I admit it. I’m the first to complain about the challenges of raising young children. The whining. The feelings of entitlement. The sweet and sour of sibling relationships. The constant demands for…well, seemingly everything. The feeling like your time is rarely your own. It can be overwhelming at times and certainly trigger thoughts about how much we’ve “sacrificed” to raise these two children, as wonderful as they are. It’s so easy to get caught up in your own reality, until you run into something that gives you a different perspective on reality and makes you appreciate what you have.
There I was last weekend at Ian and Elena’s haircut place. It’s a place that cuts hair just for kids (i.e, the kind of place that frankly I’d rather stab my eyes out than spend a day working at). First up is Ian. While he’s in the chair I’m observing some of the other families – the mom who is comforting her son getting his first haircut…the mom rocking the newborn in his/her infant seat, telling her husband that it’s time to go because she has to feed the baby while he tells her no because he has already told their other three young children that they have another five minutes to play on the toys following their haircuts. (Seriously?)
As Ian is wrapping up his cut, it was hard not to notice the boy – maybe about 5 or 6 years old – who came flying in the door with his father trailing behind him. It only took a few seconds to notice that there was something different about him. As Ian got down and Elena climbed up into the silver race car, this little boy took his place in the Lightening McQueen next to Elena.
While Elena watched Toy Story 3 and put her head down and side to side pretty much as requested, the boy next door was engaged in an all-out frantic episode from the second the scissors appeared. It was not a typical cry, but a disturbing scream as if he were horribly frightened and being tortured with every snip. His father was there, holding his face and desperately trying to calm him as he screamed and whipped his face from side to side as if begging not to be hurt anymore. I believe he was autistic, but I’m not 100 percent sure.
As for us bystanders, we pretended that we didn’t notice the trauma happening in the Lightening McQueen chair while silently acknowledging with glances that we were witnessing a difficult episode. Meanwhile, the woman cutting his hair was amazing with him – seemingly unphased by his outbursts and doing her best to put him at ease and help the father calm him down. After Elena was finished, her stylist jumped in to help hold the little boy’s face and say reassuring words so that they may have some hope of calming him while the other woman finished up his cut as quickly as humanly possible. The father stood by contributing all that he could, comforting his son and kissing his forehead.
By 10 minutes in or so, the stress of the room had migrated to the rest of the adults, though of course we tried act completely normal. (The other kids, by the way, truly didn’t seem to notice a thing.) By the time we had paid and were ready to depart, they had finished up and the little boy was in the process of calming down and hopping down to go play. His dad went up to the counter to pay, clearly spent – but asking for a balloon for his son and smiling the second he appeared in front of him.
Later that evening, when I recalled to Jeff what I had observed, it was hard not to get emotional. This seemingly simple exercise of a haircut – a relatively mundane experience for myself and my children – was a seemingly near-traumatic episode for this father, his son and those who were interacting with this little boy at the time. Then there’s the part about dealing with all of this in public while you are being watched – and undoubtedly sometimes judged – by all these strangers. I thought to myself that what appeared to be a completely draining episode for this father and his son was just one part of one day in their lives. I know that we humans are incredibly strong in adapting to the hand we are dealt, but I can’t help but reflect on all of my own complaining about the normal challenges that come with parenting young children and wonder if I’d be strong enough to endure what this parent/family faces every minute of every day.
Here’s where I could tell you that I will never again complain about how hard having young children can be, but of course that would be completely unrealistic. But what I will do is have a new perspective on the definition of “hard.” Because it’s all relative, isn’t it?