I get it, really I do. A mother never stops seeing her baby as just that—her baby—even when said baby is a man in his thirties with a baby of his own. My mother-in-law has every reason to be proud of her boy, my husband. She isn’t wrong that he’s sweet, kind, funny, and good-looking. He is all that, and more. Mark is also intelligent, pragmatic, resourceful, and a patient dad. He changed nappies without flinching and is very involved in bringing up our baby, who is now almost two. If it weren’t for Mark being a hands-on dad, little Tommy’s terrible twos would be so much worse.
But I really wish that my mother-in-law would notice that her son is a mature man now, not a little boy. She still insists on coming by our home and trying to rewash and re-iron Mark’s shirts and is never satisfied with how I’m bringing up little Tommy. She loves her little grandson almost as much as her son. I hear frequently how much Tommy looks just like his father at that age.
In fact, Mark still looks quite a bit like the baby boy he once was. His mother loved his blond curls so much when he was a baby that she refused to let him cut them, and he still has a curly mop. My mother-in-law was so afraid that Mark’s hair would lose its curl, its blondness, or both, but that has not happened. At thirty-five, he still has his baby curls. Tommy has exactly the same blond curls. I must admit, I understand where my mother-in-law is coming from, because I feel the same way about Tommy’s baby curls.
But, enough is enough. When I caught my mother-in-law in my house, uninvited, sniffing a pair of Mark’s briefs “trying to see if you’re using the right detergent that I told you to buy” I was disgusted. I don’t appreciate that she acts as if she lives with us by turning up unannounced, having a duplicate key made without our knowledge, and helping herself to the contents of our fridge before complaining that we stock the wrong brands. But this is worse. This woman still does not accept that Mark’s briefs are now my territory, as his wife.
Because of her surprise visits, even on those rare weekends when Tommy is napping and we’re both home and in the mood we always decide against risking it, because nothing is worse than being in the middle of getting it on when one spouse’s mother walks in the door.
“Honey, your mother is affecting our sex life and undermining our parental authority with Tommy, messing up his routines. She makes me feel like an incompetent intruder, like she thinks that SHE’s your wife, not me. This has got to stop.”
“I agree, but you know, it’s just her way of showing that she loves me. It’s inappropriate, but when you consider her unhappy childhood—”
Mark was no help at all. He began to play with one of the blond curls that fell onto his face, reaching just past his eyebrow. I knew this gesture was what Mark did when he felt hemmed in, caught between his wife and his mother.
“It’s only going to get worse. As Tommy gets older your mother will continue to insist on her way, controlling what schools he goes to, what he wears, what he eats, who his friends are, what time he sleeps, how he wears his hair. We’ve got to stop it now, while he’s still little.”
Mark was really frantically wrapping his curl around his finger now. “Like my mother does to me, even now.”
“Exactly. Do you want little Tommy to be micromanaged by his grandmother and grow up watching his father continue to be infantilized? What happened to you, you promised when we were dating that you would be your own man.”
“I know, I know. That’s not a cheerful thought. But what can I do? I’ve had my current relationship with my mother for the past thirty-five years. It’ll be hard to change it now.”
Poor Mark, I could see how anguished he was. He was really rooting through his hair with both hands now. Wow, there’s so much hair, and it’s so long.
This gave me an idea. What if Mark suddenly looked completely different, not like his mother’s little boy anymore? It was worth a try.
At first Mark was skeptical, but the more he thought about it, the more willing to try it he became. After all, we were desperate. He even began to smile at the prospect. “You know, when I was a teenager I almost did something like that. I didn’t go through with it, but I’ve toyed with the idea off and on ever since. Why not. What do I have to lose? The affection of the main woman in my life? But she’s not the main woman in my life anymore, you are. And it’s your idea.”
“Good, I’ll make the appointment then.”
“Wait a minute, what about little Tommy? We could do the same for him. Not let him go through too many years of trying to be Little Lord Fauntleroy.”
I would be lying if I said the thought hadn’t occurred to me; it most certainly had. At the same time, I felt the same way about it as Mark’s mother still did about him. On the other hand, I was confident that I wouldn’t let Tommy reach the age of thirty-five still sporting his long, baby curls. Maybe this was the time.
I made appointments at a barbershop for two haircuts, one adult, one toddler. The older man on the other end made it clear that they could handle small boys getting their first real haircuts, but not necessarily the emotions of the mothers. I said that my emotions were my responsibility.
When we got to the barbershop, I saw a man of around fifty and a young woman, maybe twenty-three. “Hello, I’m Kate. I made appointments for my husband and my son. As you can see my son is almost two years old.”
“I have a lot of experience with little kids, but Claudia here doesn’t. I want her to watch me so she can learn.” The male barber crouched down to Tommy’s level to introduce himself. Meanwhile Claudia watched him out of the corner of her eye as she took Mark’s coat.
The older barber made eye contact with me to indicate that Tommy was ready to be lifted into the children’s chair, which was shaped like a train. This was going to be a hit, because Tommy already loved trains, just like both of his parents. “What are we doing with his hair today?”
“Short back and sides, leave maybe two inches of curls on the top. Doesn’t have to be precision-cut.”
