“Mom! That man called me a girl.”
Oh, I’d heard. I’d just hoped he hadn’t.
Balancing the pizza box across his arms, he slipped through the door after I opened it, tinkling the little bells overhead.
He didn’t ask why the nice older man had thought he was a girl. He knew why. He’s nine and a half now and he hasn’t cut his hair since just before his eighth birthday.
He tells me this isn’t the first time it’s happened — being called a girl. A substitute teacher accidentally called him a girl a few weeks earlier but he’d never mentioned it to us at home.
“What did you say?” I asked curiously as he buckled his seatbelt and took back the pizza box, ready to hold it while I drove us home.
“I said, ‘excuse me, Mister [REDACTED]. I’m a boy!’”
I was impressed. The teacher apologized and everybody got on with their day. It wasn’t a big deal.
When I was a kid, I was called a boy on multiple occasions and it was absolutely a big deal. It crushed me.
The first time, it was an older gentleman. My hair had been pulled back into a baseball cap and I guess he couldn’t see my ponytail because he called me “little man.”
The second time was in Grade 6. I was wearing playing Mrs. Claus in a school play. All of my long hair was tucked up into a duster-style cap, and a little boy on the playground told me afterwards that he’d thought I was a boy. I was mortified.
I started to get the idea that it was only my long hair that kept me from looking like a boy all of the time. Without it, clearly my face didn’t look “girly” enough. So, I kept my hair long — forever.
Our son never really intended to grow his hair this long. He had it sort of long and floppy when he was in preschool and then again in primary. I loved it that way so I rarely took him for haircuts. Sometimes my husband took him anyway and cut it “nice and short.” Our son didn’t seem to care either way.
When school rolled around last September, our son’s hair was longer than it had ever been. I loved it — and for the first time, he was expressing an interest in his hair. He loved, it too. We skipped the back-to-school haircut and it’s still growing now, almost 20 months after his last cut.
It falls down to his shoulders in thick, smooth locks that curl at the ends. He has the thickness of my hair but the smoothness of my husband’s hair. It’s an enviable combination and he has the best hair in the house.
Sometimes I look at his face and think, yes, I see it. Why wouldn’t people look at him — with his shiny, swishy shoulder-length hair — and see a beautiful little nine-year-old girl? But then, would I think our daughter looked like a boy if she cut hers really short? They’re just ... themselves. Long hair or short hair or no hair, we’re all just people, and hair doesn’t advertise someone’s gender.
He was mistaken as a girl again a few days after the incident at the pizza place.
We were at the movies, in the arcade area before buying our tickets and popcorn. There was some confusion over the claw machine where you try to scoop up a toy. Another mom stepped in and kept saying “she” and “her” when she talked about my son. He doesn’t correct her or even seem to notice, so I don’t bother saying anything to her. It doesn’t matter.
This is his hair, and it looks awesome on him. It’s unique and it gives him his own sense of style. If people think he’s a girl, he doesn’t seem to care — and neither do I. It’s clearly not traumatizing him the way it did to me when people thought I was a boy.
An important component of parenting, I have been learning lately, is not passing your own emotional baggage — or your weird hair hang-ups — onto your children. But please remind me of that if he ever decides to cut off all that beautiful hair!
Heather Laura Clarke is a freelance journalist who married her high-school sweetheart. They moved from the city to the country, where they spend their days making messes and memories with their nine-year-old son and seven-year-old daughter. Follow their family’s adventures over at www.HeathersHandmadeLife.com.