A Stepmother Asserts Her Authority
I’m sure I’ve mentioned that I am not a fan of punishment haircuts. When I get a child in my shop being given a short haircut as a punishment, I sometimes consider refusing to do it. I know that if the parent is determined enough, that child will just be brought somewhere else for the cut, and by then, their parent might be even more angry, so I gauge my refusal. Or they’ll be brought home by an angry parent, and God knows what sort of violence will accompany that haircut. I’ve met so many people who as adults are still afraid of haircuts because of some awful haircut trauma from their childhoods, that I try to soften the blow when I know it’s inevitable. Sometimes it’s a short haircut because the parents are simply looking to keep their kids clean and neat, with little fuss in the bathroom every day, and the child is opposed, until they’ve had a nice haircut and they grow (bad pun) to love having their hair snipped short. But there are times when I know that child is in agony sitting in my chair and I want to give them the nicest short haircut I can, so that at least their punishment or family rule about hair length is less of a painful experience.
Which was why when I saw the Vice Principal from my kids’ school walking back to a chair with a ten-year-old with long, blonde waves, already crying fat, silent tears, I was sunk either way. I was lucky in that the boys had never really done anything to ensure I met Janice (Mrs. Stipe, as they know her) other than at school events. She had recently gotten remarried and was no longer Mrs. Stipe, but no matter her name, she was a force to be reckoned with. We all had that Vice Principal at some point- the kind who commanded the room simply because she expected obedience and rarely didn’t receive it. The one who actually ran the school while the Principal took all the credit and got to be everyone’s friend. Mrs. Stipe was one of those women that I longed to have in my chair just once, so I could give her a hairstyle instead of the utilitarian brushcut she seemed attached to, long after those had gone from style. It was not flattering, but did give her a bit of a military vibe in her authoritarian leadership style. She explained that since her marriage, they’d mostly been successful in blending their two families, figuring out which family rules made sense and adopting those for the new family. “I’ve always kept my kids in short hair. My sons and my daughter.” I remembered seeing her daughter once at a school function, her hair shorn into a neat little buzzcut, but she was so cute, she wore it with panache. “It was no problem with my stepson. The first family haircut day, he sat in the chair and let me shave him and hasn’t fought with me once since then. My stepdaughter has fought not just the haircut, but she won’t respect my authority at all. Her father and I have discussed this with her and explained that she can have a nice short haircut, or she can have her head shaved. We gave her all summer to show us by her respect factor toward me what that was going to be. She thought Dad would change his mind on the big day but here we are. Shave it all off, please.”
Oh boy. I couldn’t risk that this woman would hate my kids if I refused. And she was determined that her stepdaughter have her hair cut, or at least believe it was going to be shaved. I could refuse and risk that my kids suddenly became problem kids at their school; the stepdaughter was having her head shaved no matter what I did. I’ve met Mrs. Stipe; I knew how this was ending. So, I grabbed my basket and placed the tools I would need into it- Speedmasters, so that the shaving could be as quick and painless as possible; cutting comb and thinning comb; scissors and detail trimmers. I was still holding out some hope that this wouldn’t become the horrible memory that Stephanie one day recounted to her shrink about the time her horrible stepmother took her for a buzzcut and the horrible hair stylist did it, so I also grabbed my hairdryer and flat iron. I moved us to the private cutting room, hoping as much as Stephanie that this would be a scare tactic and she’d leave with a nice, neat heavily clippered pixie cut. There is nothing worse for morale and the comfort of your other clients than to have a child screaming in a chair while having their hair cut, or even to have a client who knows he or she wants a short haircut, but probably will flip out and cry when it’s over. Sometimes the private cutting room is the way to go. I brought Stephanie to the sink and scrubbed her hair, which was, admittedly rather unkempt. “It’s just being shaved off, why wash it?” Mrs. Stipe asked me. I told her of our salon’s policy to donate long hair to charity when we cut it short, and hoped that Stephanie might feel a bit better about her impending snip knowing that she was at least doing something good with her hair.
