"I was looking shaggy, not too good, I'd put it off as long as I could. Lord, I hate to get a haircut out of town." ~Ray Stevens, The Haircut Song
Boo hates haircuts. And I've had so many parents tell me 'oh, I know, my kid hates them too' and I'm like, no. He hates haircuts with an intensity you can't imagine! His sensory difficulties kick into high gear. Although he's never been officially diagnosed with it, I'm fairly certain we are dealing with sensory processing disorder (SPD) along with the autism. Boo absolutely can not tolerate the sensation of the hair falling on him. In fact, he pretty much hates all things to do with hair. Washing, drying, combing. Even the gentlest attempt to comb through it with "tangle spray" applied makes him shriek in pain, saying that I'm pulling his hair. Consequently, we tend to go a looooooong time between haircuts.
But the longer the hair gets, the more difficulty we start to have with the washing and the combing. Plus, we start to get comments from family members. I have been trying to gently broach the subject of needing a haircut for a few weeks. He is adamantly opposed every time it is mentioned. Yesterday I was talking with him about it, tried to get him to sit for one, and he ended up telling me he wanted to do it at night. I knew this was just his tactic to put me off, and that come night he wouldn't actually be so compliant. But we struck a deal, and sealed it with a pinky promise.
Later that evening, I was shocked by his willingness to comply when I told him it was indeed time for the haircut. After a few attempts at stalling, he finally sat on a stool and I placed a sheet over his entire body like a cape. We were ready for a haircut. I knew from experience to save the bangs for last, since once he feels hair on his face he is done. I started by trimming around his right ear. He was watching an episode of Spiderman. I was patting myself on the back that this was going so well. Then I got real stupid. Instead of moving immediately to the left ear, I proceeded to start in the middle of the back of his head. Now, I am no sort of barber. I have been doing most of Boo's haircuts since he started getting them, but it doesn't come out real pretty. Still, he insists he is more comfortable with me doing it than going to the salon, so I hack away. If he can hold halfway still I can do a passable job. But he hates the sensation of the cutting. He hates the wet hair. He hates how it feels on the tiny space of neck that is exposed above the cape. With every snip, he was jerking and writhing, trying to get at his head from under the sheet. Just a couple cuts and he jerked the sheet and pulled it off, spilling hair down the front of himself. At that point, he was done. That was as much cooperation as I was going to get. But he looked ridiculous. One ear long, one trimmed, and a big chunk missing from the back of the head. I coaxed and talked, and he finally agreed to sit back down if I would get a new cape. So I got out another sheet and wrapped it around him.
But he had zero tolerance left in him. I did another couple cuts and he kept screaming and jerking and pulling the sheet off. I offered to "get it done really fast" by using the clippers. As badly as he hates haircuts...he abhors clippers! I tried reasoning. I told him he had to choose between the scissors and the clippers, and I would have to use the clippers if he would not sit still for the scissors. Every time I even turned the clippers on he went ape! He got down from the stool crying, and telling me he was finished. And that's when my brain apparently flew out the window. Because if I'd had an ounce of compassion or true understanding, I'd have left him alone. I'd have recognized his ability to verbalize when he's at his sensory limit, and I'd have respected it.
Instead, I looked at his hair. I looked at the jagged, ridiculous, half cut and I let my focus drift off of my child and his needs. Instead, I was thinking about what others would think. I was thinking about school the next morning. I was thinking of how silly he looked, instead of seeing how terrified he was. I knew better, but I failed to do better. I should have just left him alone, went in to school right behind him, and thumped anyone who had anything snide to say about his hair. But what I did was ugly. It's hard to even admit it in writing, but I've promised to be honest here. I took my precious boy and pulled him into my lap, then wrapped both of my legs around his waist to hold him down. I wrapped my left arm around his arms to hold them down, and I took the clippers in my right hand. And I forced him to endure it. And indeed it took a great deal of force. He is strong. And his adrenaline was pumping. He was screaming like I'd never heard him scream before. It reminded me of the time he had to have stitches in his face when he was a toddler. And while I'm pretty sure that the clippers themselves were physically painful for him...I think it was nothing compared to the physical and emotional pain I caused by restraining him and forcing it on him. He was begging me to stop. He screamed so horribly that my husband came up from the basement to see what was happening. Even with his help, it was all we could do to get the rest of the hair buzzed. I finally declared it good enough and let him go.
There was hair everywhere. Boo and I were both covered head to toe, and it was all over the living room. I quickly stripped him of his clothes, him still wailing because of the feeling of the hair on his skin. I picked him up and ran to the bathroom, promising to wash it off. I started the bath water and stripped my clothes off, while Daddy got him a cup of water and helped him rinse the hair from his mouth. Then I started trying to get him in the tub. But he didn't want to go in. He was just so worked up at this point, he couldn't even process what was happening and he resisted every movement, every word from me. Even as I took him into my arms and stepped into the tub together, he was screaming that he didn't want a bath. I sat with him and took a cup and started rinsing the hair off of him. My husband had to leave the room. I don't know if he was sad, frustrated, angry at me, or just couldn't take any more screaming. I never asked.
It took a long time, but Boo did eventually settle down in the bathtub. We got the hair off of him. We got the hair off of me. Through tears, he told me "Mom, when you were holding my arms and squishing me...I don't allow that." My heart broke. God love my son, he is certainly learn to self-advocate! He wanted to play, but felt he couldn't do so because of the hair in the water. So we drained the water and started again with fresh. We washed up. We played with the tub toys. We laughed and acted silly. I washed his hair and he didn't complain. Mostly because now that the hair was short, I didn't have to pull and scrub to get it clean. We got out of the tub and put on his robe. He went to have some play time with Daddy while I cleaned the hair from the living room. Then it was time for bed.
I cuddled up beside him, tucked him in with his bean bag blanket, and hugged him. A lot. I told him I was sorry for hurting him. He asked me when. I said, "when I cut your hair. I'm so sorry that I hurt you baby." He smiled at me. He told me "that's ok, mom. I forgive you." Then he very quickly drifted off to sleep. I laid beside him in tears. He forgave me. But it will take a lot longer for me to forgive myself.