Tuesday, October 25, 2011


The Wolf

   I wish I could have protected my children, and my husband. He is such a beauty, and pretends not to understand when I say it. Inside, he knows what I know; that it’s his elegant, sinewy, able frame, the long knowing of his arms, the mauve-gray cloud of his curling hair, his hawk-like face; the body-truth of him makes me able to go on. He’s petulant sometimes, wants food prepared for him, wants things found in our new house that aren’t lost. But when I need him, he pulls me close.

   Progenitor of my children, mine to look at, to have, the ascendant arching of his hard penis, the salty taste of the tip; that’s how it started, I thought, of the unexpected pregnancy that became our son, Hildebrand, after Jaret’s father; the Hildys, little and big. Jaret’s hands look like beautiful tarantulas; the fingers bloom open with arachnid grace, can be probing, gently obscene, or efficient, gathering, firm.

   Earlier in the evening he had washed Hildy, who was four, then; shit in the toilet still novel, celebratory, the culmination of a long process. From the tub Jaret scooped him up then sat him down gingerly, wrapped in a purple towel, on the bright green plastic pot and kept him there enchanted with a story of Godzilla The Man in the Plastic Suit meeting Mothra Who Is Also Not Real, long enough, wiped his anus, then deposited him back into the soapy water.  He dumped the shit and washed the plastic pot. He washed Hildy’s seal-sleek body sing-songing, “It’s a quick trip for the soap to Mooney Town, Mister!” We call an ass a moony. We call Hildy ‘Mister.’ “Don’t forget Penis Town,” sang Hildy, jutting out his hips to make it available for cleaning. Jaret laughed. “Watch how I do this,” he said. He poured blue liquid soap into his hand, then into Hildy’s hand. “Now you do it.”

   It was becoming time for all these things; for Hildy to wash himself, dress himself, to comb his sandy colored hair that went every which way, to wipe his own hazel eyed face with a washcloth. We had to be reminded, because we wanted to do it. I wondered if Jaret felt sad about that like I did. There were so many things I missed asking him about when the days shot away from us like spooked rabbits. I wondered if he ever thought in the past that he would wash someone else’s penis and laugh.

  In that spot in the hall between the bathroom and the kitchen, I could see them, in there, but they could not see me. I left the faucet on so they would hear that, think I was endlessly washing the dishes, and not know that I was watching.

   My friend Tabitha told me, before I ever met Jaret, that one night she had put her baby daughter to bed, and gently closed the door, then went into the small living room and saw her husband sitting with his legs under him, in a soft chair, reading a book, his beard, his glasses, his stomach, his hand on his foot, unaware of her, and she started to shake, and she retreated into the hall, and thought, These are the people I love most in the world, under one roof; this is the ‘why.’ 

   It disturbed me for years that she had said this, but eventually I would find myself standing in the same hall.

   I went back to the dishes and the cooking chicken and the lunches for the next day and the Sunday night emptying out of Tupperware and the wiping of vegetable drawers. I made Jaret turkey and horseradish sauce and greens on pumpernickel, a bag of carrots, a bag of grapes, an extra sandwich of peanut butter and jelly in case he got stuck late, and put all that and two granola bars, and a yogurt, in a bag; that’s lunch for 6ft 3 and wiry with the metabolism of a 20-year-old. I loved to watch Jaret eat. Hildy got American cheese and butter on no-crust whole wheat (no one could bring peanut butter to day care because of the allergic girl,) and a bag of tiny chocolate cracker bears, a sliced apple, and a packet of microwaveable popcorn to share. Pillow liked to take noodles in a special princess container and pink yogurt. Jaret was a draftsman, and Hildy and Pillow went to a lady’s house, a few days a week.

   Pillow; Pillowscent. Nursed to sleep. I regretted naming her Millicent. I hated ‘Millie’ and my father had said people would call her that and I ignored him but he’d been right. I would cringe. “You can call her Pillow like we do, she likes it,” I would say, and sometimes they would. ‘Millie’ was like a name for a strict church lady, someone Pillow would never be. I forecast that I would be astonished if she didn’t become pregnant in high school, her skin as pink and fuzzy as a peach, round muscles everywhere, blue globe eyes, doll cheeks, corn silk hair, an expression of fearless, scheming glee. She lay on her back in the bathtub earlier that night, floating on the water, staring at the ceiling, smiling, fingering her vulva in amazement, then flipping herself over like a huge chicken on a rotisserie and submerging herself, forcing out violent explosions of bubbles. She burst from under the water like a salvage diver, holding up a cup with holes in the bottom which she raised over her head, and as the water poured down on her through the holes she announced, “Raining.” She was two and a half.

   Hildy and Pillow gave into sleep willingly that night as usual. But our dog, Element, was restless and irritable. Element, ‘Elly,’ was getting old, the picture of ‘long in the tooth,’ and more lupine and feral than ever. She was a slate gray, bony Shepherd mix I’d taken home from a shelter, somewhat on a whim, the year I met Jaret, which made her ten, by that time. She had rocky joints now, and was easily annoyed, though not by the children, who stayed a little away from her; she was not cuddly, was not compelling to children. She considered herself my guardian and was hyper vigilant even in sleep. In recent weeks she had begun following me around more closely, panting; I thought, until that night, that she was in pain with her arthritis and wanted me to do something for her, but that wasn’t it.

   As I did the dishes and then sprayed out the sink, moved the toaster and the coffee maker and the knife block and wiped down the counter, took a few damp swipes at the stove top but could not bear to take it apart and clean it, Elly stood with hunched shoulders just inside the kitchen doorway; when I’d spied on Jaret and Hildy I’d had to go around her. She just panted, steady, waiting for me to stop. I bent under the sink for the dustpan and brush and swept the kitchen floor superficially, flung the dirt out the kitchen window into the shallow side yard area where birds and squirrels came now every day for our crumbs, and put the brush and pan away. As I straightened up I felt a quick, piercing pain below my belly, and then felt the bands of my back muscles contract, and then give in a way that was strange and familiar but too far off to think about. Outside I heard a cat shriek and then leaves shake and snapping twigs as it ran off. I wondered whose cat.

   I turned off the lights except for the one over the stove. I could see just my face reflected in the high, open window, and my body seemed to be part of the night. It was almost nine. Hildy should already have been in bed but Jaret and I were always slower than we realized in the evenings. Everything we did was staggered. The children ate their little supper at their little table while Jaret supervised, and watched an episode of an animal show. Then Pillow took a bath, and Hildy read with Jaret, while I made food for myself and Jaret then put it aside and we took turns snacking. We were not organized about anything but we had a way, a rhythm. Pillow got into pajamas, we read a book, and then she nursed for a long time. She would go on nursing until three years old, because Hildy had, which was the rationale for everything; Hildy did so Pillow will. I had nursed Hildy all the while I was pregnant with Pillow. Now Hildy got pajamas on with a little help, and had three books read to him and a honey sandwich and water. He had a final pee in the toilet and Mr. Weasly and Bluey Blanket and a long cuddle in the dark, and with murmuring speculation about the next day, and about a dream he planned to have, sank fully and warmly into sleep.

