When my middle child insisted for the fifth time on the drive to the barber shop that he wanted a Mohawk, I focused my distracted attention on his face and listened.
“Yes,” he said in his broad lisp, “Can I hawve a Mohawk mwommy?”
Reluctance moved up my throat like bile, choking me on thick doubts. What if he doesn’t like it? It’s only hair. Let him choose. But he looks so sweet with his little boy buzz. Two on the sides, four on the top, I have learned to request in barber shop language. They look like miniature army recruits when we leave the shop, their pink scalps shining through the faint fuzz where the barber clipped them high and tight. We always have to wait behind a line of old men having their thinning hair cut and their eyebrows trimmed.
“Alright. If that’s what you want.”
Eight chairs sat in a long row on the cracked linoleum floor. The place smelled faintly of the cigarettes the barbers smoke during their breaks with a sweet overtone of hair productsI texted Matt as we waited.
Quinn wants a Mohawk?
I told him he could, came the quick reply.
Me too, just checking.
I thought he might change his mind, but when a chair opened and a handlebar-mustached barber patted the seat, encouraging Quinn to climb up, he jumped into action. “I want a Mohawk!” The man looked to me for permission and I nodded once.
“It’s up to him.” I wanted to mean this. I did mean it, but I wanted to say it without wishing I could control what he wants.
The other boys finished and sucked on dum dum lollipops in mystery flavors pulled from an ancient jar. Quinn’s barber worked hard at reducing his head to bald on either side of a rich mahogany stripe. The end result took my breath away with its unavoidable mohawkness. He was beside himself with happiness and excitement.
“Is my Mohawk still there?” He checked with me every twenty minutes or so throughout the morning. After he put on his swim shirt, when he bumped his head on the roof of the car. “Is it still there?”
“Yes, sweetheart, it looks awesome,” I lied to him. It looked like a baby punk rocker possessed the body of my sweet kindergartner.
“He looks adorable. What don’t you like about it?” Matt chided me, sitting by my side on a dirty bench on his lunch break. We met him at the downtown park that runs along the river. The kids played in the massive fountain situated in the center of the plaza with several groups of children in distinctive matching t-shirts, branding them as belonging to one day-camp or another.
“He looks so…I don’t know. Older. Tougher. He’s such a sweet, sensitive kid and it makes him look tough, like he’ll be the one to get in trouble even if it’s not his fault.”
“I think you have some prejudices about Mohawks. That’s not like you.” I nodded. I do. I don’t want my son perceived the way I imagine people perceive him now. Tough. Punk. Maybe even racist. But that’s not a cultural perception of a little boy in a popular haircut, that’s my unfair perception of a culture that commonly appropriates the style.
“He’s exactly same sweet little boy. Maybe you shouldn’t judge kids ‘not sweet’ because they like crazy hair.”
I shouldn’t. It’s just hair. People should be judged by their actions, not their appearance. I have to live it if I want them to believe it. Quinn was still the sweet Kindergartner he was that morning, pre-Mohawk, but Matt was wrong on one count. He wasn’t exactly the same. The difference was visible in his pride. He got to voice his opinion, choose his own style, and step out of line from the conservative choices I’ve made for him for almost six years.
“Is it still there, momma?” He dripped icy fountain water into my lap and reached his wet hand into the pretzel bag.
“It’s still there. It looks awesome.” I meant it.
It looks awesome to see who my children are.