The tears continued to roll down her cheeks, though she seemed resigned that the begging and bargaining stage was over and she was now down to accepting the inevitable. But she still hated it and would never like a short haircut so long as it was Mrs. Stipe’s idea. Then I had a thought. It was a risk, but it was worth taking. I wound Stephanie’s long hair onto rollers, which surprised both her and her stepmother. Then I tucked her under the dryer. I suggested to Mrs. Stipe that we had time to give her a quick trim while Stephanie’s hair was drying. I had wanted to give that woman a good haircut for as long as I had known her. She’d gone for the Morena Bacarrin in V hairstyle and never really let it go. But if you’re going for that haircut, you have to commit to it, and Mrs. Armstrong’s hair often looked more like astroturf, sticking straight up, grown over too long and not kept up. I’d always suspected that it was homecut, like her kids, possibly that she buzzed herself in a mirror. A bit of directional shaving and a dab of gel would give that woman so much lift and make that buzzcut look absolutely rockin’, if she’d let me.
Stephanie safely tucked under a dryer with her hair intact for the time being, I eased Mrs. Stipe’s mind about the cost of two pricey salon cuts, as Stephanie’s would be free. If we donate it to charity, and we get carte blanche in the cut, it’s free. So, you can treat yourself to someone cutting the back for you for a change, I prodded. Mrs. Stipe thought about it for a moment and said that she really wanted Stephanie buzzed, so she’d better not spring for a cut for herself. I might not shave Stephanie if I had carte blanche, she reasoned, and she really wanted Stephanie punished with a headshave. Oh boy. After I give her the nice haircut, I’ll buzz it, I shrugged. Then she can see the haircut she could have had, and it will give her an incentive to be more respectful to you. I have a style in mind that I think would be amazing on you and I really want to cut your hair. Maybe Stephanie needs to see how nice short hair can look so she ends up liking it. “I don’t have much to cut,” Mrs. Stipe patted her clipped head self-consciously, but she took the plunge and sat down, knowing there was no point in washing her hair, either, as she was about to be buzzed, too. I trimmed up the back and sides quickly, taking it down to a sixteenth of an inch, making that wiry hair silky soft again. Then I snipped away at the top using scissors, leaving her with a more classic shaved pixie, complete with defined bangs that were still school-appropriately short. “This is gorgeous. But I’ll never be able to recreate this at home,” she winced sadly. “And with five kids in the house now, there really is no budget for salon haircuts.”
I mentioned the carte blanche days the salon has, admitted that I became a hairstylist because of the big family I grew up a part of. It’s the last Thursday of every month, I shrugged. Give us free reign with the scissors and clippers, and your cut is free. With hair as short as yours, there isn’t much we can do even with free reign, so you basically get a high-end salon cut without the worry. Possibly a free colour. Mrs. Stipe finally looked like a professional woman, not a harried mother pulled in twenty directions. Stephanie still needed cutting, though. Now that her hair was dry, I wrapped in into the usual two-stage ponytail before shaving the back. I asked Mrs. Stipe how short she wanted me to take it and she asked what my shortest blade guard was. I told her the truth- after the guard-less bald level, there was the 1/32 and the 1/16th that I’d used on her sides and back. “Give her the nice haircut she could have had, then shave it to 1/16th on top and taper it to 1/32 at the back and sides,” she declared, as a sob escaped Stephanie’s mouth. Even with a sexy new haircut, Mrs. Stipe was not going to change her mind for Stephanie, so nothing remained now but to get the short cut over with. I lopped off the back ponytail with quick strokes, then shaved across the top ponytail as quickly as I could. I shaved the back with the half inch blade, then the left side with the 1/4th inch and the right side with the 1/8th blade, making her soft blonde hair so short that it was actually brown now.
I then passed Mrs. Stipe my clipper, with the 1/32 blade guard and explained that in a month, the back would be the length it was now. In two weeks, it would be the length it currently was on the left side, and in a week, it would be the length it was now on the right side. “I may have to shave it more frequently than that,” she replied tightly, taking the clipper from my hands. “It’s amazing how quickly even short hair can look sloppy. What setting is this?” I showed her how to shave from the part down, rather than the nape up, using the clipper as a comb. It would give the hair a softer look and help it fall into place, looking a little less carpet-like. I suspected that Mrs. Stipe would be maintaining Stephanie’s hair at home and wanted to give her the tools to make it look more professional. Stephanie had stopped crying, but she was barely hanging on. I hoped she was hearing the efforts I was taking to keep her short hair looking nice, at least. “I want to give Erica a buzzcut now, I’m jealous how good this looks,” Mrs. Stipe happily ran the clipper down Stephanie’s sides watching as the trimmings fell down like dust motes. “I almost wish she’d misbehave so I can clip her hair, too.” Remember, this is the nice haircut, I suggested, when she returned the hungry clippers to me, happy that it would be easy to keep Stephanie clipped with very little effort.
