Hair, Vampires and Vitamin D: Letting Kids Make Choices

I want to write today but the sun is shining and it’s April and I live in Oregon. Bear with me. I’ll do what I can.

An Oregon Sun Day is sort of like a Snow Day; some people love it, some people hate it. My kids think school should be canceled. And not so they can play outside. No; my kids think school should be canceled so they can hunker down inside because “THE SUN. IT’S BURNING OUR EYES. TOO BRIGHT. TOO HOT.” Sun Day? Kid panic. And just FYI, it’s 60 degrees (15 degrees Celcius) right now. I’m raising a brood of modern-day vampires is what I’m saying. They sparkle in the sun, and it’s distracting.

I, on the other hand, am no vampire. And, look, I know we’re not supposed to have favorites, but of all the vitamins I love D the best. In Oregon, D is like the Prodigal Vitamin. It runs away. It hides. It withholds its affection and doesn’t show up for family events. Then it returns, and even though our relationship is totally dysfunctional, I greet it with open arms and celebration. Every. Time. My kids shun it. I forgive it. And I haul out the BBQ in its honor.

So. It’s summer in Oregon. For at least today. All week if we’re lucky. And we should talk summer fashion. Particularly, let’s talk fashion for 6-year-olds and what to do when one of ’em wants to go bald.

In general, our family’s philosophy around hair is “It’s yours. It grows back. Whatever; it’s just hair.” So, you know… a powerful position statement with clear do’s and don’ts. And my kids have done a lot with their hair freedom. Long. Short. Flat. Spikes. Hot pink.

photo (55)-001They run the gamut.

And mostly I’m OK with that. Mostly I love it. Mostly I buy the idea that my kids are not me and therefore don’t have to do what I would do. Mostly I believe it’s good for them to make some of their own choices. And mostly I like it when we’re somewhat counter-cultural because I don’t believe in buying into all that mainstream culture is trying to sell us.

Which is why I was surprised how much I had to think about Cai going bald. And how much I held him back. Me, the mama who had no trouble sending my boys to preschool in hair barrettes, pink nailpolish, swim trunks, parkas and rain boots. I found myself afraid of what others might think about the bald thing.

Will people think Cai has cancer? Will they think we’re being insensitive to people with cancer? What about racism? Can I allow a white boy to shave his head when he’s not, you know, actually going bald? Are skinheads still a thing? If I don’t let my white boy shave his head simply because he’s white, though, is that another kind of racism? Or is it just called sensitivity in that case?

All winter I held him off. It’s too cold, I said. You’ll have to wait for warmer weather. Hoping, of course, that he’d forget or change his mind.

He didn’t. And then the sun came out.

So I took him to get his hair cut. Like this:

photo 1 (53)-001Not quite bald. More a drastic buzz cut than bald. A brilliant compromise. A way between. The mama’s specialty, right? Finding the perfect balance.

Except he didn’t want a drastic buzz cut. And the perfect balance isn’t a thing.

He wanted it “BALD, Mom. ALL THE WAY BALD. And you said I can choose.”

And he’s right. I did. So Greg and I shaved our son’s head this weekend.

photo 3 (41)-001

So. In case you were wondering about the blinding light coming from Oregon? That’s my kid. Glowing. Body and soul. Head and heart. Eyes and smile.

As for his mama? I don’t have the answers on this one. Not for anyone but us. And barely that. But I will say this: my kid’s happy, comfortable in his extra skin, and the sun is shining. That’s enough for now.


What about you? How do you decide what you will and won’t let your kids do for self-expression? Do you just say a few Hail Marys and go with your gut like I do? Or is there a method to your madness?

Also, this question was easier for me to answer when it was on my friend Jacoba’s blog about her kid and not mine. I say we just farm out our parenting questions to each other from now on. K? K.


P.S. My bloggy friend, Carrie Cariello, wrote A BOOK, and called it “the perfect choice for Autism Awareness Month.” I’ve read it. is right. What Color is Monday? is the honest, endearing and often humorous story of Carrie’s son’s autism diagnosis and how their family of 7 (yep – 5 kids!) learned to embrace all their son has to offer. Here’s Carrie’s book trailer:

(Psst… I get no kickbacks or other benefits for promoting Carrie’s book. Other than the benefit of telling you about something rad, which is actually a pretty cool benefit. The end.)


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21 responses to “Hair, Vampires and Vitamin D: Letting Kids Make Choices”

  1. He started doing it because he didn’t want to cut it, then he wanted to grow it to donate it. It was much easier to get behind (and deal with the comments, the people thinking he was a girl, the grandparents saying he should get it cut) when he was doing it for a cause. You raise an interesting point that we should farm out our parenting questions! I have long thought that often my yay’s or nay’s come purely from random choices, not always from well-thought-out reasoning. (Not every decision mind you but many). Or they come from what’s convenient at the time.

