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The Transformative Haircut

The Transformative Haircut

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Something momentous happened the other day. My little boy took his first steps to becoming a little big boy. No, it wasn’t the day he took his first step. And it wasn’t the day we took off his diaper. And, as for his finger sucking, it’s still going strong. We cut his hair. His long, ash-blond hair.

In the weeks preceding this event, I found myself surprisingly ambivalent. My husband was all for it, as he had never been a staunch supporter of growing it in the first place. The other kids were also excited at the prospect of a party. Me? I wanted to hold on to this cute babyness a little longer. Even though bath time, hair washing, combing and placement of the “cuckoo” (ponytail) had become a bigger battle, I savored his long hair.

His hair was a symbol of his connection to meFor me, his hair was a symbol of his connection to me. The last remnants of his body untouched since birth. Nails had been cut, baths had been given, and at eight days he had been entered into our holy covenant through circumcision. The umbilical cord had been severed years ago, but his hair showed the world that he was little, that he still needs his mommy.

There is a Jewish custom to wait until a boy turns three years old to cut his hair for the first time. There are many reasons behind this; most notably, many attribute this custom to the mitzvah of orlah. Jews are required to wait three years to take the first fruit from a tree. There is fruit on a tree earlier, and it seems odd that we wait when the fruits are waiting for us to enjoy them. But while we wait, the tree matures, and the fruit is stronger, lusher and more heavenly to eat. With the first bite of this fruit, the tastes assail our senses, and we appreciate it all the more.

In the days leading up to the “big snip,” our collective minds began to wonder. What would he look like? So much of his personality, thoughts and opinions centered on his long tresses. I found myself dreaming and thinking about how this would change who he was. For him, his hair gave him permission to be the baby. “Only boys with kippahs are big!” was a constant reminder and tease from his big brother. My husband rationalized that it was “just a haircut.” Huh? My kids anticipated his first moments of learning with growing amounts of headiness. The aleph-bet cookies! The honey! The goodie bags to be handed out!

My thoughts drifted to our morning routine. Getting him dressed with his “cuckoo” in place kept him near me. The simple act of grooming his hair provided extra bonding time. Now, simply placing his blue striped kippah on his head would take merely a second, and it was a task that he would be able to manage without me.

The morning dawned early and bright. With our boy dressed in his Shabbat best, off we went. The day went smoothly, and everyone enjoyed it. My husband reminded me of a story of a great rabbi who in his later years was old and frail. He needed to be taken around in a wheelchair, and one day, a young yeshivah student was given the task. “Rabbi,” he asked, “What can I learn from you while I take you around?” The rabbi answered, “There are many rabbis from whom you can learn how to answer questions in Jewish law, and learn more about the intricacies of Jewish law. But from me, you can learn to appreciate the Creator of the World. Look at the great overflowing of life that our Creator has given to the world! The flowers, the birds, the trees! I want to teach you how to appreciate life.”

I realized, as his mother, that it’s time to begin letting him growI thought about what he said, and I realized it was true. Life is not about staying a baby. Life is about growing, changing and moving forward. And, like that first bite of the fruit, I was taken aback by the sight of my son’s freshly cut hair. Here he was, full of life and energy. As he learned the aleph-bet for the first time, his eyes were opened wide with curiosity and anticipation for both the learning and the candy. He was practically bursting with inner vitality. I realized, as his mother, that it’s time to begin letting him grow.

Later, my oldest daughter kept remarking at how big he seemed, and lamented that he was surely more mature. And, yes, for those first few hours after the party, I noticed he stood a little taller, ran a little more smoothly and spilled a little less when he ate. Once again, I felt my heart constrict ever so slightly. But then his lollipop was taken away, and with the righteous indignation that only a three-year-old can muster, he came running to me with tears streaming down his face. As I held him close, I couldn’t help but feel the tiniest sigh of relief. He’s still my little boy.

