Full circle - FamilyEducation

Full circle

September 28,2011
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

No sooner had L. climbed into the van at carpool the other day when the first words out of his mouth were: "I need a haircut."

I looked at him in the rearview mirror. His hair was still short. It really hasn't been that long since his last cut and it certainly didn't look shaggy or overgrown in any way.

"Why do you need a haircut?"

"Some 8th grade girls passed me in the hall and said, 'nice hair' to me. Then they giggled."

"How do you know they weren't complimenting you?"

He rolled his eyes at me from the backseat. "Oh come on," he said. "It was a giggle."

I was an 8th grade girl once, and there is an entire subtextual language behind giggles. I told him this.

"No offense Mama," he said. "But you were an 8th grade girl a loooooooooong time ago."

I let that go, but I felt it: the years and years behind me falling away until there I was, an 8th grade girl again. I could barely see her. It has been a long, long time.

"I don't want you to cut your hair just because someone said something," I said.

He didn't answer, so I kept talking. I meant what I said next so sincerely, from the bottom of my heart. The words came from direct experience in my own life, and from advice my own parents gave me when I was his age.

"You have to be real and true to yourself," I told L. "If you change yourself to please other people then you won't be happy."

L. let out a big snort of disgust. "Come on Mama," he said. "I can't believe you pulled out THAT cliché."

I heard myself then, as he heard me, and as countless children have heard their own parents, across time and history, pulling out that parentspeak about loving yourself no matter what. I remember rolling my own eyes when my parents gave me the same advice; when they told me not to worry about what others think, and to believe in myself. Don't cave to peer pressure, don't let other people make you hate yourself. Don't let their clouded (or hateful) vision of the world color your own. I also remember that all that parentspeak didn't mean much to me then, just as it doesn't mean much to L. now, either.

I held onto it, though, without really planning to. I hope he will. I hope T. will, too.