  2. My 5 and 7 year old boys love having their heads shaved. So we let them participate in St.. Baldricks in March every year. They raise money for kids with cancer and get to have their heads shaved. On the other side, to make the perfect balance, they get nice looking haircuts the rest of the year, which makes their St. Baldricks cuts extra special. (and we do family photos in October) 🙂

  3. I love this! 🙂 I used to live in WA and I miss it terribly, but I think I’d miss the sun if we moved there now. My son had long hair, past his shoulder blades. He started doing it because he didn’t want to cut it, then he wanted to grow it to donate it. It was much easier to get behind (and deal with the comments, the people thinking he was a girl, the grandparents saying he should get it cut) when he was doing it for a cause. You raise an interesting point that we should farm out our parenting questions! 🙂 I have long thought that often my yay’s or nay’s come purely from random choices, not always from well thought out reasoning. (Not every decision mind you but many). Or they come from what’s convenient at the time. But. I will change my mind and let them know it when I think about it (and I’m pretty good at thinking relatively quickly) and realize I’m just saying no as a knee jerk reaction to something…society, past beliefs etc.

    I’m new to your blog and really enjoy your writing so far! I’m a newish blogger myself, working through parenting stuff and life stuff and it’s great to connect with others. Hi!

  4. My mom let me get my hair bleached and streaked BRIGHT purple when I was ten. But if she ever found out I didn’t include someone in my group at recess I would have been in BIG TROUBLE. Priorities. My mom is awesome.

  5. My own mother was of the “do what you want with it” variety. In fourth grade I didn’t brush it for a year. Well, I “brushed” over the rats nest to smooth it out. At the end of the year I finally admitted it, and she had to have the knot cut out, leaving me with hair about an inch long. So she let me keep a tail, and dye it blond. So for my bat mitzvah, I had inch-long brown spiky hair with a blond rat-tail….and a Gunne Sax Dress with a lace jacket!

    I let DD keep her hair the way she wants, which is so long that I have to brush and braid each day, even though she’s 10 and should be able to do it herself….I’m not repeating that rat’s nest! I wanted to dip-dye it, but she’s way more conservative than me.

    • This is the most rad mental picture ever: “So for my bat mitzvah, I had inch-long brown spiky hair with a blond rat-tail….and a Gunne Sax Dress with a lace jacket!” Thanks for the giggle. Kids are the best. Even when the kids were us. Love.

  6. My mother in law so rarely cut my husband’s hair as a child that our eldest daughter (almost 3) is convinced that he was a “little girl” before he became a “big growed up man”. She has an uncle and a little boy friend with longer hair and has never referred to either of them as girls (or “womans”), so I don’t know where this has come from but I do know it cracks me up every time!!!

  7. My son used to have the loveliest brown curls, until he decided he wanted it short (some years ago). So I give him a buzz cut, but not as short as he wants it. Maybe I should do what he wants. The difference between the shortest and the shortest-but-one: it grows that much in a week. I can deal with one week of too-short-hair.

    I loved Jacoba’s post! Pink was his favorite color too, but that changed as soon as he started school. We had bought a pair of bright pink crocs that summer ( “are you sure you want the pink ones? There’s also blue, or green like mama”) and he wore them to school all the time. No one teased him about it.

    I think boys should be free to have nail-polish, play princesses etc. We don’t have to tell them that this is for girls. They will find out all too soon anyway. But I must confess that I’m a bit relieved that my son doesn’t want to wear dresses to school, like one of our neighbour boys.

  8. Came looking for you because, you know, it’s the middle of the night and when i woke up to tend to another’s needs/tears, i also awoke to the realization that the part of dream i woke from contained a large operatic number………………about a “poopsplosion”. I’m sure that has to be your fault somehow, right?

