Dear Eldest Child,
Yesterday you brought home a picture of yourself from summer camp, handed it to me, and told me that it was to remind me that I needed to make your mohawk awesome again. You see, when you were four you started asking for a mohawk. And when you were five we let you get one.
Instead of saying “no” to the mohawk idea, I said that you had to overcome your fear of hair buzzers and that if you still wanted the mohawk in a year you could get the mohawk. You asked periodically “When can I get my mohawk?” and eventually I told you that at the end of the school year you could get a mohawk if you still wanted one.
I had many mixed feelings about this choice of yours, but when you wanted to grow your hair long I told you that haircuts and clothes are something that you can call the shots on. They are the areas in which a five year old can express individuality in an impermanent way.
I understood that it would take a lot of work each morning to put it up. Not to mention some research to figure out how I was supposed to get 3 inches (then) of hair to stand up straight all day through playtime. I had never had a mohawk or cared for a mohawk.
I understood that, as with any choice that we make as children, a mohawk could come with teasing.
I considered protecting you from your decision and saying “no”, or explaining to you that it could result in teasing. You’re fragile sometimes.
Ultimately we honored what we had told you- that your hair is yours to make choices about.
You see.. We can’t protect you from teasing, because anything can be the source of teasing. Kids tease. You can be teased for having blue eyes or a three letter name. You can be teased for being tall.
The way to build your self confidence is not through telling you that your choices are the wrong ones, but through supporting your choices and making sure you understand how totally arbitrary and unwarranted teasing and bullying is.
So you got your mohawk. We looked at pictures of other people who had mohawks. All different kinds of people. And we talked about how some people think that mohawks are silly. Some people think that mohawks mean a certain thing. But that some people think mohawks are totally awesome and cool. And that ultimately we decide what it is that we like, and our hair and clothes should come from what we like and not what others tell us is “cool”.
You do look awesome with your mohawk. Your head is a lovely shape and you have huge big blue eyes with crazy-long lashes and you are able to pull off any hairstyle. It also makes it easy to spot you in a crowd of kids at the playground. You’re the one with five inch spikes sticking up from your head.
I don’t entirely like waking up an extra half hour early when I’m already not getting sleep because your little sister is four months old. But I consider it work that is worth it because it is building your confidence in your choices. It builds your independence. And it teaches you responsibility because you are the one who washes the spikes out. You are the one who gets up when I tell you it’s time to get up, because you understand that if you want your mokawk up then you have to get ready quickly.
There’s a cultural association between mohawks and counter-culture, and counter-culture and a lack of responsibility. I find a certain irony in this, as your ‘hawk has taught you more responsibility and time management and listening skills.
It’s also eased your frustration with being teased. You’re only five, but those crazy spikes on your head have taught you that it’s okay to choose to be different sometimes, and that sometimes kids will tease you for something that is actually rather awesome. It has given us ways to talk about permanent and non-permanent choices, about matters of style and matters of health and safety.
At five you say something that took me nearly 30 years to master: “It’s okay that you don’t like it, but it’s MY BODY and MY HAIR and I like it because it’s cool.”
I had been hoping that it was a phase and that it would grow over (literally) and we could go back to sleeping in a little bit longer. Yesterday you took the initiative to take a picture home from summer camp that showed your mohawk up, and told me exactly what you wanted and needed me to do. So we went into the bathroom while your brother was taking a nap and we buzzed the sides off again, put it up, and painted it red for fun. It’s now five inches tall. I may have to convince you that it needs to be trimmed a bit, as five inch spikes are a bit hard to get to stay up.
It’s worth getting up that extra half-hour early and getting my hands all sticky with hair spray and hair glue before I even have my morning coffee. It’s worth randomly being asked “how could you give him a mohawk” by people who think that I somehow made this decision for you. Simple. YOU made the choice. YOU stuck with it for a year before we went with it. YOU get up in the mornings because you want your mohawk up. We did not “give” you a mohawk. We let you make a choice. And I’m proud of the choice that you made, because it is your choice.
The way to be happy with your body and your choices is to own them, and to make them because YOU like them.
You teach me things every day, big kid.