BY LAURA GRACE WELDON
The Dread Experience
Kirby, who is now 15, is the most serene of my four kids. Completely without guile, he's not even vain about his beautiful hair. It is dark blonde and wavy, coarse enough to fluff up into a temporary Afro, and so thick that balding men comment on it jealously.
Mostly it is an irritation to him because it grows so quickly. When he was 10 years old he decided he wouldn't comb it again. He still doesn't, yet it looks charmingly tousled with nary a tangle.
At his birthday party last year he shaved his head. It was quite an event -- Kirby in the bathroom, all his tall buddies crowding around the mirror. He left a wide swath of hair all along the top. While this is popularly called a Mohawk, he informed us that members of the Mohawk tribe traditionally did not go about sporting that hairstyle. They actually used a kind of toupee. Only Kirby would bother to learn these details.
He kept the mistakenly-named Mohawk hairstyle only a few days, before quickly realizing it wasn't worth the trouble of shaving his scalp and putting on goop to keep the central path of hair standing. Sadly, I think he didn't quite get the reaction he had hoped for. Folks at our Unitarian church just gave him a thumbs up or asked if he was into punk music. Our more conservative friends just chuckled with a glad-it's-not-my-kid look. The only extreme comment came from his grandmother, who asked, "Why do you want to change your personality?" The assumption that appearance dictates character explains the strictures of my own upbringing.
This year our musician son has grown taller and his hair, longer and longer. At some stages his hair looked like yearbook pictures from the 70s, then like a movie poster for Jesus Christ Superstar. Finally it got to the length he deemed right for developing some dreadlocks. Yes, white-boy dreads. Not being blessed with the right hair for them to form naturally, he had to print out 20 pages of instructions he'd researched (some contradictory) and order $36 worth of specialty products including pure bar soap and beeswax with tea tree oil. He cleans out horse stalls for spending money so this is no minor expenditure.
When the dreading day arrived, Kirby's girlfriend and I set up for the procedure in a festive mood. He looked pretty serious. We sectioned off his hair using an array of clips and held it back with a tortoise shell headband we called his tiara. I think we teased it enough. His hair that is. His tiara kept slipping and I was sure that we were hurting his scalp with all the tugging and fussing, based on the number of times he said "ouch." I'm pretty sure we used too much beeswax. By the time we were done he looked the way our dog does when he's been outside after the rain and his belly is a dangling chandelier of mud.
But Kirby was convinced the hair would eventually 'dread' around the beeswax spikes. He washed it with his pricey soap and smiled sweetly from under all those hair candles. He laughed when his dad danced around singing reggae tunes with made up lyrics. He persisted for at least a month, adhering to the theory behind his hair research.
But his hair was looking more dreadful than dreadlocked.
We all missed his formerly beautiful hair. The faux dreads looked particularly silly when, as a bagpiper, he dressed in his kilt to march with his highland band -- a serious band made up of some formal older gentlemen. It wasn't until the Scottish Pipe Master of the band warned, in thick brogue, "We dress as one man, we look as one man," that Kirby got the idea that his rebel coiffure wasn't appreciated.
So, Kirby decided the dread experiment was over. Being a person who doesn't go halfway, he didn't just cut his hair. He shaved it off completely.
Apparently his grandmother was disturbed by the sudden change in his appearance. When she saw him come in the door at our next visit with his new Mr. Clean look, she blurted out what should never be said to a teenaged male, at least by a grandmother, “Kirby, what a boner!”
I couldn’t explain to him right then that such a term meant blunder to her generation. No matter. He smiled at her calmly. His bald head shone.
My daughter is 9. A feisty, fervent 9-year-old. An astrologist friend calls her a true Scorpio. I mostly call her bluff.
A few months ago, Claire bluntly cut off her bangs. Bangs she had been trying to grow out. They were in her way, so she dealt with them in her way. She snipped them right up to her scalp. It seemed to take forever, but recently the strands finally grew long enough to pull back with clips. Soon I knew they'd merge into her ponytail. Finally, an end to the shorn look. But this morning, while Claire read a library book and I started brushing her hair, there they were again -- sticking out on the sides of her beloved face, stubs of hair as obvious as badly trimmed shrubs flanking a front door. I called attention to it, rather casually I thought.
