19 March 2015

Her First Haircut and a Ds Moment

Abigail had her first hair cut yesterday. I totally didn't see this coming, but it turned into a Down syndrome thing. So in preparation for Down Syndrome Awareness Day on Saturday, I thought I'd warm us up with a little story.

So Abigail's hair was getting pretty long - more than halfway down her back, and, as is so often the case with fine hair when it gets long, it was looking pretty raggedy. It was also easier to get food stuck in and harder to take care of. I'd mentioned to my stylist a few times that I was thinking about bringing her in. But somehow, in the year and a half that we've lived in Michigan, Down syndrome never came up.

I don't know if that's hard to believe or not, but it really didn't. I don't avoid talking about Ds, but I don't make a point of mentioning it. If it comes up, it comes up. My stylist is chatty, but in the friendly, superficial chats one has with the person cutting her hair - "How is your family?" "Do you have any fun weekend plans?" "Why did you ever leave Florida?" - medical issues just don't usually come up.

Anyway, so when I finally booked the appointment, I made clear it was my daughter's first hair cut and everyone was very excited and the stylist even texted me the morning of the appointment with how much she was looking forward to it.



Am I the only one who thinks it's weird that businesses text their customers nowadays? Anyway, I prepped Abigail - "We're going to cut your hair today! Snip, snip! (*signing scissors*) Where's your hair? Yup! We're going to snip your hair with scissors today!" And I arranged to have her trim my bangs first, knowing that if Abigail saw Mommy do it first, the process would go smoother. Overall, I did expect things to go well (they did); Abigail is very, very shy and usually clams right up and sits very still around strangers.

When the stylist came back to get us, she had a big grin on her face. "Hello! Are you ready?!" As she got closer, her smile grew bigger, awkwardly large, and she held it for a really long time. "Alright, Abigail, let's go!" I cheerfully exclaimed. I sat Abigail down in a chair across from mine. The stylist could not stop staring at her. While she fumbled with the cape, raised up the chair, got our her scissors and comb. She just stared. I could totally tell what she was thinking. Does she have Down syndrome? Did Jacqueline ever mention that before? I don't think she did. I think she does have Down syndrome. How can I ask? There has got to be a way I can find out without sounding rude.

Finally, my unusually silent stylist asked, "How old is she?"

"Three years and ten months," I responded in my normal voice. Awkward silence. "So she'll be four soon." More silence. "She's really small for her age."

More silence. "Why is she so tiny?"

I shrugged. "We don't know."

It's true, we don't know why. I mean, people with Down syndrome generally are shorter than typically developing people, but that's not true across the board and Abigail is tiny even among other preschoolers with Down syndrome.

The stylist asked a few other questions, most of them coming across as unintentionally rude, but none of them ever getting her desired response of "Because she has Down syndrome."

"Can she talk?" Yes, she's very chatty but also very shy.
"Why are her checks so chapped? Is it because of her tongue?" No, she just has really sensitive skin.
"Is her tongue always like that?" Usually. Her tongue is normal sized, but her mouth is proportionally smaller.

I could have gone there, but the situation didn't warrant it. I don't want to walk around responding to the question of "Do you have kids?" With: "Yes, two girls and one has Down syndrome." I'm not going to introduce her to people, "This is Abigail, she has Down syndrome," because I don't walk around introducing myself, "Hi, I'm Jacqueline, I have depression and hypoglycemia." I was just there to get a hair cut. Her first, by the way.

When the stylist got Abigail situated, broke out her scissors, and started snipping away, she kind of mellowed out a bit (although she never did act completely normal) and Abigail ended up with a light, fun, summery new 'do: 

It is a tad bit shorter than I ordered, but there is only so much you can plan when a three-year-old is getting her first hair cut. It came out looking 100 times better than I could have done and only cost me $5, so it was worth it.

I don't tell this story to make a point or put on display a person who is clearly stumped in the face of "different," but to get people mulling over the kind of situations that still occur in our relatively wealthy, tolerant, democratic society. I hope that people imagine themselves in the barber shop with us and think about what they would do. It is my advice that they simple imagine that Abigail is a little blonde toddler and proceed like normal. Like the nail tech lady giving manicures who smiled politely and wished us a good evening. I get the impression she isn't a big fan of kids and that's totally fine - she was still friendly and respectful. Or like the fellow mom walking across the salon after getting a shampoo who stopped by our chair: "Is this her first hair cut? She's so cute!"

When she said that, Abigail turned back toward the mirror and beamed at herself. She's old enough to know when someone's delighting in her. I pray and work so that enough posts will touch enough people in our little circle so that our home and our community is never a place where she doesn't beam at herself.


Kelly Mumby said...

Abigail is a delight and should beam at her cute little self everyday. I love her hair cut! I don't condone your hairstylists awkward behavior because she did choose a profession where being personable is a must . . . But, with that being said, I can somewhat understand where she was coming from because I will never forget the most awkward haircut of my life. It was when I was going through chemo & my hair started falling out in huge clumps. I went & got it cut shorter so that the mess of constant hair balls would be more manageable. The situation had to be simply explained to the stylist who looked like she was scared that if she touched me I would shatter like glass. When people have not had personal experience with someone who is "different" in any way they sometimes have a hard time knowing how to act. I am proud of you that you politely answered her questions about Abigail without giving her too much info. I am proud of Abigail for being such a sweetie pie during her first haircut. Most of all I am proud that you are doing your part, as we all should, to spread love, kindness and compassion for people of all different abilities; the stylist being the one that I'm thinking needs that extra understanding for not knowing how to interact appropriately. ❤️

kori said...

<3 your blog. Just wanted to say that with Abigail's sweet new 'do she looks SO much like you. (At least your pictures). It wasn't as apparent with her hair long.