   As I stepped out of their room and closed the door, Elly pushed herself up from the floor, moved toward me, and head-butted my legs. She let out a very low, rippling current of sound, and then her head hung tiredly. She continued to pant. I looked at her food and saw that she barely touched it. Oh, my God, I thought. My dog is dying. She was old, I realized, and my last dog had gone like that; aged stably for a long time, then took a disturbed, anxious down turn, became lame, and died in sleep. I leaned down to pet Elly and she snarled in a measured way; she didn’t want that. She pushed me again. “Okay, old lady,” I said to her, and I went toward the back of the house to let her out.

   Our house was small, and not in good shape, but well laid out and on a nice piece of property; a wide front lawn surrounded by trees with hammocks between some of them, a narrow side yard next to the kitchen, after which was a good size woods, enough to walk in, to spot deer and rabbits and skunks and possums at twilight. I could sometimes see their eyes reflecting green in the night. We had a little porch in the back; Jaret was looking for a good swing that wouldn’t pull down the bonnet of it. I loved our screen door, and the wide, shallow three steps that led down to the yard, which sloped a little way out into more woods.

   The kitchen was right off the front door when you walked in, which always made me feel like someone had spun the house around, but I got used to it. Opposite was the living room, where we had a small table we ate at sometimes, the television, two couches, toys scattered around, and bookshelves. Elly slept on a blanket in the corner. On the same side of the hall was the children’s room, then Jaret’s workroom. On the other side, after the kitchen, was the bathroom and then our bedroom, and the screen door at the end of the hall.

   I had workspace in the basement; a computer table, a crafting table, comfortable chairs, the hum of the washer and dryer. We didn’t have a hamper for dirty clothes, we just threw them down the stairs for me to collect and wash, which the children loved. On rainy days we made sock balls and threw them down there, then went down and had a contest to see who could throw them all the way back up to the top. It was cool down there, I could spend hours there alone in the utter quiet, my feet on the cold cement as I folded laundry, read a book, wrote my occasional articles for animal lover magazines or for a midwifery organization’s newsletter. Elly had a bed down there she never came to anymore because the stairs hurt her. Sometimes I carried her down. Lately, in her agitated state, she stood at the top of the stairs whining until I came for her, but still she wouldn’t lie in the bed; she would pace.

   Now I went toward the back door. Jaret was at his computer researching porch swings. The light was low. The screen reflected in his glasses. From behind him I gathered up his long hair and gently, firmly pulled it into a ponytail, then made a knot, tugging it to massage his head, and he moaned and took off his glasses, allowed his head to fall forward. Pulling his thick hair with one hand, I pinched the back of his neck deeply with the other. “I think Elly is failing,” I said.

   “I noticed that,” he said softly. “Something is going on with her. She’s worried all the time.” He straightened himself and turned to put his arms around me.

   Our nights together were short. Jaret loved to work and so did I. The nursing and cuddling took a lot of time. But we gave a lot to avoid crying, arguing of any kind, misusing our power with the children. We wanted peace for them. By the time one of us came out from Hildy’s bed, nearly asleep ourselves, the other would be deeply engrossed in the work, or a book. But often enough, emerging from the children’s dark, sweet smelling bedroom, I would find Jaret naked on the bed, waiting, stroking himself under the gentle lamp, smiling at me, hopeful, restless, infinitely welcoming and grateful. How I loved him, with every cell in my body.

   I sat on his lap and half faced him, ran my thumbs over the crow’s feet at his blue eyes, which had become, like Elly’s, a bit clouded. He pressed me to his chest and my breasts felt sore and pressured. It’s so strange to me now that I still did not realize what was happening. Over his shoulder I could see Elly lurking in the door, her fur stiff and her eyes glassy, the ridge of agitation high on her back. “Let me get her out,” I said, and I got up and went toward her, to go out the screen door.

   Now, I think of snowflakes falling when I remember this, although it was autumn. Snowflakes in the house, and air shattering like icicles crashing in spring. I think of it as if I watched it and was not in it. I stood from Jaret’s lap with my hand on my aching breast, and as time slowed I could feel my bones directing the force of my life and wants, the simple going to the door to let out the dog, my legs walked toward Elly, knee raised and then lowered, foot on the floor, knee raised, and that’s when Elly spun at a sound, no sound I could name, nothing I could actually say I heard, but we felt it, Elly and I, and she snapped around to run from the room at the same moment that I lurched toward it, something outside, and her bone-arrow, thick furred body wove like shock through my legs and then shot out of the room to the door, and I fell fast as if the floor boards yanked me down, crashed on my hip and yelled, my sound the distinct herald of broken bone and stabbing pain, overlain by Elly’s murderous barking.

   Something was out there.

   Jaret leapt out of his chair hissing, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” at me, because he ran around me to the screen door, and then I heard him say in the hall, “Oh my God,” and I got up on my left knee, tears streaming down my face, and crawled, dragging my right leg, to him. He was frozen, his hands in the air. Elly stood inches from the screen door, her legs rigid and slightly splayed, every slate gray hair on her body raised and sharp as tiny swords, her sides distended as she sucked air and barked compulsively, a raging, rasping bark filled with threat, at what she saw; a wolf, foaming at the mouth, ripping the screen out of the door with his teeth, his jaws bloody.

   We didn’t have a gun. Jaret ran past me to the kitchen and I turned to watch him. He came back out with the largest knife I had in the block; can my husband stab a rabid wolf? Elly’s enraged barking continued and deepened, but slowed; she couldn’t go on like that much longer. For drawn out seconds my pain wound around my brain inside my skull as a high pitched, lingering tone of alarm and I watched the wolf, his eyes wild and mismatched, he was ill, possessed with shredding my screen, a death-seeking stupidity had run away with him; I thought, it’s not his fault.

   Jaret ran toward us with the knife raised over his head and saw that it wouldn’t work; he panicked then. The blood drained from his face, he was white and sweating. He turned to the closet, set the knife inside it on the floor, and grabbed his winter parka, unfurled it and shook it out like a matador, and that’s when we heard the door of the children’s room open. Hildy and Pillow stood there, peering out, the fronts of both their pajamas wet with urine, the smell floating toward me, their faces still, and Elly turned, smelled them, her tight black nose twitching, and she turned back to the wolf, his whole face now inside our house. He was beside himself with aimless fury, he could have stepped right through the screen by then and killed any of us but didn’t, he still tore at the screen, and Elly lunged.

