It seems like there are events in life that are triggered by the most random catalysts. The impacts are subtle. So much so that in the midst of the event and in the early aftermath you aren’t quite sure what just happened… but you know there is a difference outside of the obvious change that took place. I can always identify them in retrospect, but I am rarely able to see them coming.
We cut Ethan’s hair a few weeks ago. It was his first real haircut, and it had been a long time coming. His mother adored the curly mop on his head, and it really had become one of Ethan’s defining characteristics. His little cherub face draped by the wild locks… sometimes frayed with wild spirals shooting in every direction; sometimes neatly kept with curls falling just so; and often a random mix of everything that seemed the perfect topping for the toddling bundle of energy and destruction known familiarly as “E”. But that afternoon she brought him home and his mane was shorn. Kendra was not happy with the cut. This is an understatement. She took him someplace out of convenience rather than out of preference, and in her desperation for a quick fix (it was almost nap time and he wouldn’t have made it back to the parlor for a touch up, and she wanted his hair fixed IMMEDIATELY) she turned to me for help. Generally, I am not allowed to touch or even provide general commentary on any of the boys’ hair as my input usually involves the words “cut it all off” and things get a little animated. That day though, I was asked to get the clippers.
I asked her if she was sure (as advised by my attorneys following the incident referred to as Logan haircut #4 in 2006), and she affirmed so we headed upstairs for the event. I placed the guards on my clippers and Ethan smiled up at me. Kendra watched nervously as tufts of wavy brown hair fell to the floor while I evened out his haircut. Finally, the click of the off switch and the sudden halt to the buzzing that had filled the air. Ethan looked around to both of us as we stood there for a few moments in silence…”It looks good.”
Something was different. We both thought it, but as we held him and watched him smiling at himself in the mirror neither of us wanted to say it aloud. Ethan’s face beamed. He ran his fingers through his hair and couldn’t stop smiling. He seemed to enjoy the unobstructed view of his face and the feel of his newly shortened hair. We stared at this handsome child (fatherly bias acknowledged) and I had to finally say it, “He looks like a little boy now; like a little kid.” The baby was gone. Down in the ringlets and waves on the bathroom floor and back at the salon were the ends of E’s babyhood; we just didn’t know.
People’s reactions to the haircut were telling…”wow! he looks so different!”; “he looks so much older!”; “he looks so much like a little boy now instead of a baby!”… but even then, it didn’t hit me. But he was talking more, and doing more… and little things that had probably been building for some time were all coming together. He started bringing us diapers and asking us to change him; he wants to try to sit on the toilet now; he has become a rabid moon hunter and is quite vocal and persistent about following that process daily; he has grown increasingly independent to the point where once he finally allows us to help him with something, he has to be touching our hands so it still seems like he is doing it himself. Of course, none of this is overnight. Ethan still has plenty of development ahead of him, but the difference in the pace of his progress is really amazing. He is dropping infancy like a bad habit and is fully embracing boyhood (he will be two in December).
I do realize that the simple act of cutting hair does not trigger emotional and physical maturation. But I do believe the timing was not merely coincidental. Something in that event sparked awareness in him, in us, and in others that he is no longer just a baby. Maybe that influenced our treatment of and reactions to him which in turn fed his sense of self worth and increased his confidence that was probably already building from other developmental milestones he had recently reached. I can’t say for certain, but I do know that when I look back at the past several weeks I can clearly see the haircut as an event in time that after which I can identify the shift in behaviors (sorry, I deal with data for a living).
What if we’d gotten the haircut sooner? What about if we had held off and waited a while? Chances are there would have been another event that triggered our awareness or his readiness at some point along the timeline. Maybe that event would have had a completely different effect. But knowing what we know now (or at least considering the possibility for a moment), would we still have wanted the haircut that day if it meant a couple more months of having the “baby” around? I’m comfortable with my answer to that question, but as these events pile up, I may not always be.
Last night we took the twins’ bunk beds down (thanks Mike and EJ!) and placed them across the room from one another. That bedroom has never seemed so large. It felt like the beds were miles apart from each other. The boys had been in bunk beds for about 3 years until last night. Their cribs and toddler beds were never more than an outstretched arm’s length apart. It may not seem like much, but this will represent the greatest amount of distance that has existed between those two. Kendra made a statement as we were walking downstairs afterward that this could be the first step in them moving apart. It hit me as a very sad thought and was not something I had considered previously. We know their relationship will evolve as they fully develop their individual identities and rely less on their “twinship” to cope with life. We embrace that and want them both the have strong senses of self and healthy external relationships. It just seemed very bittersweet that we may have been ushering in another event…and I didn’t see it coming.