I then took off the top elastic and combed the longer pieces down, so I could snip those with scissors. After getting through the buzzing, Stephanie needed something to look forward to. I snipped away, close and tight, but leaving some cute pieces to point at her eyes, some barely-there bangs. If she was allowed to keep this cut, I hoped one day she would actually like it. It took less than five minutes to dry and style after the cutting. “This is the haircut you could have had,” Mrs. Stipe admonished her, and eyed the clippers with a small nod. That was my cue to shave. As I did, I listened while she explained that with five kids and two adults sharing two bathrooms, there were simply contributions everyone had to make. “She runs the hot water tank dry every night. She takes forever to style her hair and we’re late for everything. My family rule was short hair for everyone. She’s part of my family now. If Stephanie would have been more respectful to me this summer, we’d be sitting here discussing a cute little bob or a crop. As it is, she’s keeping it buzzed until I say she can grow it again.”
I suspected I would never see Stephanie back in the shop, but that Erika’s pixie might end up shaved even shorter, which would make Erika feel as though she was being punished, too. But I noticed that with each pass of the clippers, Stephanie smiled. She might not like the look of her clipped hair, but she was loving the feel of it. I wondered if she had been disrespectful on purpose, to assure she got a short haircut but could pretend it was against her will. Or maybe it had just been a pleasing silver lining to her. Since she appeared to be enjoying it, I took my time now as I tapered it and clipped, combing it a few times so she could feel the drag of the comb’s teeth across her head. Much to my surprise, the next teaching night, Mrs. Stipe and both girls were scheduled for snips. As I predicted, Mrs. Stipe’s shaved pixie was simply freshened, and her stylist updated the colour a bit, painting some highlights on top. Erika’s already short hair was snipped into a style quite similar to the one I’d initially given Stephanie. Erika’s features are much more elfin, and the shorter her hair is cut, the prettier she is. She’s lucky, to have those features in a family that maintains short hair as a basic rule. Seeing the buzzed sides and back on her sister and mother, her stylist figured she wouldn’t object to some clippering, and the shaving was short and expertly executed. Stephanie was unsure what her return trip meant for her, but I drew her as next up. She only had half an inch of growth, but I suspected she was showing more respect to her stepmother if Mrs. Stipe allowed her to come back rather than simply buzz her at home. There wasn’t a lot to work with, but I shaved up the back and sides again, leaving a good pile of cuttings on the cape, before I barely trimmed the top and she almost had the haircut back that we’d given her a month earlier. She was thrilled to have something other than a simple shave, and when nobody was listening, she thanked me for trying on her haircut night. “I know it wasn’t your idea,” she added. I admitted to her that I am a little biased, because I love short hair, so I don’t consider haircuts a punishment. I said this as I shaved away at the sides, back down to a downy 1/16th. But you can have a nice short haircut, not just a short haircut. Chin down, let’s neaten up your nape.
She nodded as she watched her stepmother see her newly highlighted hair and smile. I gave Stephanie’s nape a little closer buzzing than the rest of the back, giving Stephanie some interest at the back of the cut, not just the top. It would be something fun for her to run her fingers through and the harsh buzzing sound of the clipper pleased both her and her stepmother. Erika has never had long hair, so she was used to the idea of a clipper as common cutting tool, but even she grinned when she saw how being professionally shaved with a bit of direction changed her cut from bristled paintbrush to something from the pages of a magazine. Not Stephanie, not Erika, nor Mrs. Stipe has ever had a strand of hair touch an ear or a collar since they’ve been coming to our shop, but they do have the cutest short snipped haircuts. Erika in particular, with her tiny features and thick head of hair is one the whole shop hopes they get a turn at. Whoever draws her name on our teaching night usually cheers and admits they have a cut in mind for her. Hair that thick begs to be cut short and we never run out of ideas on how to tame it, and draw attention to that pixie face of hers. Stephanie’s hair, now that it’s short and neat, is a fashion plate of the latest styles, and Mrs. Stipe has fully embraced the badass with the short haircut attitude rather than simply mom who cut off her hair and couldn’t be bothered.