   She eased back into her joints and shot forward, her vicious angle of mouth full of old, yellow teeth open as she dove on him, snarling. The children started screaming and the dog and the wolf, stuck in the shredded square of the door began killing each other. “Stop!” I heard myself screaming at the animals, “Stop! Elly! STOP!” but they would not stop.

   Jaret shook his coat open one more time and ran at the door, threw himself on it, and came crashing down on top of the animals, the coat covering them as they continued to tear at each other’s throats, growling and yelping in agony as the three of them fell onto the porch, the door on top of the animals, Jaret on the door, holding it down as it galloped under him, himself now shouting out sounds, crying out for me, yelling my name a dozen times before I understood what he was saying, because I was suspended, lifeless, watching, until I really heard him and then looked at his terrified eyes; “Anne! Anne! Anne! Help me!”

   “Jaret,” I heard myself whisper, and I began to crawl toward him, the children still screaming behind me. The coat was alive with the killing beneath it, the door shook, Jaret held them down with all his weight and might and then Elly’s snout tore through the coat and her dead black eyes and bloody face appeared, and she bit through Jaret’s left hand, which sprung blood. He released his hold on the door and the coat with his right hand and brought his fist down on her snout and cracked her skull. He raised his fist and brought it down again, over and over, seeking the skull of the wolf, and found it, and he cracked that, too, and the animals were dead.


   It was not a wolf. It was a feral dog that had lived near a run-down garden apartment complex some miles away. He had been seen in town several times, we learned, and the local police had complacently not looked for him, in spite of the recent reports of rabid skunks and opossums in the area.

   I was so furious I could barely speak, when I saw the police chief’s wife in the market, the first time I went out alone, weeks later, my leg in a brace after surgery to place pins in my femur, my pregnant belly becoming evident. I lumbered toward her and she had the humility, at least, to stand and take it.

   “How could you,” I whispered to her, spittle flying off my tongue, tears welling in my eyes. I meant it for her husband and she knew that.

   “I’m sorry, Anne,” she said, and suddenly she was crying.

   My eyes, I knew, were black with sleeplessness, my skin slack and gray with exhaustion and sorrow. My breath was stale in my mouth. I just stood by her. I had nothing else to say. I lived in my head. I couldn’t talk to people. I just thought about what was happening, all the time.

   We were selling the house.

   Jaret’s hand was sewn back together with black, twiney stitches that were crusted over with blood. I wrapped it and rewrapped it several times a day to keep him from picking at it. He had finally given into medication after two weeks without sleeping and chronic scratching of his own whole body. He slept now all the time. We did not know when he would go back to work.

   His friend Hector had come with his son right away that night, our neighbor had called them, and removed the carcasses from the porch, cleaned the blood, took away the destroyed door. Then they came right back and stayed all night, with a small rifle, even though it was too late. In the morning, they began to fix the doorway and didn’t leave till it was done. They replaced the screen door with a storm door and refused any money from Jaret, who told me about it while I was in the hospital, where I stayed for a week after surgery. Our parents came and stayed with the children while I was there.

   My only job, when I came home, was to make quiet. I moved so slowly, so carefully, that I could have watched new leaves uncurl from spring buds on trees while I did each tiny, crucial thing; to put butter on bread, to pour milk into a glass, to answer a call for me, was a whole act and took time. Everything now was one thing, isolate, fragile, necessary. I did nothing other than feed the children, feed Jaret, wash the children, hold them, sleep with them, and quiet them. The four of us slept in one bed. They did not go to the daycare lady for months.

   By spring, my belly was large, but not as big as it had been with Hildy or with Pillow. I didn’t eat, this pregnancy, because my leg couldn’t bear the weight gain, and I wanted to keep the baby from getting too big; I couldn’t tolerate the idea of a c-section. I also wasn’t hungry. Jaret’s hand healed, and after months of physical therapy, he started back at work, first quarter days, then half days. His company loved him and his colleagues and bosses were kind and patient about everything. He began to taper off his medication, very slowly. He held me more. Pillow turned three, and did not want a party, but said that she missed daycare, and went back.

   Hildy wouldn’t. He stayed at my hip all the time, and began to make keening noises at night.

Sunday, October 23, 2011


I’m delighted to announce that I am developing a collection of writings for special needs families on the topic of forgiveness, and I am opening it up to your creative contributions.
If you are family to a special needs child, this invitation is for you. If you know a special needs family, please pass this on to them!

The idea of this collection is a kind of parenting book, except with no system. It's for people who experience special needs parenting as intuitive, passionate, and autonomous, people who give it all and falter anyway and understand that as parents, we have no choice but to get up tomorrow and get back to it. To do that, we often have to forgive ourselves, for our frustrations and failings.

In the space between books like "My Baby Rides The Short Bus," "Gravity Pulls You In," and "Seeing Ezra," which are groundbreaking truth-tellers, we still need something that speaks to the process of parenting and pain, evolution and liberation, in our lives. That's what I hope to accomplish here.

I also hope for this book to help enrich the dialogue regarding 'resentments across the spectrum,' and to create an atmosphere where individuality gains traction over labels.

If you look at the introduction to the book, which I've posted here, you'll get an idea what I mean. The book will include essays like this one, which explores the topic and experience of forgiveness personally.

My post 'The Hundred-Dollar Haircut,' represents the kind of anecdotal, advice-based pieces I am seeking. These should tell a story of how parents responded to a problem their child faced, how that response did or didn't work, and carry to the parents the message that, 'Even if this doesn't work for you, and it may not, you're still a good parent, and you're doing enough.'

Submissions can range from 1,200 to 5,000 words, or 5 to 10 pages, and should be sent as a Word document attachment or in the body of the email, to my direct email address, by or about Jan.1.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

'Letter From Tigress, the Pit Bull' & 'Narration of Plastic Lizards'

A Letter from Tigress, 
the PitBull                                                         
Dear Large Dark Male;
How is your hairless head? 
I lay in the bed 
and think of licking it like 
at the cage place. Nobody
makes me take many
baths now. I don’t roll 
in my shit now.

The large male here is kind 
but not boss, a soap
smell but lets no 
licking though I get all the plates;
ketchuppy meatloaf, spicy rice, chicken
fingers and bottoms of salad and 
there’s a lot!
I am so fat! I am glorious!  I wish
you could see me shine some day.
I don’t think how
my own bones tempted me to gnaw myself before
you got me off the road
with the cage truck.
Don’t worry!

It’s still secret

that I sat on your lap as we drove.

The large female here is good and full
of smells, I love
the butter, the sour morning, that coffee stuff, the
blood, the armpits.

After the male and children go out the door

we chew each others’ ears and arms on the floor, 
snooze, then she zooms 
around putting things
back and then we walk and it’s good.

The small female is like a turkey but I’m not stupid.

