When I was six weeks old, my parents took me to Fiji, and my Dadi shaved my head at a big welcome baby gathering. My mother, despite her fear of a razor coming so close to tiny newborn scalp, understood that this was a big deal for my father and his family, and bore it as best she could. Growing up with this story, I always assumed we’d have a party for my baby’s head shaving when the time came, and giggle along as relatives drew thick kohl eyebrows or a beard on his chin, another tradition on my Dad’s side.
After I had the kidlet, it was easy to stick to this idea–he had almost nil in the hair department anyway. And the bigger his head grew, the more the little hair he did have spread out, until his scalp looked a little like a slightly moldy cheese moon. Come nightfall, if you happened to catch his head in the right light, say, beneath a street lamp, it glowed like the moon, too. Now, though, with a trip home and a welcome baby party looming, I’m not so sure I can go through with the shaving. On the way back from my morning runs, after a call to my parents, I tell myself we can’t do it because he’ll wriggle and get cut, or because he won’t know the person shaving him and throw a fit. In the dark of the night, I know it’s because now, my baby has hair.
At 11 months, Mir’s grown into himself–his head is in proportion with the rest of his body, his cheeks are firmer and less pudgy, and his chin has the same stubborn set as mine. His hair, while still a little tufted, is one large sprawl from the center of his head down the back of his neck, with small curls around his brow and ears. It’s fine, a milk chocolate brown, somewhere between my shade and Joe’s. In profile, a couple of the curls stick out, casting a shadow not unlike Astro Boy’s. When he’s asleep, I run my fingers through those curls, twining them about my finger much as I do my own. Thinking about shaving them away makes my stomach lurch, and cling to them yet tighter.
I cut my hair–I had it cut this morning, in fact. I’ve done all sorts of things to it in my twenties; as I write this, it’s a crow’s wing indigo, with almost neon highlights covering my oh-so-many white hairs. Colors always grow out; length always grows back; I’m the same person. Yet, despite the science and the experience and wanting to make family happy, I’m afraid my kidlet will be someone else if he loses his hair. You see, I’m not the only one who plays with his curls–he does, too. Sometimes it’s while he’s thinking, other times in his sleep or while nursing, but he plays with those tufty brown curls a dozen times a day. He doesn’t have a pacifier, he doesn’t suck his thumb, and he’s not yet weaned, so shaving his head would be the first time I truly took something away from him, something more than a dropped penny or a fistful of sand, something that, in the grand scheme of baby things, matters.
As a half Indian mother, I’m often torn. In my own choices, I cling to the traditions and rituals on my father’s side. There aren’t many, so it’s easier than you might think. With baby, I want to keep to tradition, to help him realize his Indian heritage, even if it’s only a quarter of his cultural makeup. Worse, I know that if another Peta asked me about the head shaving, I’d say “Why not? It’s just hair. It’ll grow back.” But something I’m realizing about motherhood, and respecting my heritage, is that it’s a lot like being Spiderman, because with great power comes great responsibility. Even when I feel pressure about a thing, self-inflicted pressure included, I have to stick with what I think works for baby, rather than what works for me. Perhaps I’m making a mountain out of a molehill. Perhaps I’m secretly (or not so secretly) worried shaving his head will leave him permanently balder than a snowman in the dead of winter. Perhaps I’m over-sensitive, and my family won’t care about shaving his head–he’s quite old for it now. Regardless, I’ve come to a decision.
We’ll shave his head–on the sides, to create a baby mohawk. That’ll leave his primary Astro Boy curls intact, meet tradition and ritual in the middle, and make him the funkiest baby on the block.