August 1987

It is another muggy, overheated August morning. From his highchair in the kitchen, fifteen month old Kyle peers at me through shaggy bangs. Cocoa Puffs and milk cling to his sticky face. It's only nine o'clock in the morning, but already his hair sticks wetly to his forehead and to the back of his neck. He looks hot, messy, damp and uncomfortable. I sigh. For weeks I have been avoiding the inevitable, but now the time has come: Kyle needs a haircut.

Briefly I toy with the idea of cutting it myself. Beauty salons are expensive, and I'm low on money this week. Besides, he's such a little boy: a barber shop would probably scare him to death. I could probably manage to trim his bangs, and maybe even lop off some of that long hair in the back. But then I recall the last time I tried cutting my son's hair, shortly after he'd learned to walk. It was nightmare: I ended up sitting on the sofa with scissors in hand, waiting for him to come close enough for me to take another swipe at his hair before he dashed off again. He went around for weeks afterward, looking like he'd tangled with a Toro.

I love Kyle's hair. It is straight and fine, like mine, and as smooth as tinsel. In the sunlight it glistens like spun gold. No one else in the family has hair that color. In spite of the fact that he looks this morning like a diapered, blue-eyed sheepdog, I still feel a pang of sadness at the thought of cutting that glorious hair. It feels like loss ... like something ending.

Resolutely, I get the phone book out and make an appointment for him at a nearby salon. "Do you take one year olds?" I ask the receptionist doubtfully. "If they'll sit still long enough!" is her good-natured reply. Privately I think this is highly unlikely, but I go ahead and schedule Kyle for later that morning.

From his highchair, Kyle happily waves a dripping cereal spoon at me. "Ahhh-DUH!" he croons, signaling me that he's finished with breakfast. I wipe off his hands and face and unbuckle him from his chair, and then we go to wake up Daddy. Half an hour later, dressed in a pin-striped sunsuit and blue tennis shoes, Kyle and his Daddy leave the apartment. I stand at the open door and watch them go. "Bye bye!" Kyle says sweetly, turning to wave at me. I have a lump in my throat the size of a Nerfball. He is clearly thrilled to be going somewhere with Dad, and as I watch him toddle away clutching Ron's hand, I feel as though a chapter of my life is coming to an abrupt conclusion. My baby - my last baby - is growing up: here is the proof.

I vowed, when Kyle was born, to savor each and every moment of his precious babyhood. By the third set of birth announcements, a mother knows all too well how fleeting such time can be. I promised myself I wouldn't squander a single moment of it, but even so the time is slipping through my fingers. There is no way to slow it down, or take it back, or do anything except move forward. The baby will become a boy, and the boy will become a man, and all of the savoring and wishing and postponing in the world can't do a thing to change it. This haircut is just the beginning. Dinosaurs are just around the corner ... and He-Man, and Tonka trucks, and Underoos. Then will come school and Little League and black eyes and McDonalds. Right now Kyle's world is confined to the six rooms of this apartment; his universe is peopled by his parents, his sisters, the kids I babysit every day. A "big adventure" is sneaking into the bathroom and opening the drawers. But eventually, I know, will come friends and interests of his own choosing, and finally, a life's path that carries him far beyond this apartment and my protective embrace. Eventually I'll lose my baby forever.

For the next hour I am a textbook case. I spill my coffee, I snap at the girls, I chew my nails. I look at my watch a lot. How long does it take to cut a little boy's hair, anyway? I imagine all the things that could go wrong: a flat tire, a speeding ticket, terrorists, a severed artery. What if he comes home with a Mohawk?

Suddenly I hear the front door open. They're home! Heart in my throat, I peer around the corner, wondering what I'll find ... what horrifying change has taken place. Ron is standing in the doorway grinning. In his arms he holds a little boy I've never seen before. I catch my breath: who is this small person? He's wearing Kyle's striped sunsuit, and his little Nike tennis shoes. And there's something familiar about that devilish grin, and the three little teeth on the bottom of his mouth. But this little guy has eyebrows! And ears! And his hair ... well, his hair is neat and shiny and wonderful. This is no baby sheepdog - this is an honest-to-goodness little boy! Laughing out loud, I scoop him up in my arms and nuzzle his neck. He giggles, bats at my face, then struggles to be put down.

For the rest of the afternoon Kyle is in a silly, freewheeling mood, released from that oppressive mop of hair. I can't take my eyes off him. He is the baby I have known and loved for over a year, and at the same time he is someone altogether new. He giggles, flirts, grandstands, plays funny games of peek-a-boo, runs from me when I try to change his diaper. At bathtime it takes a microdot of shampoo and a minimum of rinsing to soap his hair clean, and it's dry by the time he's out of the tub. After his bath, he sits on my lap and drinks his ba-ba. I bury my nose in his scalp and smell the sweet smell of Johnson & Johnson's. I sigh with pleasure and hold him closer. OK. We've made it through this first step, and we're still intact. His growing up may be unavoidable, but as long as we take it one thing at a time, I'll be fine. And for just this moment, anyway, he is still my baby. I will savor this moment.

b a c kt o g . h . i n d e x


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