“Are you sure you can handle that? Many mothers who bring their babies in cry at the slightest of trims.”
“I’m not a fan of long hair on men, anyway. Tommy is an active little boy, I don’t want his hair to be in the way. Besides, it grows back.”
“Very well, then.” The barber smiled. Apparently I was refreshingly unsentimental as a mother. He handed Tommy a toy train and caped him up quickly. “The key, Claudia, is to be fast”, he explained to the young barberette. “No clippers, either. That alarms little tykes. Also, curls should be cut dry, but you knew that.”
The barber picked up a smallish pair of shears and began slicing off individual curls in rows, working his way up the back of Tommy’s head, then repeating the process on the sides. Then he inserted a comb at Tommy’s nape and began skimming the scissors over it, quickly reducing the back and then the sides to half an inch. At this point it had barely been five minutes. The barber did cut each individual curl on the top, but I could see that he was well-practiced at this, given how fast he worked. He even held the very front curls up and away from Tommy’s face so that the cut hair wouldn’t fall down in front of him and distract him from the toy.
All in all, it only took eight minutes to take little Tommy from curly baby to little boy. He continued to play with the train and other toys in the basket in front of him even after the barber had removed the cape.
We decided to let Tommy sit in the chair until he got bored, then he could sit with me and play on the floor. Meanwhile Claudia was caping up Mark.
“What are we doing today, sir? Matching, or different?” I couldn’t tell if Claudia was being saucy or serious.
“Different. I want mine much shorter overall. Similar shape, I suppose, but I want the top no more than one inch, with the back and sides tapered down, maybe a quarter of an inch around the temples.”
“OK, sir, that’s a pretty big change. That’ll be almost too short to curl.” Claudia began sectioning Mark’s top hair. I smiled. This was great. I had always liked Mark’s curls, but since I have curls myself I’m not terribly precious about them, and I love short, close-cropped hair on a man.
Claudia attached the number four guard onto her clippers and gently pushed Mark’s chin down onto his chest. This would be his very first clippercut. I couldn’t see his expression, but I was feeling oddly flushed and almost embarrassed. At first I didn’t realize what it was, but then I realized that the prospect of my husband with such short hair was a huge turn-on. He was going to be mine, all mine, and not his mummy’s baby anymore.
Claudia plowed through the hair at the back methodically, reducing the curls to stubble in the twinkling of an eye. She slowed down a little while buzzing the sides, at least until she could locate his ears easily to pull them out of the way. Then she changed the guard on the clippers and began the taper. I enjoyed watching her edge around his ears and clean up his nape with the edging clippers.
Now for the top. She took out the duckbill clips that held his curls out of the way and switched to shears. I watched her cut each curl about one inch from his scalp. It would still grow back curly and not bushy this way, but the result could barely be called curls. The hair was now just barely long enough to bend. It was definitely out of Mark’s face now. He couldn’t possibly play with hair this short.
Just as little Tommy started getting restless, Claudia finished Mark’s haircut. She showed Mark the back with a handheld mirror, and he beamed. “Yes, this is the cut I’ve wanted for years!” She giggled as she swept Mark’s and Tommy’s curls together on the floor. A father and son were both shedding their baby curls today.
When we got home we found my mother-in-law with her head buried deep inside the fridge. “Hello Mother, we’re home!” I enjoyed watching her bump her head on the fridge roof as she jumped out of her skin.
She turned around to face us, then her jaw dropped. I wish I had taken a photo of her expression at that moment. The mixture of shock, horror, grief, pride, amazement, anger, and guilt was priceless.
“My boy, my baby!” She rushed forward to grab what remained of Mark’s hair, but he swatted her hands away.
“I finally got the haircut I’d been wanting for years. You had your baby—me—but I’m thirty-five now. I left my father and mother and became one with my wife, remember? As it says in the Bible. Anyway, I appreciate that you still love me and want what’s best for me, but meddling in every aspect of my life, my marriage, and even my relationship with my own son isn’t what’s best for me.”
“You, you, you…” I thought she was going to point at me and say, “You put him up to this, you conniving Jezebel!” Instead, what she said was, “You’re right. I suppose I’ve been overstepping my bounds. You aren’t my baby anymore, and haven’t been for decades. And Tommy isn’t my baby, he’s yours. If you want my advice on bringing up boys, Kate, I’ll be happy to give it.”
“Yes, I appreciate that. I’ll let you know when and how you can help. I understand that you love the two males in my life as much as I do. We have the same goal, we should be a team.” Somebody needed to be an adult in this situation.
“Yes, Kate. Oh, and Mark, that is a great haircut. It suits you. I’m surprised how much I like it. It reminds me of your father when he was your age. You’re out of yoghurt again, Kate. Just thought you’d like to know. Well, I guess I’d better be going.”
After that my mother-in-law started to phone ahead before popping in—at least half of the time. She still raided our fridge whenever she came, but she did stop handling Mark’s underwear.
I found Mark so sexy with his new haircut that I couldn’t help but try to unbutton his shirt that night while trying to undress myself. Not coincidentally, our second son, Johnny, was born nine months later. Tommy so enjoyed his first barbershop experience that he likes to tag along with his dad, who also discovered that he likes the feeling of clippers against his head. I can’t complain.