. It turns out she was relieved to see the curls could grow back, so she was less reluctant to get him a short haircut. We made an appointment for later that week.

     I'd like to mention here that the lovely woman who cuts our son's hair has always done an amazing job. She has always given us what "we" asked for in terms of hair length. I also don't know how she can so calmly and expertly cut a small child's hair while said child thrashes his head around looking everywhere but straight ahead. If I tried to do what she does I would end up racing into the hills sucking my own thumb before I finished one child. I place these accolades here so, if she reads this, she will not be upset or take it personally when I say that Jenny and I hated Zachary's short, fourth haircut.

     It wasn't a bad haircut. It was just weird. As usual, Jenny and I stood in the parking lot and took our pictures. We posted them on Facebook and headed home, but we didn't really say anything. We just kept sneaking peaks at Zachary in the backseat as if he were a stranger. You need to understand that Zachary's hair hadn't been this short since he was six months old. It was going to take awhile to adjust.

     Jenny recovered much quicker than I did. She seemed content that her little man waddling around the apartment now actually looked like a little man waddling around the apartment. I on the other hand was terrified of this little man waddling around our apartment. I suddenly didn't want anything to do with little men or waddling and I've always hated this damned apartment. I wanted my baby boy back.

     Suddenly I was the one looking at pictures and sniffling. I would sit on the couch and watch him do his damn waddling and I was torn. I had so many conflicting feelings I felt like they were doing their damn waddling in my stomach. I was going to puke.

     Then, one night after Zachary's bath, he did something that simultaneously brought joy and struck fear into my heart. Jenny had to go in to work early that night (she usually works third shift) and whenever I'm left alone to get Zachary to bed he decides to be a night owl. I have to let him play himself to sleep while we watch reruns of Sesame Street and Barney. I was sitting on the couch watching Grover do the "Groverelli"  ("Hands out! Hands out! Shake your little belly! Hands up! Hands up! Move around like jelly! Turn around and spin like Cinderelly! Dooooo the Groverelli!!!") But I digress. Zachary came over to me, climbed up onto the couch and, for the first time ever, he sat next to me instead of climbing on my lap and we watched Grover together.

     That's it you ask? You're son sat next to you on the couch and watched t.v.? That's what struck joy and fear into your heart? Yes, I say. Yes indeed. In that moment I realized Zachary had crossed a threshold. He really wasn't a baby anymore. He really was a little boy now. Not my baby. My son.

     It was a profound moment filled with a pride only another father with a son could possibly understand. Suddenly I saw a teen-aged Zachary sitting next to me at a Phillies' game. It was wonderful for one moment. Then I remembered what everyone has been telling me since I became a dad. Don't wish the time away. Whenever I've said, I can't wait to be able to talk to Zach or I can't wait til he can walk or throw a ball or go fishing or sleep through the night or... Someone who has been down this road before says, you can wait. Wait as long as you can. Cherish every moment - pay attention to them - because they're all going to fly by faster than you can ever imagine.

     I thought I had done that. I tried my best. I was patient. I savored the late night feedings. I savored carrying his little bundle of life around. And I rolled around in each little success - the rolling over, the crawling, the walking, the running, the baby talk, the solid food, everything - until it was permanently embedded in me. Each little memory. Yet, in savoring each little thing, I failed to look up now and then to see the big picture and now I suddenly look up and Zachary is no longer my baby. He's my little boy. And I'm so afraid I might have missed something or that I'm going to forget something or maybe I just wasn't prepared to let go of Zachary, the baby, just yet.

     I know it doesn't seem so bad considering the scope of truly terrifying things that could be wrong. Maybe I'm making a mountain out of a molehill. But I've been knocked for a personal loop. The upshot is that I'm going to savor this little boy's life - each and every minute of it - the big moments and the little moments, so that when I do finally sit down next to the teen-aged Zachary at a Phillies' game, maybe I'll be a little more prepared to say goodbye to the little boy, Zachary. But I doubt it. 

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