Beryl Tritel, MSW, is a therapist with offices in Jerusalem and Ramat Bet Shemesh. She has been living in Israel for over 10 years with her husband and their 5 kids. She also offers Skype sessions. She can be reached at BerylTritel.com.
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Gaby Modiin December 4, 2011

Ours in 2 days... Our baby will be a big 3 year old boy in a couple of days and my husband and I did not grow up religious but decided that this was a beautiful and important minhag to keep. He will be the first child for generations in both our families to have his (beautiful long blond) hair cut at 3, and in Eretz Yisroel. As happy as I am about him becoming so grown up, I also feel a pang of sadness. Thank you for this lovely article. It gives me a sense on achdut that we are all in this together. Reply

Esther Florida December 1, 2011

Beautiful Article I have a super active 2 year old and a newborn baby girl. I already see my son becoming more independant as each day goes by... My husband and I did'nt grow up religious but admire this custom. As Beryl puts that last part of my boy untouched since birth! Yeah his hair is all over the place but I can definitely identify with that statement he's still my little boy and in way he will always be! Thanks for the beautiful article! Reply

Eula Irene Bunting RFD, IL 61101 November 30, 2011

Simply Beatiful Story I raised my two step children until they were grown and then my ex decided he needed a younger wife and divorced me. I no longer get to see my step grand children any more since my step children have forgiven their real parents and no longer invite me into their lives. This makes my heart ache for the few precious memories I did receive from them. Thank you for sharing your inner lives with us. I will treasure it. Reply

ayerian wash,ch, ohio November 30, 2011

Well said That was so Heart Felt!! I have 3 kids ,and know matter what problem/or Good news kids ALWAYS,always go to Mom !!! Always even if they turn 50 lol ..I know this first hand ... Reply

Anonymous Greenspring, MD/USA November 30, 2011

Mazel tov! However . . . My son is 21 now. We observed the custom of waiting to cut his hair. Given the chance, I would not do that again. His stunning, blonde locks caused me more aggravation and more grief than they were worth.. For nearly three years I endured a litany of comments from well-meaning strangers asking how old is *she* - even frum people were stunned to realize that the cherubic child with the bright blue eyes and long blonde hair was a boy. And when we finally did cut his hair a few months short of his third birthday, he stared at himself in the mirror for several moments before announcing, "I AM a boy!" This custom may work in more closed societies (think New Square, Kiryat Yoel, Mea Shearim) but in suburban America . . . well, never again. Not for me. Reply

Jaclyn Barnes Jerusalem, Israel November 30, 2011

The Transformitive Haircut I,Have two granddaughters 4,6 also I remember when the older one chased,the younger.The first step the younger one took also the first time,she tried,to crawl up the steps.Also I remember my older one going from,two to three.My younger one from a baby to a one year old,each stage of there lives is extremely special,to me!Now the six year old is in first grade and the 4 year old is,in pre school.I live with them now in Jerusalem,Israel so every minute,is extremely special!From the hugs,kisses that I get in the morning and night,to the.Pictures that they draw for me! Reply

Linda Cork, Ireland November 30, 2011

Thank you That was very well written, and it brought back many memories that I had almost forgotten. Reply

Anonymous kumasi, Ghana November 30, 2011

THANKS LET IT BE TILL THREE YEARS.THANKS
thank G-D for all this masseges.
thanks for you guys over there Reply

Kezia Raffel Pride Jerusalem, Israel November 30, 2011

Gorgeous! You captured all the conflicting emotions so beautifully! I have been blessed to pass through this stage six times (none so heart-constricting as the most recent one, for our little boy who has no younger brother), and it's all true! I have never really put into words your very eloquent description of the long hair as the last untouched part of the body that has remained as it was from birth. So insightful! And the very moving description of the vitality that bursts forth after the haircut--also so true. Beautifully done! Thank you so much for sharing your poignant observations, and may you see much Yiddishe nachas from your new little man and all your children! Reply

Anonymous charlotte, nc November 30, 2011

The Transformative Haircut I could have written this!
Thank you for putting into words what I've been feeling over the last several weeks as I prepare for my last "Baby's" Upsherin.
What a bittersweet time... Reply

Esther, Toronto,ON November 29, 2011

Thank you for sharing. My son is 8 and a half months, although his upsherin is not around the corner, G-d Willing he will one day and the way you were describing his long hair and characteristics associated to it and the maternal connection, made me cry because I feel that we have a special bond and do not want that to go away. As it is he has changed so much already. Reply

shulamis ny, us November 28, 2011

thank you beautiful
i admire how much you think about it.you got me thinking about mine almost 3 years ago Reply

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