Anyway it’s the small male I adore.
He beats me all the time.
His love for me shakes
his whole body, if he
were a dog he would hump me
like mad! He dives on me screaming
 “banzai!” from the sit-relax thing and yanks
on every limb and ratty nipple I have at
least he doesn’t poke
my eyeballs.
His whole face fits in my mouth.
That’s how I kiss him,
pinned on my back
by his loneliness.

The large female says into the talk-thing

he is brilliant, only
five, fragile; she’s dull
in the nose, always shocked.
I could smell my destiny

on him the first day!
He pays me
in bed, our bodies
stretched out long playing nose-in-ear 
his breath chocolatey, whispering
all the mysteries
of his days away
from home missing me.

I miss you sometimes, 
large, dark male, smelly head, enormous lap,
menthol in the run, oil, gasoline in the garage
even the the cage place, spare rib scraps and chop
bones from your home but I
am needed here.
And I am glad,
so glad,
I did not die.
Thank you.

Narration of Plastic Lizards
Tonsil is small but equipped with a killing
claw, throwback Deinonychus,
killer Utahraptor  
ferocious talons and
better than T-Rex
which was just a scavenger.

Tonsil is small, only an animal alive
today among many such as Wisso and Plato who
fight together although they are brothers,
Tonsil and Wisso, Plato
is the sister.
Who will win remains to be seen.
They are not the same species but
have the same mother,
a climber of remarkable heights.
Plato is small and may not survive mating.
Tonsil and Wisso and Plato each weigh
seven ounces and walk over water
using foot flags.

Only Tonsil has the killing claw, like his father.
Wisso and Plato are herbivores but will eat bees,
praying mantises, larvae, krill in a pond.

I can resist doing something fun because I would rather stay home
and not put on my shoes.


Friday, October 14, 2011

The Leash

Bud, 15 months old, walking good old Eena, who is much missed.

I got kicked out of a mom’s group, when Bud was about 18 months old and all over the place, and I was massively pregnant with Moopy. Why? Because I put him on a leash. 

There exploded on the mom’s group chat a torrent of vociferous pontificating and sancti-mom-ious scolding (of me!) to which I responded with as much damn-the-torpedoes aplomb as I cold muster; they’d already ejected me, what did I have to lose? 

Having moved on and found new friends, I suppose I thought it was settled. In my mind, only the most strenuously anti-mainstream folks had an issue with the leash, and the rest of us would do what we had to do to share the city with aggressive drivers, psychotic cyclists, and preoccupied pedestrians.

I see people with kids on leashes often; I thought the topic was finished. But then a friend posted this article on Facebook:
It was the only thing I’d read in a long time, regardless of topic, wherein the writer truly had no agenda; she really wanted to know if people felt the leash was a good idea, and her approach was restoratively different from what I’d experienced years earlier. 

Friends who’d had kids well before I did had warned me I wouldn’t like the group I joined; too dogmatic, too crunchy, they said. But I countered, "I'm dogmatic! Maybe not crunchy, but ... it's about the babies, right?"

It turned out that in fact, the group was 100% agenda-driven, even down to what words members could use on a variety of topics, what books members could discuss, which products they could suggest… it was shocking, but more disturbing still was that the group claimed one of it’s main purposes was progress on behalf of mothers, and to improve the environment of mothers’ lives.

I had not seen any of that schism until I wrote on the chat, late one night, when we were all gratefully talking to each other from the breast-milk-saturated hot-houses of our apartments, that I’d taken to using what I call a safety harness, which others call a leash, when out walking with Bud, and my Macy’s-Thanksgiving-Day-Parade-size belly. 

People freaked. 

I soon learned it was not permitted to admit to using any product that “comes between the mother and her baby,” any product that the group didn’t endorse.

“You can’t talk about that product here,” one of the managers of the group wrote me privately. “It damages the group’s integrity.”

I was mortified, not only by the feeling of having my wrists slapped by another adult, presumably my equal, but also because I felt I’d been fooled; no one had asked me to take an oath or promise to adhere to anything when I joined. I’d thought the principle mission of the group was to encourage one another, and to speak up on behalf of our own and our peers’ parenting choices, in public and to family and friends; how did it make any sense for those in charge to insist on dishonesty and suppression among ourselves?

I wrote an open letter to the group in which I expressed my deep gratitude for the volunteership and sisterhood. But I also cautioned everyone that casting contradiction or independent thought as a ‘no-no’ was a slippery slope into cultishness and groupthink.

“I don’t doubt for a minute,” I wrote, “these new mothers' ability to decide for themselves weather they want to use a leash, a pump, or a unicycle. I think it's important that this organization check itself, that it doesn't get involved with the same kind of information-straining of which its [managers], and members including myself, accuse doctors, mainstream parenting educators, and marketers. The driving reason that we're all here is that we want community and information, and we're exposed enough, and sophisticated enough, to decide for ourselves what makes sense.” 

The next message I received was notice that my continued access to the chat was denied.

Though that episode feels like eons ago (it wasn’t even five years,) I find myself hearing similar, if more vague, rumblings throughout the Autism community today. It takes a different tone, and there’s a lot of preemptive reassurance that comment writers don’t mean to step on toes or offend, but I best heard it termed at a panel discussion as ‘resentment across the spectrum.’

I was astounded. 

At the time, my child was just emerging from the crisis that preceded his diagnoses of Asperger’s, Anxiety, OCD, SPD, and Tourette Syndrome. Life in our apartment was still volatile, sometimes, although since my son had been placed in a therapeutic school, things had really begun to improve. However, I could not imagine what about that aspect of our lives seemed enviable. I suppose I had forgotten, for the moment, my own parents’ struggles, and mine as a sibling, with my Autistic sister who came of age in the Bettelheim years. I had been so intensely, internally focused on my little family’s spate of troubles that I didn’t even consider how demanding are the lives of families whose children need much more attention and resource than my own. 

Fortunately, I began to wake up. 


Parenting a child with Autism is radically different from and surprisingly the same as parenting in general; Rob Gorski illuminates this stunningly in his blog post:

For myself, the differences are concrete but less drastic, which makes the word ‘spectrum’ seem apt. While my son can’t go to regular birthday parties, for example, he has friendships, and has become able to participate in birthdays within his classroom, and to mouth the words to the Happy Birthday song and not experience an anxiety attack; that’s one small step into the expansive gray area between Autism and typicality, but it’s a big step for my particular kid, and for me. 

For us, it’s also enough. For others, it isn’t. 

Anxiety is just one piece of the fluid and dynamic constellation of Autism; many Asperger’s kids have it. It’s also one good lens for looking at disparities and similarities across the Autism spectrum, and beyond.

 For some children, Anxiety can be debilitating, but it’s hard to pinpoint what that means. Plenty of parents would call yelling “Booo! Booo!” during the singing of the Happy Birthday song and running out of the party (yup, that was Bud,) debilitating anxiety, and it is if birthday parties are really important; but to us, they’re not, and recognizing that for my family is a kind of freedom. We just don’t go anymore.

