When the Old is Cut Away

He hates to have his hair cut.  When the clippers come on with a shudder and a raspy buzz, he begins to shake instinctively.  When he feels the vibration on his scalp, he takes that long, silent breath that we recognize as the preparation for a wailing, piercing cry.  He pulls away from the clippers and tries to climb out of the chair.  We have to hold his head firmly, hold him still and watch him plead without words to be released.

We were warned, in the terrifying lists of what to expect we received after Lincoln was born, that children with Down syndrome might have sensory integration issues.  We heard that Lincoln might be easily overwhelmed, sensitive to noise, uncomfortable in a crowd.  Early therapy sessions often focused on incorporating a variety of sensations, having him run his hand along different textures, watching his reaction to sounds, helping him get accustomed to being held and patted and talked to by people.

The funny thing was, Lincoln never seemed phased by any of it.  He welcomed every experience, stuck his hand into boxes filled with rice and little plastic animals, oblivious to how uncomfortable the exercise was supposed to make him.  He hugged every new therapist and visitor that came through the door, laughed at every loud toy, grabbed for every flashing light wand that was introduced.

But, when it's time to have his hair cut, he starts shaking so hard I can feel it in my own bones.

During the last haircut, as I sheared off a couple inches of Linc's hair, I discovered something that had been almost hidden in the shaggy mane he'd been growing. I had noticed that his hair was looking thinner in spots, but I told myself it was because it was too long and was parting in odd places when it was disheveled.  As the long strands were released, though, falling in clumps all around my feet, half a dozen bald patches were revealed all across his scalp.  Little nickel and dime size spots of perfectly bald scalp, once hidden in a nest of tousled hair, now glaring out at me like pearly islands in a sea of chestnut hair.

There he was crying, my own sweet child, while I stripped away three months' growth of hair that had unknowingly worked as camouflage for his sudden hair loss.  And there I was, crying and trying not to shake apart myself, lashing out at God for this petty unfairness. "Oh, Lord, isn't he different enough?  Did you have to make him start losing his hair, too?"

Sometimes I am so sure that every single straw is going to be the one that breaks me.  Each small thing piles on, and I just know this will be the one that crushes me beneath its weight.  This just felt like one more why in an endless string of unanswerable questions.  Why, God, did you let this happen? And this? And this, too?  How could anyone ever see the sense in all of it?

I don't really get on my knees when I pray.  Half the time, I'm in the car on the way to or from work.  Sometimes I pray when I wake up in the middle of the night to the sound of rain that I just know will find a hole in our old roof and reveal itself in damp, gray patches on the ceiling. But somehow I always think of it as getting on my knees.

Except when the whys start.  Then I'm on my feet, chin jutted out, defiant, raising my fist at the sky where I, in my lingering Sunday School innocence, still think of God as living. 

I guess I'm supposed to get the parallel.  I am doing something my son perceives as painful, but I am doing it for his own good.  To help him, protect him, care for him.  Linc can't understand why just yet, but I know that it's for his own good that I cut away the old, matted hair.

I'm supposed to recognize God in that, see Him standing over me, shearing away the old and revealing a new self.  But, as I stand there over my crying son, I am as confused as he is.  Why does it always seem that when the old is cut away, it only ever reveals some mottled patchwork that I would have preferred to keep hidden?  Why does it always feel like loss and never like rebirth?  Why does it hurt so bad to have the things we want cut away to make room for the things we need?

And there we are, the mess of us on the back porch struggling through a long overdue haircut together.  Lincoln is crying as I work, and I'm holding him close, holding him still, telling him softly all the while that I love him, that I'm not trying to hurt him and it's for his own good.  He doesn't understand me, though, and he just makes it so much worse by fighting against the inevitable.

I'm thinking that I know I'm supposed to see the parallel here, but if God is telling me those same things, that He loves me and that it's for my own good even if I can't understand it yet, I don't hear them any more than Lincoln hears the same words coming out of my mouth.

In the end, I sit in the chair and hold my son, sitting on clumps of discarded hair and rocking him until his cries subside.  I don't try to make him understand anything in that moment except that his mother loves him.  I wish he understood, wish he trusted that I would never want to hurt him even as I wrestle with the understanding that much of parenting is denying him want he wants in the moment.  In essence, it's hurting him selectively, hoping that these small injuries will save him from those potentially fatal wounds later on.

I see the parallel, but accept it begrudgingly.  Maybe Lincoln does, too, as he rests in my arms so securely, with a trust I feel I have not earned in recent moments.  "I love you," I tell him, pressing my lips to his mottled patchwork hair.  "Yo, maw," he says: I love you, too.

{Today I am linking up with Joy from Joy in this Journey for her December edition of the Life:Unmasked series.} 


  1. Liz, thank you for this message. The image of you comforting your son in his fear and confusion, while trying to grasp God's comfort in the midst of your own lingers with me and challenges me in my own struggles to understand.

    P.S. I stopped by from Joy's link up.

    1. Many thanks! I love the series, though I don't think I have ever linked up before. Love hearing all the honest stories people are putting out there.


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