Summer came and went, life went about its normal routine. Labour Day weekend is always the busiest weekend of the year, with parents returning from summers where they slack off a bit on their rules, then wake one day to realize that school starts in a few days and they need their kids’ moppy hair cut short and clean for the new year. It’s one of the times where we find kids pouting in objection to haircuts because they’ve had the chance to grow it out almost unchecked for a few months. Now their parents want to shave it off and they want to keep it. So when Jason came in with his boys, who were anxious to have the hair that had grown back while they summered with their grandmother cut off, it was a welcome sight to see them hop up in the chair behind me and enjoy a good clipping. When I saw my next client, I was not sure what I was in for. It was a teenaged girl with a long blonde ponytail. “My daughter has come back for the school year,” Jason explained. I’d heard Cindy mention a few weeks earlier that Jason’s daughter was not getting along with her mother, and she was moving across the country to stay with him for a while. The mom had thought that threat would make her daughter easier to deal with, but she’d called her mother’s bluff.
“Madison wants a short haircut,” Jason explained. “Her mom hasn’t allowed it so far. But I have different rules than Mom does.” It didn’t necessarily sound like permission. Madison stared at her father. This clearly had not been part of the plan. “Dad,” she whispered. “You said I could cut it short if I wanted.” Jason nodded, said he hadn’t changed his mind. “But if you’re cutting it short, you’re cutting it all off and donating it. This is a big step, I don’t want you regretting it. So, your first short cut isn’t your choice. It’s mine.” Madison stared at her recently lopped brothers, their heads so clean you could wash their scalps with soap rather than comb it. Then she looked at Cindy, with her closely shorn locks, dipped this week in pink ends. “Okay. Deal,” she nodded. Jason nodded at me. “Shave it off,” he instructed me, but with a tiny little wink. This was a big deal and he wanted Madison to think about her decision. Cutting off her hair to rebel against her mother might be a decision she regretted immediately, and for a few years afterward. Jason did not seem like the kind of dad who would pay for hair extensions if she decided she wanted long hair again a week later. He’d make her feel the pain of growing it so she didn’t do anything so rash in the future.
So I took my sweet time as I brushed her long hair, and still she showed no sign of changing her mind. I asked when she had washed it last. “This morning,” she replied. Indeed, under that topknot, there were sections that were still damp. “Well, no sense washing and drying something that is just going to be cut off,” I declared, wrapping the back in a tight elastic. Madison’s hair was so thick, it would take a lot to bring it into line. If she loved the cutting, she would enjoy every snip and clipper pass as it was cut short. If she regretted it, it would be a painful process to finish, no matter how quick I was with the clippers. I was nervous, too. I gathered a second ponytail on top, near the crown, wrapping a second elastic a half inch from it. “Ready?” I asked her, as I picked up my Speedmasters. (Not Mandy’s Speedmasters. I would never ‘cheat’ on her. They are a great tool, though and my clients do deserve the best I can give them. I have a second pair.) “Ready,” Madison replied, and tucked her head down, ready for the ponytails to be cut.
With quick efficiency, I shaved off the back ponytail, leaving less than a quarter inch of her hair behind. This was placed into a donation bag. I then shaved the top ponytail between the elastics, so she had more on top than I had left at the back. But she was feeling the sensation of being shaved and it was hitting her the decision she’d made. I then brought her to the sink and rinsed the hair that was left, in preparation for the scissors. She was a little quiet, but cooperative. While I dried and combed, I asked her what she liked about short hair and why wanted to do it. Neither Jason nor I expected the answer. Madison explained that she’s never had a say in what happens to her. Her parents split and she moved back East with her mother, while her brothers stayed behind with Dad. That was what her mom wanted, but not what she wanted. She only saw her father on school breaks and when he dropped the boys off for the summer and picked them up again. Their mom was so busy, Madison spent most of her time with her grandmother. Grandma was old fashioned and didn’t think girls should play sports or do well at Math, and they certainly shouldn’t cut their hair, because boys might not like them. “I’ve never had a say in anything I do. It’s my hair.”
I felt bad for Jason. I was single dad because I was widowed, so I never had that agony of thinking I was doing the right thing for my kids while they felt abandoned or ignored because of my good intentions. Madison had never had her father in her corner when her mother and grandmother got on her. I got her talking about styles she liked, styles she didn’t like (just as important when cutting short. Some of my clients bring me a picture they love and one of the same style gone wrong, so I know which one they prefer.) “Once it grows back in, I was thinking I might like to do it like Sophie Schmidt, from the women’s soccer team. She’s got so much confidence on the field.” It was a popular style request. Madison had already resigned herself that she was about to be buzzed and would not have hair to style for a few months at least. She was willing to do it if it meant she got a say in her hair after that. As I shaved the back down clean and even, and guided her so I could trim up around the ears, I noticed that Jason had gone quiet. Cindy had already taken the boys, they were off to get lunch while Madison got her haircut. “It’ll give you two some much-needed time together,” Cindy had explained when they left. Jason was the one now nearly in tears. So I combed along the top and dried the sloppily-snipped strands, then took my clipper and sliced across the top, clipper over comb. I left little end pieces and wispy pieces, guiding the strands toward Madison’s eyes, snipping the bangs short so that her eyes really popped. What I did not do was buzz Madison down to a brushcut, which was what she was expecting. Instead, I pretty much gave her the Sophie Schmidt haircut she’d liked.
When I held the mirror to the back of her head, she grinned and rubbed at the shaven areas. “That feels so cool,” she admitted. “But, Dad, you wanted it all shaved off.” Jason smiled. “I did. But you didn’t. Happy birthday, Sweetheart. That looks great.” Madison sort of stared at herself in the mirror. It did look great. She comes back now with her brothers, and she keeps it short. We’ve let the back grow out a bit, though it’s still short and close. Now it’s wispier, razor cut rather than clipper cut. She’s dyed it almost every colour she can think of, and Jason lets her do that, as long as she cuts all the dyed parts off at her next cut. It keeps Madison in short hair, it keeps her happy because she gets to experiment with it, and it always grows back before her next cut. Her mother, however, hates it. Madison has made the basketball and soccer teams at her new school, and if she keeps doing well in her math and science classes, she will apply for the Engineering program at the local university.