But what if I wasn’t okay with that? What if my son wasn’t? To what lengths would I go to make his participation possible? Would I make special arrangements with the birthday family in advance? Would I create a consequence / reward context for his behavior? Would I medicate him? Would I medicate myself? And would any of that work? Is that a risk I’d be willing to take? What’s worth it? What’s it worth?

And what if it’s not about birthdays? What if it’s about self-injury, regression, illness, impoverishment, violence? What if it’s about never knowing if your child is aware that you love him?

When I used to talk with people a lot about baby care, it became evident to me very quickly that there were so many variables that one rule couldn’t possibly fit us all. So similarly, when we talk about Autism, we are talking about the constitution of individuals, beginning with their very DNA, a complexity of literally millions of elements, placed in an unending variety of contexts; families, living situations, neighborhoods, schools… I’m not even convinced that the word ‘spectrum’ really does the job. 

Nothing that the parent of a pre-verbal, stimming, passive child with Autism experiences is exactly like what the parent of a hyperverbal, aggressive, insomniac Autistic child experiences, yet here we are. I’ve had or read discussions among parents whose singular goal is cure, and they describe chronic behaviors and unanswered struggles that really make us know, if we listen, why they just want this to stop, why they want Autism to go away, why they desperately need relief, and I want it for them. 

It throws me, though, because I don’t need those things, my child doesn’t, and many other families whose children have any number of requirements also do not, in spite of the fact that they, and I, exist under the same umbrella as those who do.  

But my child does need therapy, and lots of it. He needs a special school. And some families need much more: money, transportation, care, medication… are they, and I, not entitled to those things? Are these children not entitled to be well met, well attended, but also to just be?

In some ways, it’s a philosophical question; does Autism comprise the self of your child, or obfuscate it? Science might answer that some day, but for now, I’m convinced of certain things.

I grew up with a sibling whose profound Autism was diagnosed at the age of four, and who spent her life being schooled, treated, and medicated with some of the finest resources available, long before anyone questioned if her condition could be eradicated. Today, she’s 54 years old, and still Autistic; she has also exceeded her lifespan prediction by about 20 years, and to the best of our knowledge, she’s happy. She lives in a group home, with peers, round the clock care, and extensive medication and accommodations that make her as comfortable, capable, and connected as she can be. 

My family has been lucky, now for two generations; but in the end, it’s a person at stake, a person. It’s not a dream, it’s not a mission, it’s not a set of protocols; it’s somebody’s baby. 

My mother’s, and mine.


If the advent and synthesis of support groups in our society, especially online, have taught us anything, it’s what we borrow from the original support group, the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous: “Take what you like, and leave the rest.” Many groups claim to uphold this respect of members’ individuality, yet when it comes down to looking in the mirror of ourselves in one another, the idea shatters under the weight of our judgments. When a group is overly insistent about their beliefs, welcoming and safety are destroyed. At the same time, muscling ahead, even for the sake of only our own smug fantasy of passing, amounts to being a silent bully. Products and systems and chemicals are sold to parents by means of threat all the time; do we need more fear of failure and alienation in the very places we come for solace?

No, I don't know what exactly I want us all to say; maybe we just need to be careful.

When I think back to the leash debate, what I recall most vividly was the irony, the assertion by the group manager that the leash came between the mother and the child, yet what is it, exactly, that the leash does? I couldn’t believe that she really meant I should take no choice other than to hold my toddler by the hand all the time, that I should allow him not even three feet of autonomy, that I should take the risk of his danger over his life to satisfy a prescribed set of values I didn’t even believe in; and yet she did, and she asserted it on behalf of the greater good. But I, too, am part of the greater, and my child should have a share in the good, as should yours.

Ultimately, I didn’t mind getting kicked out of the group. One day, one way or another, my kids would stop nursing, and of course they did; at over three years old, which I’m a little proud of, not because it raises me in any organizational esteem, but because I look at my kids now and I believe I see glowing evidence of the nutrition and the bond, and even if that’s just my perception, it feels good, and that helps me.

But if I get kicked out of Autism, if my son does, because he’s not Autistic enough, or because I’m not willing to go to extremes to make him un-Autistic, a convolution so dangerous and self-defeating I’m almost scared to write it, then we’re both frankly doomed. 

And alone.

These are the phantoms that walk around in my head at night: what if he improves too much, and loses his diagnosis? what if Autism is broken down into subsets and only some count? if my son lost his rights, couldn't yours? 

One more thing of which I am certain is that we must advocate together.

Nobody on any Autism chat has rejected me outright, though despite being late to this party I’ve already encountered my share of scoldings for what I feed the kid or how I discipline him or don’t. But by and large, chatters seem to me to go to the other… end of the spectrum. I’ve known them to remove their own postings because their words motivated a bracing discussion, but then they got scared they’d hurt someone’s feelings, and that’s almost as unhelpful; to withhold our discoveries out of an excess of gentility. 

But it’s out there, the hostility, the divisiveness, the labile triage of who has to go and who gets to stay. And I guess what I want is for the doors to stop slamming. 

I have dreams for my son, and they change all the time. Some days, I like to imagine him washing and rehabilitating animals who’ve been injured in oil spills; he’s been a vegetarian since he was three and can’t tolerate the idea of anyone stepping on a bug. Other days, I picture him walking the halls of the school he now goes to, as a teacher or an OT. Still others, I envision him in work much less socially demanding; perhaps he’ll garden for the parks department and keep to himself; that would be fine. Perhaps things won’t work out so neatly; perhaps he won’t work. We can’t know that another crisis will never darken our door. I just hope that I’m able enough to help him if it does. But even if I am, I won’t be doing it alone. None of us do this alone. 

Maybe someone’s child will be a leader. Maybe a therapy or a technique will help him, and he in turn, will help others. Maybe I don’t like being lumped in with the grueling needs of a much more complicated family; maybe they don’t like me taking credit for their unity and strength; maybe I don’t deserve it. Maybe our griefs are nothing alike, not in depth, not in quantity, not in scope. Maybe it doesn’t matter, and maybe it does. 

Autism was hard on the family I grew up in, and I ran from it, yet I’ve arrived at the very same place. My son is here. My sister is here. I am the mother, so my husband and my daughter have little choice but to remain with us. I don’t want my kids to be angry, like I was. I don’t want to be glad I’m not you. I just want to talk about it all, about all of it, and I want you to talk about it, because you’re a person, and I’m a person, and the Autistic kids are persons, and the non-Autistic kids are persons, and we’re tethered to one another, this is the leash of human connection; without it, any one of us could get lost. 

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Hundred-Dollar Haircut

Rudy’s nostrils flared and his rotund, powerful form advanced as he arched his shoulders back. A sheen of sweat seeped out onto his balding, domed head, and his eyes glittered. I would swear his ears twitched. Curling chest hairs that sprang out of the top of his starched, white barber’s jacket seemed electrified.

