Barbershops: the unkindest cut of all for a four-year-old

If you think about it, a son's first haircut is a comparatively easy one for most parents. The initial trip to the barber's often resembles a media event, complete with supportive parents and grandparents, photos, and, of course, the requisite lunch at the child's favorite fast-food restaurant. Subsequent haircuts, however, lack this festive air, enthusiastic booster section, and - most important - blatant bribery, and can present more of an adventure.

By his fourth trip, my son was not sure he liked this at all. He got in the car willingly enough, but as we crossed the parking lot and he could see our destination, his pace began to drag and his grip on my hand tightened.

As it happened, the barbershop was filled with a Saturday-afternoon crowd, and I considered returning another time. But, no, I thought, it's time my boy learned to share in this lifetime ritual, including the obligatory wait, in a real barbershop - not one of those unisex places where his mother wanted to take him. The owner was finishing an elderly gentleman's hair, and thinking that my outward nonchalance and apparent calmness would somehow be contagious, I sat down with a magazine (another part of the ritual) as my increasingly apprehensive child stared fixedly at the barber and his customer.

My son suddenly let out a shriek. "What's he doing to his eyes?" he screamed with his hands jammed into his eyelids. I explained that there was nothing to worry about - the barber was just trimming the man's eyebrows. I almost had my boy calmed down when he screamed again.

"What's he doing to his nose?" he cried, this time with his hand plastered across his face. We left hastily.

OK, I thought, it's time to regroup. Like a military campaign, our successful return hinged on better preparation and planning.

Explaining the eyebrow trimming was the easy part. No, the barber was not doing anything to his eyes. Yes, he does that to your grandfather. No, he won't be doing that to you. Yes, I'll be right there. No, I won't let anybody hurt you.

Despite similar reassurances, the scissoring around the man's nose required Mike's absolute, blind trust in me because, even though he seemed to accept my explanation, I knew, deep down, no four-year-old really believes that hair grows out of your nose. Thankfully, I remembered that we had left the shop before the barber had gotten anywhere near trimming the hair in the customer's ears, so I would not have to explain that part.

For my part, I decided that the "obligatory wait" would be a lesson for another haircut on another day. After careful reconnoitering, I timed our return when the barbershop was empty - especially of older men. In this calmer setting, and through a few similar unhurried sessions, my boy got to know, and like, the barber. This relationship continued between the two of them for many years.

Seventeen years have passed and my son is now away at college, but I am reminded of that episode every time I get my hair cut.

You see, I have now reached that age where every time my haircut is just about finished, the barber will ask the inevitable question:

"Trim those eyebrows for you?"

I always take a furtive glance around the shop before answering. If I detect any terrified little eyes watching us intently, I'll answer, "No, thanks. I think they can wait till next time."

Thomas Leibrandt lives with his wife and son in Abington, Pa. Parents: To submit a first-person essay on your own parenting experiences, send an e-mail to:

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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