She said belligerently, "I didn't do it!"
Oh no. Once a child's untruth crosses the lips it tends to be repeated like a mantra.
"Maybe just a little snip?"
"I didn't do it."
"You could say, 'I was just trying to cut one hair and the scissors slipped.'"
"I didn't do it!"
"Okay, you didn't do it today. How about yesterday?"
"I didn't do it!"
"You didn't do it with scissors. Maybe you did it with nail clippers?"
"A knife? A hatchet?"
"I did not!"
Her tone was increasingly strident, but her face couldn't cover the waves of conflicting feelings that came over her.
"You shut the door too quickly and your hair got sheared off?"
"Crocodiles chewed it up?"
"The lawnmower ran over it?"
"Mom! I did not do it!"
I plucked the library book from her unsuspecting grip and said in a dramatic accent, "No books until we get to the real story."
I knew it was the cruelest threat to a reader. But once a parental declaration is made, the line of hard-to-go-back is drawn. I reviewed my Tell The Truth Guidelines: "You know that if you tell the truth, I won't get mad and yell."
"I didn't do it and you are mean!"
I flapped her book pages enticingly, so close but still so unreadable. "Come on, yonder words beckon..."
I knew the hair had been cut since I had tucked her in bed last night. I was pretty sure the Bad Haircut Fairy hadn't visited in the night. I gave it another try. "When I was a kid, I'd tell a lie and I'd nearly believe it. I'd moan, 'You don't believe me,' to my mother and make myself cry. My mother was fierce when she launched one of her inquisitions, yet here I am, annoyingly cheerful, just asking how your hair got cut."
You'd think she would be a little less obvious, but Claire squeezed out a few tears and insisted, "I don't know how it happened but I didn't do it!"
She pulled away from my ponytail making and stomped off to the bathroom. She was gone a long time. Of course I thought she was hiding from my queries. "Are you planning to come out in time for the bus?"
"I have diarrhea."
Ever the persistent prosecutor, I said to the door, "Your body trying to get something out of its system?”
I provided a few plausible excuses, "Gee Mom, I just remembered that I did cut it," or "Oh yeah, I cut it but I was too embarrassed to tell you." Claire emerged from the bathroom. I tried one last phrase, delivered in crisp Shakespearean tones, "Peace comes to she who confesses, yes I cut my lovely tresses."
She rolled her eyes. "You are not being fair. You can't take away all my library books. I'll hide them. You can't make me say I cut my hair."
"Think of it. Years and years of watching the rest of us reading away, while you suffer." Just then I spied the book I'd removed from her hand now cleverly tucked in her backpack.
"Aha!" I plucked it from her bag. At least she wasn't practiced enough at deceit to hide it more effectively. I had only minutes before she had to leave. "You'll feel better when you confess, and I'll try to keep myself from jumping up and down saying, 'I was right, nah nah nah boo boo!'"
She zipped up her coat and smiled despite herself. With no drum roll, no explanation why it took her so long to tell the truth, she said simply: "I did it."
I jumped up and down, singing, "I was right! Nah nah nah boo boo!"
She kissed me goodbye on one of my down jumps, stuffed the book back in her bag, and went out the door. Her hood couldn't staunch the glow from her bright face, illuminated by truth and flanked by bristles of stubby hair.
Most of Laura Grace Weldon's writing is ridiculously serious. Her work has recently appeared in Atlanta Review, Christian Science Monitor, New Awareness, and The Mother. She's the author of Free Range Learning (Hohm Press, 2010). Clips of her work can be found on her author site: www.lauragraceweldon.com. She lives on a small farm with her family where she cooks subversively, speculates outlandishly, and enjoys the company of other hermits. Laura does not have thick hair but married into it for the sake of her offspring. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.