Yesterday morning was one of those rare times when the planets aligned and my children completed their chores ten minutes before they had to leave for school. Now, before you start thinking we’re amazing parents, please note that our kids’ chores aren’t real chores like churning butter, milking goats or washing laundry in a river. Aside from making their beds and putting dishes in the dishwasher, Jake and Audrey’s “chore chart” is just a list of behaviors that differentiate humans from primates. Brush teeth.
Don’t throw poop.
I figured that the kids would use their extra time to play a game or something. Instead, Jake came up to me and said,
“My hair is sticking up and it won’t lay down.”
I looked at his head and noticed a slightly greasy spot where he had tried to plaster some stray hairs to his melon.
“You tried the hair gel?” I asked.
“Yes!” he replied, asking for help without really asking. “Nothing works!”
He tried his best to bottle his frustration. After five seconds, my slow response time got the best of him and he started bouncing around like he was choking on something. This hyperactive Heimlich maneuver dislodged a question.
“Can you just give me a haircut?”
“A haircut? We have to leave for school in ten minutes.”
“It won’t take any time at all, Dad. Please!”
Sometimes my kids say please with a demanding tone that really means, if you don’t do this, I’ll poison you while you sleep. But this was a genuine please filled with gratitude and anticipation.
“OK son. Go get a towel. I’ll get the clippers.”
I collected the clippers, a stool, and a pair of scissors and shuffled out the back door to the deck (A.K.A. Barber Shop). He met me with his shirt off and the towel draped around his shoulders. I fastened it around his neck with a Chip Clip.
“OK. Sit still,” I said.
I fastened the #3 guard to the clippers and buzzed over his ears and along the sides. I circled him as he sat on the stool, trying to get the best angle. We chatted about basketball the entire time. As I moved to the crown of his head, my peripheral vision caught a glimpse of a gray, triangular shaped object falling to the ground. It rolled across the deck and underneath the stool.
What was that?
I crouched down to look under the stool and spotted the #3 plastic guard.
Then I looked in my hand at the clippers.
Uh oh. No guard.
I stood up to inspect Jake’ head. What I saw made my heart sink. I couldn’t contain my horror.
“Oooh nooooo…” I sighed.
“What?” Jake asked.
My knee jerk response was to blow it off and say, “Oh…. Nothing!” and go on cutting his hair. But this was not an Oh Nothing moment. This was something. I had shaved a bald spot into his head the size of a silver dollar.
“Ummmmm. The guard fell off the clippers, and now you have a little bald spot.”
“Dad!” he screamed, with a hint of laughter.
“I am soooooo sorry, Jake.”
“Can I see it?”
We walked to the bathroom where he inspected the damage. He shot me an angry smile. “Can you fix it?”
“I wish I could, son. The only way to make it invisible is to shave your whole head.”
I felt sick to my stomach for my poor kid. There we were, two minutes before it was time to leave for school, and Rogaine doesn’t work that quickly. There was no fixing this mistake. He would now have to go to school and face the jeers of all of his classmates. I awfulized a scenario where his buddies made fun of his haircut. Then no one picked him for dodge ball. Then he would become a social pariah. No girls would date him. He wouldn’t get into a good college. No job prospects. So he’d spend his thirties and forties on our couch eating store-brand cheese puffs straight from the bag while endlessly playing online video games.
And it would all be my fault.
I can only imagine how I might react if someone shaved a bald spot in my head right before a big business meeting or an important presentation. I expected him to scream. Or cry. Or throw a tantrum. Instead, Jake just kept laughing at how absent-minded his dad can be.
But when we got to school, he saw roughly a hundred kids ready to enter the building. That’s when his demeanor shifted. He got quiet and pulled his hoodie over his head. His eyes got glassy. Gabby and I both gave him a hug. I apologized again, but he didn’t look at me when he said goodbye for the day.
For the rest of the morning, I imagined my third-grade son getting razzed by his friends in class and having to tell the story over and over again. It tore me up inside. I wanted so badly to make it all better.
At lunch, I picked up a chicken sandwich at Jake’s favorite fast food restaurant. As he rounded the corner of the lunchroom, he was shocked to see me. He gave me a big hug as I grabbed for his lunchbox and said, “trade me.” Instead of selecting a special friend and heading out to the courtyard (a perk of having a parent at lunch with you), Jake opted to eat with the rest of the class. He was all smiles as he led me to their designated table.
Eating lunch in a grade school cafeteria is a bit like having a picnic in a washing machine filled with sneakers and sledgehammers. I nibbled on baby carrots while getting poked and prodded by Jake’s classmates and listening to countless fart imitations. The good news is, they all seemed to have forgotten about the giant bald spot on Jake’s melon. Save for one. A little girl who was eyeballing me from across the table.
“Are you Jake’s dad?” she asked.
“Yes,” I answered.
“So you gave him that haircut?”
“I did,” I said. “Do you like it?”
She gave me a look like she had just sniffed some spoiled milk and shook her head “no.”
Other than that minor blip, Jake and I survived the grade school lunchroom intact. When Gabby picked him up from school and asked how his day went, he offered,
“Dad brought me lunch today.”
“Oh really?” she said, feigning surprise. “That sounds fun!”
“Yeah,” he responded. “I think he felt bad about my hair.”
When she asked for more information on the bald spot debacle, he said matter-of-factly,
“Matthew and Brandon didn’t even notice. Dylan asked me about it and then we laughed. Because all you can do is laugh about it, right?”
So very true.
Later that evening, I invited him out to the garage to replace a headlight that had burned out in our SUV. I figured I would offer another olive branch of quality father-son time while teaching him the manly art of car repair that I had just learned ten minutes earlier courtesy of a You Tube clip.
He climbed onto the step ladder and gestured toward the headlight.
“Dad, can I take the old one out?”
As any parent knows, allowing kids to “help” with repairs usually means it takes three times as long as it should. It was cold, and I just wanted to be back inside the house. But I decided it wouldn’t hurt to let him give it a shot. Once he saw how hard it was to dislodge the electrical clip, he would likely defer to me anyway.
“Sure, go ahead. But be careful.”
He reached in and pulled. The clip came loose easily.
Surprised, I said, “OK. Now twist the base of the bulb and pull it out.” Then added with emphasis, “But please be careful. We don’t want to break it.”
Sure enough, he reached in and extracted the bulb, but as he was pulling it out from behind the light housing, it slipped.
“Oh no!” he said, as soon as he lost his grip.
I heard the bulb clink on some metal as it fell. I breathed out the word “Dammit” and flashed my light into the engine, but the bulb was nowhere to be found. It had fallen through the cracks into no man’s land, unable to be retrieved without removing a bunch of parts I couldn’t even name, much less repair.
“Sorry dad. It was just kinda’ stuck in there.”
I wanted to lecture my son. I wanted to remind him that I had told him twice to be careful. I wanted to tell him how dangerous a loose piece of metal can be if it’s lodged somewhere unfortunate in an engine block.
But he was busy peering into the abyss, still trying to spot the lost bulb. And as I glanced down, I saw the spot on the back of his head. The one I had made. The one he so quickly forgot. And that’s when I learned how hard it is to hold on to anger once you’ve been offered grace.
I reached down to rub him new buzz cut.
“It’s OK, son,” I said, laughing. “It happens.”
And may it keep happening.
“Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Ephesians 4: 31-32
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