My 3-year-old son had his first haircut this past February. By the time he got that first shearing, his hair had grown into a long and curly halo that we usually had to tie back to keep out of his face. We weren’t trying to make a statement about gender identity. We were waiting until he was 3 to cut his hair so we could do an upsherin. When his hair first began to grow and he started to get that unkempt little boy look is when I fell in love with the idea of letting it grow until his 3rd birthday. He had the most beautiful little curls that grew into ringlets that everyone would stop to comment on. Maybe if his hair had grown in looking like a mullet I would have felt differently, but I loved his shaggy look.
“What a cute little girl!” It’s been fascinating to see the reactions of people both Jewish and non when I told them that my ponytailed older child was a boy and not a girl. Every single one of them looks confused even when I follow up with, “We’re waiting until he’s 3 to cut his hair. It’s a Jewish custom.” Since this is Jew York, a few follow up with, “I’ve heard of that.” Then they take a look at me, usually in flip-flops and a tank top or some other variation of a mom outfit. “Are you religious?”
My husband grew up in a traditional Jewish home in a religious section of Brooklyn. His parents didn’t cut his hair or his brother’s until they were 3, but he was not Orthodox by any stretch. Our house is even less adherent to Jewish customs than my husband’s was but we both thought it would be nice for our boys to grow up having an upsherin as part of their early introduction to their heritage. The Yiddish word literally means “to cut off.” I had never even heard of this until my husband and I had kids and he told me about it. This custom is mostly observed nowadays by the ultra-observent Hasidic Jews where that first haircut leaves the 3-year-old with the start of their side curls.
It amazes me how many people choose to keep aspects of Judaism that require more discipline–like keeping kosher or staying home on Friday nights without any TV on. It doesn’t take any effort at all to not take your son for a haircut. When my son began preschool this past fall at a Chabad-run nursery, he was the ONLY boy who had long hair which blew me away. Of the 11 other kids in his class, 10 of them kept kosher homes and at least half of them were observant and belonged to a modern Orthodox synagogue.
Our family keeps what I like to call a la carte Judaism. It’s a mix between my ultra-reform background and my husband’s “conservadox” one. We light the candles on Friday nights, have agreed to have our children receive a private Jewish education and don’t allow shellfish or pork in our home. But my husband and I will also eat a lobster dinner at a seafood place and we don’t currently belong to a synagogue.
They say an upsherin symbolizes the movement from babyhood to adulthood. I wouldn’t exactly say that my whirling tornado of a toddler is an adult. But the consensus by everyone after he debuted his short hair at his birthday party was that he looked “older.” My son liked his short hair. He was happy to look like the other boys and not have his hair pulled back with a hairband anymore. For the first few weeks, every time he saw his reflection in the mirror he’d smile. Now his little brother is coming up on his second birthday and he too has an amazing head of curls. One more year to go of deflecting cute little girl comments.