Jean Marie Gunner

Jean Marie Gunner
We are all basically good.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

A New School Year and a Haircut

My view of the world is a female one, and since I have children, it is also one of a mother. Now looking back at the younger mom I was when my boys were babies or toddlers, I remember that I felt a sense of confidence, self-assurance, and resourcefulness. Changing diapers, wiping up messes and dirty faces, and brushing away tears came naturally.  Tending to little ones in those younger years was like an Olympic Sport for me, I medalled in gold all the time. I could allay a cry with my body, feeding my children any time on demand.  It was miraculous that my body could produce life-sustaining and emotionally-calming milk.  I had the heart and stomach for all the little spills of life, as well as the nuclear diaper explosions. At least that is how I like to remember it now as an older mom of a teenager and a tween.

As a mom I am supposed to be nurturing, compassionate, kindly, gentle, and warm; a soft spot to catch my children when they trip and fall or just need to rest their weary bodies from a life that can wear you down.  It seemed easier when they were younger simply because they wanted to be caught and it didn’t matter who might be around to witness the spill.  Now as older children, who may still long for a safe place to land, they struggle against this warm motherly cushion, at least when they think people may notice.  It is no longer cool to need this warmth from their mother; thus the line of demarcation must be drawn wide and the landing must be far enough away so others cannot see. 

It seems like only two days ago I wrote about the break from making all those school lunches, and the schedule, and dragging tired, tousled-hair children out of bed at 6:30 a.m.  I love the summer, the great big open space of the warm breezes of these few months.  The long days of light and heat and wakefulness have morphed into the beginnings of autumn with fallen leaves already snapping under foot.  The crisp change of September has arrived and we are full throttle back to school.

In my family’s case, I see that the structure of the school year is desperately needed.  We need the school routine again in my family, even my boys agree.  The summer was wide open and we felt that openness; we experienced a precious connection to one another and the physical world as we slept under the stars, shared meals outdoors, meditated in forests and mountains during a week away in Vermont.  We swam in the ocean water of the Atlantic while in Maine.  We walked forest paths and splashed in cool mountain streams. 

But apart from that vacation and the outdoor time, there was a lot of indoor time for my boys being sucked into the digital world of gaming and far too much screen time, a product of their age and both parents working full time. 

The beginning of school year means for those of us with school age kids a list of things to do – school supply checklist, new clothes and shoes, last minute check in on summer reading assignments, and emotional transitions for those of us with children entering new schools; in my case, navigating the passage from elementary to middle and middle to high school.  I am confident about my high school son’s transition, but a little more reticent about my younger son.

For my youngest who is entering middle school we went last week to set up his locker and he took great care in organizing all his school things as I stood by in the wings.  As we walked together out of the school that afternoon, I saw a confident and happy boy prepared to begin the next phase of his life journey.  As a mom, I simply felt relief watching as he settled in.

This relief all shifted a few days later.  In our family, haircuts are a part of the back to school routine.  My freshman son’s school requires a haircut above the ears, out of the eyes and well above the collar.  I sat in the neighboring chair watching his long locks fall to the floor.  Seeing him with short hair was refreshing, a pleasant change. 

Next was my middle school son’s turn.  Navigating the waters of a haircut for him is much more intricate and fraught with potential emotional reaction.  He is at a turning point in his life as he nears the teenage years, exerting his independence, wanting to be taken seriously and listened to by his parents and others.  We talked about just trimming the ends off, and removing some of the bulk in the middle.  He wants longer hair but it fluffs up because it is so thick, not a consideration for his brother with thin fine hair. 

The stylist was a very patient listener, respectful of him; she talked with him throughout his haircut, as I recused myself from the discussion. Upon completion he blew past me to grab my keys out of my purse and head straight to our car.  The confidence and readiness that I witnessed earlier in the week was all but gone.  All evening his mind was in an emotional storm of feelings and confusion generated by his haircut. 

My natural tendency as a mom, as a woman, as a human being is to smooth things out, make it better.  Finally after a very long evening of unhappiness, he was able to identify his feelings, as I lay next to him in his bed rubbing his feet.  He summed it by saying he felt weak.  I dug a little deeper about this word weak and he said, “You know I feel helpless, like no one takes me seriously.” He talked about the mixed up batch of feeling confused, sick, mad and sad, and not really sure if he can tell if people are telling the truth.  He said, “I don’t care what others think of me, I only care what I think of myself.”

Once I took my analytical-tending mind out of the equation and listened, I saw his picture a little more clearly.  His hair had grown to the length he wanted it for the first impressions at his new school and picture day, and this haircut threw everything off for him.    

He just wanted to feel comfortable in his new school, comfortable with himself and his body.  Hair I have come to find out is as important to boys as to girls.  I am glad he can identify his feelings so well and that I have the good sense to give him space but I am sad over all this confusion he was feeling and that somehow I was the unintentional catalyst.  I am sad that I sometimes do not pay attention.  I am sad that time flies by and that a haircut could generate so much angst.

On the bright side, and there is always one I have found, it was a good lesson, another reminder about what I am actually doing here as mother to these boys.  I see that I am having a little trouble letting go of my baby as he grows and matures into a young man, but see that a combination of love, listening with a closed mouth and open heart is a good idea.  And the resourcefulness of a new mom I felt all those years ago when they were babies has turned into the seasoned wisdom of an older person, older mom, and there are times to insist upon things and there are times to let go and that a new school year does not always have to mean a new haircut.

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