“I can do it,” he said.

I believed him.

Today was the day.

Bud had not had a haircut in a year. 


Last time, it was also August, and Bruce had brought Bud home with half his head clipped neat, half left summer-shaggy, by a barber one block away who Bud had been to three or four times before without incident. This time, however, Bud squirmed, screamed and wept in the chair, and fought off the scissors and the clipper so violently that the barber nicked his ear, then refused to go on. It was just as well. Bruce reported that by then, Bud was hysterical to the point of near vomiting, which had become our barometer, that unraveling year, for just how badly things were going.

Still, I couldn’t quite believe what walked in the door. Bud’s sandy colored, straight, slightly doggish hair, which had gown down over the top of his shirt collar and begun to get in his eyes, remained that way, on one side; on the other, he had a clean buzz, almost perfect to his natural part, marred only by one bloody lobe, with bits of hair stuck to it.

I recall making some useful remark like, “No freaking way.”

Bruce had developed a gesture of submissive renouncement, I’d noticed; palms up in self defense coupled with an I’m done shake of the head. He went into the kitchen for a cold drink. Moopy was napping.

I sat in the big chair and Bud climbed up on top of my lap. It wasn’t that I wanted to care about nice haircuts, but he couldn’t start kindergarten like this; moreover, something was happening. 

“Would you like to go for ice cream?” I asked Bud.

“Yeah,” he said, his voice scratchy from screaming, as a last weeping shudder phantomed through his slumped body.

“Why don’t you sit in the stroller and take a break,” I said, and he nodded gratefully, and climbed in, and I got my purse, and we walked out. 

Heading down 79th Street toward 37th Avenue on that sunny summer afternoon, I felt a tingling in my hands; it was either pins and needles or a heart attack. Something was emerging. It was a different kind of thinking. I was aware of myself hanging my rage at Bruce on a hook; he was making me do this because he couldn’t, but that didn’t matter right now. And my fear for Bud, of what it meant that a 5-year-old child who once enjoyed haircuts suddenly acted like… well, an Autistic kid, screaming in terror at the utterly innocuous; I also had to set that aside, for the moment. It was a new part of me, this rage and fear combination, mechanical and organic at once, like some kind of collapsing alien arm. 

But I had a big, gangly boy sitting in a stroller getting stared at because he looked like a brain surgery patient or the victim of a cruel joke, and I had to do something about it, right then.

Obviously, Bud couldn’t go back to the same barber. So instead we went to ‘Heads Ain’t Ready,’ a hip-hop-styling-shop on 37th Avenue decorated with rugged graffiti and plastered with pictures of elaborate designs carved into young men’s buzzed scalps, a place peopled only by young men, giving and getting haircuts, posturing and smoking on the sidewalk, spilling out the door of the place mid-cell-phone-argument, white undershirts and silver neck chains everywhere, the blare of four different television channels flooding the block; soccer, rap music, Spanish language news, and movie gunfire. 

I got Bud an ice cream from the truck, and parked him with it, in the stroller, in front of Headz. Though he’d begun a scary new habit in recent months of spontaneous running away, I was reasonably sure that just then, wiped out from crying and busy with a cone, he’d stay put long enough for me to corner a young barber inside with the threat of tears and the promise of a twenty dollar tip. I approached the first guy with an empty chair; he was wire-thin, with stylish drooping jeans that made the front of his body concave, and he wore a hand-painted t-shirt of graffiti designs around the word ‘Damn!’ His thick, stiff, long-grown hair was pulled back in a tight pony tail, half of it braided out, half a cloud at his neck; the weird coincidence of that motivated me.

“Listen,” I said to him, my face a little too close for his comfort and he reared back, “I need help. My kid just freaked out at another barber. My husband said he was screaming. I don’t know what’s going on. Now his head is completely fucked up. He can’t go to school like this. I’ll hold him in the chair and you buzz it off, okay? Not bald, okay? Like a crew cut. But no scissors. The other guy cut his ear. I’ll tip you twenty bucks.”

The guy nodded, and stood on tiptoe to peer over the window posters, out at Bud, who sat ridiculously placid in the stroller, licking ice cream off his hands, oblivious to his half-shorn head. Then the guy looked at me and said with a shrug, “Okay, bring him in.”

Outside, I stood Bud up, and doused his hands with bottled water and wiped them on my shirt. “We’re going to get your haircut finished now,” I said, and he froze, staring at me. “We have to,” I said. “But it will be fast. I’ll help you.” His shoulders drooped and I picked him up, and carried him inside.

I put him in the chair. The barber put the plastic cape on Bud, who was then fine for one minute. The barber was quiet with confusion, sneaking looks at me; what was the big deal? He firmly rubbed the cut half of Bud’s head, then tried to run his fingers through the long side, and they snagged, tugging Bud’s head sharply to the left. Bud whirled around and gave him a dirty look, growling, “Hey!” and the guy jumped back, then recomposed himself.

“Relax, little man,” he said.

He picked up the clippers and turned them on and Bud gripped the sides of the chair, howling “Nooooooooooooo!” As the clippers neared his head, he began to writhe and twist, and that’s when I got between him and the barber, and put my arms around him. The tighter I held him the more he squirmed, and the closer the clipper got to his ear as the barber sheared away sheets of his tangled, overgrown hair, the louder Bud got, crying “Noooo! No! NO!” By the end of five minutes, I was squeezing Bud with all my might and Bud had all but given up, bent in despair and full throated crying, tears streaming out of his eyes, whimpering, “No… no…” but the haircut was done. 

If I had doubted Bruce’s report, I now had my evidence, but was shocked anyway. During previous haircuts, Bud had been twitchy, but giggly-twitchy, tickle-irked, yet he’d enjoyed it. He had liked getting haircuts. Now, he acted like an altogether different child, a child with amorphous, unmanageable problems, a child I didn’t know. 

We pulled off the cape and Bud bolted from the chair. I lunged after him and caught him by the arm, just to keep him from escaping enraged to the street. I held on to him as I paid with my free hand, with exact change for the hair cut and a crisp twenty as promised for the tip. 

The barber nodded in thanks and did not look me in the eye, and he turned around and proceeded to clean up. Bud and I left.

On the sidewalk, I pulled Bud’s shirt off him and brushed away the cascade of hair that had stuck to his tear-streaked face and neck and sweating body and sat him back down in the stroller. His head lolled back in exhaustion. We went to Starbucks and I got ice coffee, and he got juice, and a bagel he was too tired to eat. He fell asleep as I slowly pushed him down the avenue, slowly to lull him, and because he was so big. At a Korean belt-and-backpack store with a display of toys on boxes out front, I bought Bud a school bus, and a helicopter, and a sports car, and put them in his sleeping lap so they’d be there when he woke up, and we made our way home. 