    Anyway, i got here to realize i had opened a window to read this blog post, but somehow never got here until now. Funny, i don’t remember the sun being so fearsome or elusive whilst living in Portland, but perhaps that’s because without kids it might be possible for me to “forget” that there IS an outdoors…unless there’s a beach. Regarding hair…I have been a lot more “who cares it’s just hair” than my parents might be–in particular with my boys. I have one who did 1. a Jedi tail 2. a Mullet 3. Spiky hair. My daughter wants to be Crystal Gayle–though she has no idea who that is. It’s just her hairstyle choice. And frankly, since that one still isn’t doing her own hair consistently, I’m considering NOT letting baby make that choice once she gets old enough! One boy seemed duo traumatized by his first haircut that he spent a good year growing his hair out nice and long (I hated it. Particularly when I thought the comments of someone’s great-grandmother at a party–“What’s that little girl’s name?”–might embarrass him. He didn’t care.) The selling point of a shorter hair cut (eventually) was that he could grow it out for a while between cuts, but longer hairstyles would require more frequent trims to make it look nice. He choose the shorter cut then commented “Oh, that didn’t hurt.” Most recent cut included a longer bit in the bangs so that he can make it come to a point. Not sure where that idea came from. Oh, well. Funny story–meet the bus today and didn’t recognize him at first with the new cut! HA!

  9. So, in theory I agree kids should get to choose. Because it’s their head and their regrets, haha. Plus, I have just never been one to care that much. I am always way behind with my own haircuts. I’ve bleached it and dyed it terrible colors and I lived! I’ve chopped it “too short” and grown it “too long” without a trim etc, etc… Sometimes it looks great, but when it doesn’t, my life doesn’t stop in its tracks. unless I suspect that my baby shower is the next day and then yes, okay, I run to supercuts and fix it, lol. but otherwise, meh, i just don’t have the energy to care SO MUCH. There are enough other things to worry about.

    My KIDS are only 3 and 4 but they have enough hair to do stuff with and they are opinionated for sure. They have gone months without a trim and they don’t want one, and I haven’t decided to care yet if its not in their face. I trim my daughter’s bangs and that works. Last time my son asked for a buzz cut because his friend at school wanted one, and we gave him a buzz cut. He loooooved it but after a while he just wanted to grow his hair back, he missed his curls, and that was like 5 months ago. But then and now he has said he loves his hairstyle, and that’s pretty cool, plus I don’t want to teach them to be fussy and self-conscious about their looks any more than will inevitably happen. Comb it, okay!! I like that he was brave enough to get a buzz and that his friend’s haircut story gave him the courage to try something new too (we had asked him before but he never wanted a buzz, and he is generally freaked out by loud things, especially near his head). I’ve asked him if he wants a trim now and he doesn’t. Does that make me a crappy mom not teaching my kid to meet certain expectations of physical appearance? It just doesn’t seem worth pushing when getting them to wear clothes is hard enough, lol… It’s not like he’s trying to get a job yet.. Or am I supposed to start now so he is accustomed to keeping himself cleaned up (lol) on his own later? I don’t know, my mom never fussed over me aaaand.. hmmm. maybe I should think about that. LOLOL

    The other side of the story is this. When he got his buzz cut, my daughter who wasn’t yet 3 also asked for one. We said no, but at first, I couldn’t figure out the right reason for her, because I don’t like to tell her, “because you’re a girl” (or “because you’re a boy” to my son). Those kinds of phrases got me joining the army and doing all kinds of stupid stuff when I was younger just to prove that I could do them. BUT ON THE OTHER HAND, I don’t think at less than 3 years old she really understood how long it would be before she had her hair grown back, and I know that she likes to have pony tails and pretend she’s Rapunzel some days. I feel like she could be a little older before understanding what buzzing that hair off means. OR maybe I actually am a jerk and if I had just let her get a buzz cut at almost 3, she would remember forever that she chose it for herself and that we let her and she couldn’t play with her hair for a year. she would eventually get over it and not have suffered all those static problems all winter. *shrug* Honestly, she stopped asking after a couple days, despite being generally persistent for ANYTHING else, so I bet she forgot. 😛

    • Ah, yes. I think you’re right on, Carlie, that kids’ choices should be commensurate with their understanding of the long-term consequences of their decisions. Many 3-year-olds probably don’t have an understanding of time that’s appropriate for a shave-the-head move.

      And you raise a *great* point on gender. I’ve wondered if I’d really be as open to my girls doing something like this… and the truth is, while I think I’d get there eventually, it would probably take longer to convince me that they’re prepared for the cultural implications/criticism associated with their choice. I’m not sure if that means I need to better evaluate my sense of egalitarianism or if it just makes me realistic. At what point am I protecting my kid and at what point am I buying into my culture’s definition of beauty?… which is the question Jacoba raises in her post, as well.

      Interesting points and stories, Carlie. Thanks for sharing.

      • I went back and read your friend Jacoba’s post, and now I have more to think about, ha. <3

        PS enjoy the sun 🙂

  10. I used to live in Vancouver, BC. Our friends’ kids, who were born and raised there, had the same squinty-eyed, burrow in a corner reaction to sunny days–we call them mole children.

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