My Punk Son

08/04/2017 11:38 am ET

My nine-year-old’s faux-hawk reaches his chin. Sometimes I color it red, pink, or blue, but only with temporary dye because his father will shave his head if I dye it permanently. It’s a compromise of sorts—our son can have his hair long only if it is a natural color. If it were up to Nine and I, we’d dye it bright red. If it were up to my ex-husband, the kid would be sporting a buzz cut like his brother.

Last year Nine was into earrings, so we found some magnetic hoops online that looked real, but left no permanent marks.

“Wow, you must be the coolest mom ever!” the front desk clerk at the Boston Hyatt said last summer when we checked in.

“They’re magnets—I’m not that cool!” I answered.

“Oh, thank God,” she said. “I kind of thought he was a little young for piercings.”

I thought he looked absolutely adorable, but I didn’t want people to think I’d permanently modified his earlobes before he reached third grade. I wanted him to always be able to go back to the mainstream. I also didn’t want tiny holes at age eight to lead to gaged ears at age eighteen. I know from experience how these things can escalate.

Nine’s style never embarrasses me—rather, the opposite. I think he is one hip tiny dude. Perhaps I’m living vicariously through him a little, because I was never bold nor a trend setter. My look is more along the lines of proven classics worn with a hint of awkwardness. Maybe I love his funkiness because it reminds me of my brother, who shaved half his head in high school and whose clothing always had a dash of F-you in the assemblage.

I don’t want to push him to be weirder than he wants to be, and I don’t want him to reside at the social fringes of elementary school. I am careful to only follow his lead, not egg him on to level-up his alternative style. The only suggestion I ever made regarding his hair was to reduce the Mohawk to a faux-hawk once it got to be over three inches long, because it didn’t hang right when it wasn’t spiked up.

That’s not to say that some part of him might be trying to align himself with me against his father. I suspect he enjoys irritating his father with his fashion sense, but he’s earned that right. His father used to criticize Nine’s style quite openly, and Nine just took it without comment and kept on growing his hair and wearing tie-dye T-shirts. Every divorced parent—or all the ones I know, anyway—constantly evaluate every quirk our children display and wonder how the divorce has shaped them. Yet, I know he loves his father, too.

“Daddy has a classic sense of style,” I tell Nine. “Your brother’s style is athletic. Yours is alternative.” I want to make room for more than one option in his head—I want him to see that there were many equally valid choices, even if I don’t always believe it.

The other day I watched Nine walk to the park in his Harry Potter robe over a Star Wars T-shirt, traces of day-glo lipstick still at the edges of his mouth. He looked a bit like a mini-goth, but a pint-sized adorable one.

I had to ask myself—would I find his fashion sense as endearing when he is in high school, looking for a job and applying to colleges?

Part of Nine’s charm is that his style is unexpected in a small scale human. My justification to others has always been that he won’t be able to do whatever he wants with his hair once he needs to find gainful employment. I figured he might as well enjoy it now. But the kid keeps growing. Pretty soon people will assume he’s just a young punk teenager with no respect for society. Hey, let’s be honest—he’s likely to be a young punk teenager with no respect for society no matter what he wears or how long his hair is—a degree of defiance is part of being a teenager. I know he’ll be judged by adults much more harshly once he attains grown-up size. Will I still think his punk rock style is cute then?

A friend with older children reassured me. She explained that just as she was on the fringes of embarrassment over her child’s behavior, they outgrew it. I look back and see how that was true with Nine and I as well. He’s over the princess dress stage, the nail polish stage, the wearing a tuxedo to the beach stage. He’s even over the earring stage. He’s just as likely to be over the weird hair stage before it makes me cringe. All I can do is love him as he is, and give him room to decide who he wants to become. Besides, if he inherits his father’s hairline, he won’t have the option to have chin-length bangs forever.

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