Whose hair is it anyway?

Posted: Friday, October 12, 2007

"Saw your son the other day. Hardly recognized him with all that hair," an acquaintance commented.

Sound off on the important issues at

"Yeah, he can have it as long as he wants. As long as it's clean, I don't care," I responded casually.

"Not me, I make my son keep his short."

"Uh huh, well ... "

"He doesn't like it but, hey, we're the parents."

"That's the thing about being parents," was all I could think to say.

For better or worse, I have opted to give my kids lots of latitude regarding their appearance. When the phase was Abercrombie and Fitch and PacSun, our budget pretty much kept things in check. Ditto for makeup, accessories, and hair.

When the phase turned to St. Vincent de Paul and Salvation Army, the limitation was simply closet space. I initially made an attempt to get the items through a wash cycle before they were worn, but even that effort fell quickly by the wayside.

I wasn't thrilled when they cut holes in new jeans or tore sleeves and collars off T-shirts, but we all pick our parenting battles, and that one wasn't mine. When they painted slogans or symbols on shirts, my requirement was no obscenities, but I didn't always get my way on that one, either. So then it was, at least, no four-letter words to school.

At times I would feel, or at least imagine, the disapproval of other parents. "What kind of parent are you, letting your kid look like that?"

Like the time I was chaperoning a high school dance, and one of the high school staff leaned over to me and said, "I think I'm going to have to ask that girl to leave - spaghetti straps aren't allowed."

"That one?" I asked looking out at the crowd in the Commons, "The one in the black tank top?"

Sure enough, it was my daughter.

But I was young once, too, and had my own small rebellions. Bangs that hung in my eyes and drove my mom crazy, hot pants and short skirts that got me sent to the principal's office. I was in junior high when blue jeans came into fashion, but girls still weren't allowed to wear pants to school, let alone blue jeans. In response, we eighth grade girls bought blue jeans, wore them to school every day and, thereby, wore the administration down until the school allowed jeans for girls. So there.

Our daughter dyed her hair pink for high school commencement and, no kidding, we didn't even notice. It had been so many shades of red, orange and yellow by then that it sort of blurred. She made noise about shaving her head for graduation, so as long as there was hair on her head that seemed something.

The truth is, I have sort of prided myself on letting my kids express themselves through their physical appearance. So, I was caught completely off guard by my reaction to my son's recent foray into hair dye. He started talking about having a friend chop off his long locks and dye his hair a shocking shade of blue. I felt, to my dismay, a sense of alarm. I offered to take him to my stylist for a cut and even color. I tried to bribe him, shamelessly, with a purchase he wanted.

I really, really didn't want his hair cut short or dyed blue. And I had to ask myself, "Why?" Why did I care about this manifestation of expression when I hadn't cared about so many others?

And the answer I had to face was this: It didn't fit my idea of who I thought he was. Or, perhaps more honestly and embarrassingly, who I wanted him to be. Ouch. I was "down" with a T-shirt that said, "Damn the Man" or wild, unkept hair reminiscent of my alternative youth. But short, bright blue hair on my son? I didn't like it, plain and simple.

The situation required reinforcements. I called my girlfriend in Ohio, one of my trusted parenting mentors.

"Talk me through this one, Joanne." By the end of the conversation, we were laughing, which was a good sign. I had regained perspective and could think clearly.

Still not able to let it go, I called in one of my Juneau "parent advisors." She listened patiently and, gently, tossed back my previously expressed opinions on the topic.

Hard as it is, here's the conclusion I draw: I am the parent. I may not like it. But, hey, it's still his hair.

• Carol Prentice is caught in the middle of life, family and work in Juneau.

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