Today while out to lunch, a waitress commented, “What a darling little girl.”
My dining companion, however, was not my infant daughter.
I was with my 22-month-old son.
The reason for such a comment is relatively simple: While his clothing may be unmistakably “boy,” his hair says otherwise. It has yet to be cut, and the extra long bangs are often pulled back with a ponytail holder.
Many in our South Florida community are accustomed to boys with longer hair: some observant Jews wait until a boy is 3 years old for the first cut—celebrating it with a custom known as an Upsherin.
As we are a Modern Orthodox family, some would assume that this custom would be our intention. Truth be told, no one in my husband’s family—which is more observant than mine—has had an Upsherin. It’s not expected of us. And while I recently learned of some aspects to the custom that have motivated me to consider doing this, it is not the primary reason for my son’s longer hair… especially when my mother-in-law often asks, “When are you cutting it already?”
I know I am biased, but my son’s hair is gorgeous. Shiny, smooth, getting thicker by the day, golden blond waves and curls. It’s the hair I beg my colorist to match on my very own head. And I often think it’s just too beautiful to cut.
But even still—if I am honest with myself—it’s not as much about preserving his hair as it is preserving his being my baby.
The first two months of my son’s life were a blur. Born several weeks early with underdeveloped lungs, he had a two-week stay in the NICU. Shortly after his debut at home, his breathing became disturbingly noisy, every breath laborious. We soon learned that he needed emergency surgery to open his airway. We were frightened, overwhelmed—in disbelief that we were facing such serious concern. The first procedure was the day before his 1-month birthday. The second and thankfully final procedure was four weeks later. He was then given the “all clear.”
He turned 2 months old days later, and our lives finally began to take the shape of “new parent normal”—chaotic and physically exhausting, but on target in terms of the new parent developmental milestones. It took us a bit of time to truly breathe ourselves, to accept that he was really, truly healthy and thriving. But we ever so slowly relaxed. When he was approaching 5 months old, and we were just feeling settled, I scheduled a session with a photographer to take family portraits. We were enjoying our son’s every new development and wanted to capture this time in his life.
And somehow amidst all of this, despite hearing from my fertility doctor that our hopes for a second child would face greater challenges than that of our prior pregnancy, the unexpected happened. Just a couple weeks after taking photos of our family of three, we discovered that we were eight months away from becoming a family of four—a discovery made 24 hours before my son’s 6-month birthday.
We were elated. But I was also frightened and overcome by guilt. I feared that we—really, I—was robbing my son of an infancy where he would be the sole beneficiary of our attention and energy. And I knew pregnancy would result in physical limitations. My son and I were scheduled to start our first “Mommy and Me” class the next morning, but now I had strict orders from the doctor not to lift more than 15 pounds. With a chunky boy of nearly 20 pounds, accompanied by a portable car seat and stroller, our mobility, together, was now hampered. I needed to rely on a sitter to help us get through each day. I was no longer able to be the hands-on Mommy I had intended and wanted to be.
Was I present? Absolutely. But his infancy had distractions: my frequent doctors appointments to monitor the pregnancy. My still working as a realtor, showing properties until a few weeks before delivering. I was physically growing more depleted as my third trimester progressed, dealing with imminent pre-eclampsia.
Towards the end of my pregnancy, there were times when he’d accidentally hurt himself with a toy, or cry when he didn’t like an activity during his physical therapy sessions. And in those moments, he would often reach for his sitter. At nighttime, he clung to my husband, who became Mr. Mom the minute he walked in the door from work and throughout every weekend. I knew these were blessings; my son had a sitter he adored and the most incredible, hands-on, affectionate Daddy, whom he loved back with equal intensity. But admittedly, I felt deflated every time that I wasn’t *that* person.
I was hopeful, that after our new baby arrived and I recovered from another C-section, our relationship would evolve. And thankfully, it did, swiftly. Today, our connection is so evident—his love and need for me so deeply felt it melts my heart in ways I cannot describe.
And I just don’t want it to end.
When I think about cutting his hair, all the practical reasons to do so make sense. He won’t need the rubber bands to keep those golden locks away from his eyes. People won’t confuse him for a girl. But I feel like I will be exposing a vulnerability, like the biblical figure Samson when his hair was cut.
Except that it’s not my son’s vulnerability at stake. It’s mine. It’s my fear that he won’t resemble my baby anymore. A fear that, along with his strands of hair, his need for me will be severed.
But I also know that just as I couldn’t make him recover faster when he was in the NICU, I can’t—I won’t—slow down his maturation and independence. His every new accomplishment has given us nothing but joy and pride. I pray to God that this will continue throughout our lifetime, and yes, I welcome it all. But for now, I am relishing the “candy-coated” package while it lasts—the chubby cheeks, the sweet dimples, the teeny little teeth, the deliciously soft skin.
The time will come when we cut his hair. Of course, I imagine one day in the future, when he’s a big, big boy looking at his baby pictures, he will ask about his longer hair. If he should ever read my musings of today, I hope he will feel just how much I love every part of him, at every stage of him.
And I hope, most of all, that he will feel I cut it as his mommy.