In the next few weeks, Bud experienced an emotional and behavioral crisis to which Bruce and I responded with a sequence of actions entirely familiar to the parents of almost every special needs child; removal from situation, evaluation, documentation, pursuit of services, placement, therapy, and then you wait; will it work?

It worked. The constellation of diagnoses Bud received, centering on Asperger’s Syndrome and Anxiety, indicated a school and range of therapies we were then able to access in totality; but we were very lucky. Some children with similar disparities, high cognitive scores with intensive behavioral management needs, are often more difficult to identify and thus end up less well-placed. But our stunning good fortune with the team of professionals we encountered resulted in Bud’s acclimating beautifully by late winter to special education with related services. Treatment repaired him from trauma, and we witnessed a transformation; Bud’s obsessions returned to the scale of intense interests, his violence receded completely, his pragmatic and relatable language improved a great deal, compassion, consideration, and flexibility emerged in his personality, he became able to sleep through the night again, stopped running away, made friends, and was happy.

But he wouldn’t get a haircut.


At first we didn’t even notice it; we had bigger fish to fry, as they say. We had all those evaluations, and research to do, had to find him a school, get him squared away in there, used to taking the bus; we kept a close eye on our daughter during all this and her reactiveness to her brother’s struggles. Once the kids did get settled, Bruce and I experienced crashes of our own, from which we emerged with a feeling of diminished resilience. But by late spring, when the dust began to clear, we looked at Bud and saw a taller, stronger, scruffy surfer dude only missing a necklace of puka shells; his hair was nearly to his shoulders again, and everyone thought it was adorable.

It was, except first thing in the morning when it had to be combed, and then it was a nightmare. He has my hair, only lighter in color; it’s straight, but a little coarse, just enough to knot up over night and ideal for cultivating dreadlocks, if one so chose. It is not hair that cooperates with a comb, not without being soaked through with detangling spray or globbed with conditioner. Bud was getting out of bed each day with gnarled hives of hair on the back of his head, and, given his Sensory Processing Disorder and Anxiety, the sight of the tangle spray and soft brush threw him into running, leaping paroxysms of screaming and hysterical crying; it was like being catapulted backward in time to the worst moments of his crisis, for fifteen minutes, every morning.

He needed to get a haircut; I needed him to get one. But consistent with his history, no amount of bribery was worth it to him. And while we had seen with his OT and swimming lessons how profoundly well non-verbal approaches to learning and regulation worked with him, on the haircut, it seemed we’d have to appeal to his intellect, because we wanted the haircut now, and we hoped he would listen to reason.

Over coming weeks, I’d walk him past Headz and other barbershops, and have him take a look inside to see how no-big-deal it all was. Sometimes barbers “got it,” what I was doing, and handed Bud an unsolicited lollipop, which he accepted with his characteristic suspicion. I’d say, “What do you think? Is today the day? You wanna hop in the chair and get it over with?”

“Nope!” he’s respond, turn on his heel, and march out.

At home, the combing process improved marginally when I started speaking to him very quietly during it, about how we wouldn’t have to go through this for at least six months if he got a haircut, or, if he got them often enough, ever again.

“No more combing ever again? Not ever?” he’d ask, his eyes darting toward me and away.

“Never,” I’d say, controlling my urge to roll on the floor and beg and cry because in spite of his somewhat calmer participation, now I’d become the Pavlovian victim, sweating through the bulk of the combing sessions during which Bud wailed and wept like a two-year-old or bolted from the room to hide in the closet or under my bed, my heart racing with resentment, and panic; how bad would it get?  “Stop screaming,” I would say as he screamed, “Stop screaming! STOP SCREAMING!I was certain that if I had to go through it with him even once more I’d have a massive coronary event. 

On the less horrible comb-days, I’d venture, “So what do you think? Go for a haircut later today? We’ll get a big ice cream afterward?” My bribery mechanism was so primed it was automatic, despite amassed proof it never worked.

“Nope,” he’d say, hopping off the bed, “Not today.”

Months passed.


“Here’s the thing,” I said to Bud in July as I doused his head in the bathroom sink, then slathered his hair with Blonding Tones Conditioner which had been recommended to me by the mom of a girl with a Rapunzel-grade mane. “This hair thing is hurting us. It’s horrible for you. I’m screaming at you. You’re screaming at me. Why are we hurting each other? Don’t you want it to stop?”

“I do want it to stop,” said Bud, wincing and writhing, his shoulders jammed up into his ears, his arms extended crucifixion style, his fingers twitching, tears welling up in his eyes. “I just don’t want to get a haircut.”

Why?” I whined.

“Because it’s going to hurt!” he shouted back at me.

“It’s not going to hurt! It’s hair!” I yelled at my son, my son with Autism and Anxiety, because deep down, I too, often just don’t want things to be the shitty way that they are.

“RRRRRRRRRRRRRRAAAAAARRRRGGGGHHHHH!!!!he screamed at me, and ran into his room and slammed the door, and threw himself on the bed and cried.


Meanwhile, speaking of Rapunzel, my daughter Moopy had turned 4 over the winter, become highly alert to princess-culture, and fallen in love with the movie ‘TANGLED.’ She had also not had a haircut since the previous summer, her intention being “to grow Tangled hair,” which she certainly did. She, too, underwent intense combings every morning, but like me, she has an obscenely high tolerance for pain, and didn’t really care; it just annoyed her; sometimes a lot, but not enough to scream about it.

Through spring and on into summer, we combed and marveled at her lengthening ‘Tangled’ hair, the inverse mirroring of our ongoing hair-gatory with her brother, which she watched each day with growing curiosity. Moopy began a kind of call-and-response reaction to Bud’s combing meltdowns; the worse his fit, the more blithe and obsequious she’d be when the spray and brush were turned toward her. She was showing him up but good, and he knew it. There developed a resurgence in his striking out at her, grabbing her by the shirt, yanking her arm, during or after her exemplary grooming session, gritting his teeth and growling at her as he walked by; she’d smile and clutch her hands in self-satisfied glee.

I wanted to point out to both kids what a nice job Moop was doing, how her cooperation helped everyone, but it would only have made things worse. I was certain that Bud’s aggression about the issue had as much to do with his own shame as it did with his actual fear and discomfort. Appealing to his mind was not working, which really should have been no surprise to me. The horrible morning combings continued.

Then one morning, Moop unfurled a stunningly complex and subtle coup of sibling rivalry showmanship for which I can never fully repay her. She walked out of her bedroom for her hairbrushing and said, “I’m sick of this stupid Rapunzel hair! It’s a pain! I want to get a haircut! I want to get a haircut right now!”

Bruce, Bud, and I were stupefied.

That afternoon on the way home from school, I took her into the beauty shop I go to by the subway, and she marched straight to the back, climbed up into the chair, and told the stylist, who had given her a darling little chin-length cut the year before, “I will like a short haircut like I used to have, please. To make my face look like a beautiful flower.” 

