“Just sit still, I’m sure I can even it up.” — Mom, wielding scissors.
There are many milestones that usher you into full-on parenthood, but nothing affirms that arrival quite like the rite of passage sure to scar every child: when you decide you can give your kid a haircut.
Mom did this to us, and we have the photographic evidence to prove it. I have thick, stick straight hair, and too often my bangs looked like someone had taken a bite out of them.
She was just trimming them a little, she’d say, wielding the kitchen scissors we used to open milk bags and clip coupons. We had a hairdresser down the road but for quick touch-ups, Mom was on it.
Class pictures from my childhood reveal year after year of crew-cuts on the boys; I still know a lot of people who just kind of get their boy children shorn every few months and I was, admittedly, happy when my sons were just that easy.
Girls are different. Growing up, we all wanted long hair, but Mom deemed until we could take care of it ourselves, that wasn’t going to happen. The photographs reveal a lot of little bowl cuts, except for Gilly, the youngest, who somehow managed to score natural curls.
Mom never attempted to doctor her own hair, of course. She had a permanent permanent (I never saw my mother without a perm) which was pretty common for her era. We grew up thinking you knew you were a grownup when you started getting perms and roller sets, an idea that haunts my sister Roz to this day.
Because people want what they can’t have, I wanted curly hair. My mother promptly gave me a perm, which just as promptly fell out. Looking back, I am grateful she didn’t try it again.
Roz wasn’t so lucky. In a fit of Homestyle Hairdresser, Mom and my Aunt Jean decided Roz, then aged 8 or so, would look darling with some curls. Roz wasn’t so sure, but out came the Toni home perm and into the kitchen chair she went.
No poodle at Westminster had ever looked poodlier than Roz looked that day. I’m not sure what result my mother was imagining — the Toni home perm girl on the box sure looked a lot happier than my sister. Unlike me, Roz has fine hair, so it took rather nicely to the miracle chemicals my mother soaked her head in.
When Gilly was about 12, I got a frantic phone call from her. She was in our bedroom, crying, phone cord under the door. I could hear Mom (and come to think of it, probably my Aunt Jean, as well) outside the door. Mom had offered to trim her bangs, and now she was desperate for me to get home and take the scissors from her. Apparently, in an attempt to keep evening things up, the bangs kept getting shorter and shorter. Roz had moved out by this time, because I like to think she would have used her Toni home perm experience to save her little sister.
The funny thing is, in our dress-up cupboard, which featured a lot of Mom’s old party dresses and some (on reflection) fabulous shoes, were a set of three wigs. They were plastic helmets that looked like you’d put a cabbage on your head. They were harsh and horrible and so spectacular, we all used to fight over the blond one.
Because I learn nothing, when Ari was about 10, I announced I’d bought clippers so I could do his buzz cut at home. He let me do it exactly once.
I’d officially become my mother.