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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Claire's Hair Salon

Many years ago I undertook the task of being the family barber. Our two oldest daughters were still small at the time and we were on a tight budget. Besides, taking small children to a hairdresser can be an expensive adventure, not always successful, though the girls were generally very well-behaved.

I got books from the library and practised on my poor test subjects. Michael, whose job with the federal government required that he look fairly well put together, was very brave allowing me to hack away at his hair, even after one wag at the office asked him if his head had come in contact with a chainsaw. After a few miserable haircuts he quietly resumed his trips to the barber and I didn't argue.

Before I decided to go for a very short coif myself recently, I had been known to slash away at my own hair on occasion, much to the dismay and disdain of any hairdresser who tackled it later; but I have forgivingly wavy hair that hides a lot of sins. And I don't really care. Lately, when I have had very limited time off and my lengthening hair is getting in my way, I have been very tempted to take the clippers and shave my own head. I still might do it one day.

The girls endured years of crooked bangs and nicked ears until they had the funds to take themselves to the professionals. Except for the occasional simple trim here and there, I have never been asked to cut their hair again. No hard feelings. One of them gave another a birthday card one year that said something like, "Don't worry, things could be worse. Mom could still be cutting our bangs". The picture on the front of the card was a cartoon drawing of a little girl with a crooked haircut who resembled the many photos of my three poor daughters taken over their early years.

Then along came our son, who is now a very fine and civilized young man of nineteen, but there was a time when he could have been mistaken for a demon-child, especially if anyone tried to do anything to him. Haircuts, vaccinations and doctors' check-ups were all nightmarish experiences that I came to avoid. The only time I attempted to take that boy to have his hair cut professionally, he had to be physically restrained on my lap and all the while I plied him with lollipops, which ended up coated with a thick layer of cut hair. Exhausted and frustrated, I gave up and requested electric shears for my birthday which then meant years of very short military- style bean shaves (Note: His father was never brave enough to step up and offer to take the boy with him for that quintessential, male-bonding, haircut experience). But it was always an athletic event, requiring tight swaddling of the child in a towel to reduce harm to both victim and torturer (not sure which I was). With his fine blond hair he looked like a young cancer victim but the shorter the better, giving me a long respite before the next ordeal. As his temperament improved and I no longer had to fight as much with him about it, I started to refine my techniques. He grew to enjoy the experience and it was always a fairly quick procedure, having honed my skills of shearing a writhing, screaming creature over the years. To this day, he usually prefers Mom's haircut in the kitchen if he has little time or money to spare for a visit to the professionals. And I rather enjoy the opportunity to have my very busy son sit still for a few minutes and chat amiably while I snip away.

Over the past few years, since Michael left work in 2003, I have resumed cutting his hair but, after years of training from our son, I had gotten pretty good at it. He would sit in the kitchen on a bench and we'd jack up the radio. It was always fun but I'd joke that my haircuts took a few days to perfect so he'd have to endure a day or two after the fact of me carefully scrutinizing my work and grabbing the scissors to snip away a missed hair or two.

After his spell in hospital back in November of last year, he came back a weakened man and no longer able to sit upright long enough for a regular haircut. His lovely abundant grey hair had grown very long making him look like the hippy he used to be but had had to put aside for years of work at National Defence and playing the part. Regular showering and hair-washing were becoming difficult and most days, grooming consisted of my giving him a sponge bath in the morning on rising and before getting him dressed. The long hair would have to go. Out came the electric clippers again for the brush cut which could be done quickly and safely but made him look even more ill and thin. Like with my demonic young son, the cut would last a long time and I could let it go until he achieved that poet/hippy look again before shearing.

But today I was feeling brave and gave him the choice between the quick shave or the slower cut. He chose the latter but I warned him that if the going got rough I reserved the right to abort the mission and use the clippers.

On went the music and out came the scissors. Deep breath. Here we go. He sat well for the first few seconds but his medication had kicked in, activating the dyskinesia, the involuntary bobbing and weaving that Parkinson's patients suffer when their medications are "on" and working well. When the medication is "off" the patient is usually rigid and immobile but the drug Levadopa (Sinemet), which releases the patient from that prison, has the unfortunate side effect of sometimes uncontrollable dyskinesia. Fortunately, Michael has been spared the really extreme reaction that many have (Michael J. Fox is a good example of someone who suffers badly with this problem if you've ever seen him), but he does certainly move around quite a bit more when the drugs are working. Imagine cutting the hair of a moving object and you'll get an idea of the challenge. Fortunately our son prepared me well for this task and at least I don't have to deal with wild screaming on top of the gyrations.

The haircut was a success, if I say so myself, but what I missed was the intimacy of this little ritual. Yes, the music was blasting and I was trying to dance around but my concentration was fierce as I worked around his ears, trying not to nick him while he moved. And he couldn't sit upright, so every few seconds I'd have to shove him back into a more upright position. What I missed was his slightly saucy demeanour that always spiced up the experience. Every guy wishes he could grope the hairdresser, right? Well, Michael could and did, with impunity, but that was all in the past. Now he just sat there, enjoying the experience, I hope, but not with his usual lustiness. What really made my heart ache was looking into his eyes as I made sure the sides were even. He stared back at me with those blue eyes that made my knees melt 31 years ago and he was all there, just for a moment, the old Michael, a glint and a window into the man I used to know, locked away inside.

I made the haircut relatively short to last awhile. But I was saddened. I had given my Dad one of his last haircuts one January night in 2003 just months before he died. He sat in my kitchen allowing me for the first time ever to cut his thin silver hair, just like a small boy. I saved a little lock of that hair as I did my mother's the last time I trimmed her hair nearly two years later at her nursing home when the whole place was under quarantine with a flu virus and she was confined to her room for days on end. I would always brush her hair when I visited but she was fed up with her mop of still-rich, thick, never-dyed reddish hair so Claire's salon became mobile. I gave Michael's dad his last haircut just weeks before he died last year; he had always had a brush cut, having been a military man, and his hair, after months bedridden, had become unruly. That had been a challenge, propping the frail old man up on the edge of his bed, his wife holding him steady while I gave him a hasty buzz cut, precariously kneeling behind him on the bed. I didn't save any of his locks which had scattered messily all over the bed.

I didn't think to keep a lock of Michael's hair this time. I swept it all up and tossed it in the garbage, I suppose confident there would be many more haircuts in Michael's future. But he has been so much quieter lately, slipping away from me more with each passing day. I don't know how long he has left, weeks maybe or even years; God only knows. Maybe subconsciously I believe that if I don't keep that lock of hair, he won't go away.


  1. Parkinson's attacks the brain, and irretrievably so we can not determine the movimiento, this indicates findrxonline on websites, it really is so, because my father is suffering and really suffer with it every day because their chronic pain are very strong and although drugs such as hydrocodone, vicodin, lortab help you relieve, you should always take them to calm down.


  2. I knew that if I started at the beginning, I could find when Michael stopped working. So I am slowly going through your archives! I was especially touched by this piece. Maybe because Kyle insists on cutting my hair! But your description of this haircut and your reaction made the proverbial hairs on the back of the neck stand up!