I nearly drowned her in kisses and lollipops, but I still had no clue as to what would follow. In that moment, all I knew was that $15 and a tip cut away a whole layer of dynamic jealousy in our household and stripped ten grueling minutes off our morning routine of getting the kids up, dressed, fed, shod, jacketed, backpacked and out the door by ten after seven, bless her Moopy little heart.  

She strutted home from the beauty shop looking for any neighbors or pals we might run into for a chance to show off her frankly perfect Little Rascals style bob; it made her round head look rounder, her rubbery pink cheeks glow, and her blue eyes pop like stars. She posed and pivoted past the mirrors in our lobby and marched herself into our apartment, planting herself in front of Papa, her grandfather, and said, “Papa! Look at my excellent haircut! See how short it is? And it didn’t hurt or anything!”

“You look beautiful,” said Papa admiringly, but in low tones, trying not to crow about his grand-doll in front of Bud.

Bud walked over to Moopy and studied her head, brow furrowed. 

“Look at my hair,” my daughter said to my son. “Look,” she said more quietly. “It didn’t hurt at all.”

We all seemed to breathe in carefully at once. Then Bud went into his room and lay on his bed. I followed him.

“What if we,” I said to him, “brought the little DVD player that we take in the car, and we go to the movie store and you can pick two new movies; one to watch during the haircut, and one for after dinner, and we can buy a nice desert for later on the way home. Let’s do it. Come on. What do you say?”

“I say okay,” he said, sitting up on the bed, already weary, but stalwart, and ready. “But we have to take the stroller.”

“You’re six years-,” I started to say, then didn’t. “Okay,” I said, “let’s take the stroller.” 

And we did.


He picked out an animated Star Wars collection that cost over $30 and some kind of Marvel superhero cartoon thing that bordered on inappropriate but which I knew would hold his attention for the 15 minutes the haircut would take, and which I would hide, afterward. This was the last time, I told myself, that I would push this 4 ft. tall, 60 pound kid in a stroller, at least in public. I could barely get down the street, but I paced myself.

Outside Headz Ain’t Ready, I parked him and left him studying the DVD covers. The barber from last year wasn’t there, apparently replaced by the far more formidable Rudy, in the first chair by the door, who looked guardedly at me when I walked in.

“Hi,” I said. “My son has issues. He gets nervous. He hasn’t had a haircut in a year.”

Rudy stood up. “I got kids,” he said. “I understand.”

“I don’t know,” I said. “He can get really spun up. He might freak out half way through, or cry, but I mean like, really cry. If he freaks out, can you work with me? Even if we have to take a break? He’s a good boy…” I prattled on. “Can you…”

“I can do it,” he said.

I believed him.

Today was the day.

I brought Bud to the door. He edged in, casing the place. Rudy stood next to the chair, not really looking at Bud, brushing this and that, picking up a cape… he was good.

“Did you really bring the DVD player?” Bud asked, putting himself into the chair nonchalantly.

“Here it is,” I said, also trying to lay low. There were no other customers, and the idle barbers watched a mob movie of some kind on a million-inch screen TV near the ceiling. The sound track of a pistol whipping roared over our heads, and Bud’s eyes were drawn to it.

Rudy half-shouted at the guy at the cash register, “Turn that shit off, I got a kid here.” The guy brought the volume way down.

I plugged in the DVD player and set it on Bud’s lap. I put in the Marvel movie, which wasn’t that much different from what had been turned off, though none of the superheroes were getting beat bloody with a gun, at least. Bud seemed to intentionally focus on the little screen, and to ignore what was happening on his head. 

Rudy started the clippers. At the buzzing sound, Bud’s head jerked up, but Rudy was a nanosecond ahead of him and jumped back. “It’s just clippers, it’s okay,” he said. “Oh, look at your movie, what’s going on there?” Bud shot Rudy a look of mild disdain; he is no fool, but returned his attention to the heroes.

Like the year before, curtains of hair fell and slid down the cape to the floor. There was something unbearably institutional about it all, something military, punishing. I had, in truth, loved Bud’s long hair; I always had. He didn’t even have a first haircut until he was three years old and by then had blonde cornsilk to his shoulders; I loved the long hair as a counterpoint to that assertive, hard-nosed little personality of his, which was not little anymore. I loved the stylelessness of the long hair, the wild randomness of it; it did somehow speak back to me of the romance of my little boy, my one and only, my pal, Bud.

Only as the clippers rounded the delicate web of skin between Bud’s ear and the sides of his head did he react to them again; he jerked once, growled “Hey!” Rudy backed off for a second, but then resumed, even more gingerly. I kept my hands close to the DVD player just in case, but it never really got jostled. During the last detailing clipper strokes at the temples and nape, Bud scrunched up his neck a bit, as boys do; Rudy pushed his shoulder gently down, Bud brought it up, Rudy pushed it down and held it, and took a last swipe, and was done.

I took the DVD player. Rudy snapped off the cape. Bud got out of the chair and stepped up to the mirror, and smiled broadly. Rudy brushed him off fast as Bud turned left and right, admiring his head, rubbing it.

“Feels good,” he said, a little awed.

“Yeah?” I said.

“Yeah,” he said. “Really good. Okay, I’m ready to get a treat now!”

He remained there, looking at himself and alternately at Rudy, who smiled without commitment, and swept up all the hair, so much of it, while I walked to the back and paid the cashier. I returned and handed Bud the twenty-dollar bill which was Rudy’s due. I said, “Give it to Rudy, and say thanks.”

Bud turned to Rudy and handed him the bill, and said, “Thanks, Rudy!” smiling his most dementedly gleeful, open-mouthed, I’m-being-Kermit-the-Frog smile, bopping his head goofily up and down.

We walked out. Bud plunked himself into the stroller.

“You gotta be kidding,” I said.

“I’m tired!” he whined, smiling.

“Okay,” I said, smiling too, of course, and began to push.

And we have not combed his hair since.


I take credit for none of it. Neither the cajoling visits to barbershops nor the matter-of-fact chit-chat about how and why it would be easy and fine, not the whining or the wheedling, not the shrieking or the pleading, not the DVDs or the ice cream, is what did it. And as much as I loved Moop’s brilliantly underhanded yet compassionate coercion of her brother through that fragile transition in his life, whether she knew what she was doing or not… ultimately, the victory belongs to Bud alone.


His head was ready. That’s all.


Haircut for Moopy                                       $15
Tip for Moopy’s Stylist                                $5
Star Wars DVDs                                          $30
Marvel DVD                                               $14
Bud’s Haircut                                              $12
Tip for Rudy                                                $20
Ice Cream and Whip Cream                        $10

Total Expenses for the afternoon                $106

The Hundred-Dollar (and then some) Haircut …  


Worth every penny.