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My Daughter Shaved My Head


Photo credit: Julia Cullen

About two weeks after my first chemo treatment, I noticed my hair slowly falling out. Strands in the sink, on the pillow and in my comb. Two days later, my daughter was gently pulling out large clumps of it and telling me to make a wish. Lots of wishes, actually.

I had been planning on having Kim, my long time hairstylist, buzz my head. She had said to call her any time I was ready and she would meet me over at her salon.

But when the time came, on a Saturday afternoon, my daughter stood firm in wanting to be the one to shear my head. And to document it as it took shape. I was a little nervous for her. She’s a teenager. This was a big deal. But I trusted her instincts and her desire.

My husband poured me a glass of bourbon and I sat down in the chair outside on the back porch. Julia wanted to first give me a Mohawk, on the way to my full buzz cut, so she gathered up some hair and started to shave. It was eerie to watch my hair float down to the ground. Even though I had a short transition haircut the week before, the strands still looked really long to me. And plentiful.

I took a big gulp of bourbon. Got up for some pictures. And we moved on to the other side.

She collected the hair up in the middle of my head and put it in a big clip to keep it out of the way. She made sure that the sides were going to be precisely even. The care with which she did this just struck me so hard and made a big lump form in my throat.

Another sip of bourbon. More pictures.

I didn’t want to cry. But some tears slipped out. They weren’t because I had to have my head shaved or because I had cancer. The tears were for this kid. For having to go through this. And for me having this wildly surreal moment with her.

This is my kid. My daughter. She’s sixteen years old and dealing head on with the fact that her mother has breast cancer by shaving her head for her. And doing it with such care, with such grace and of course, with her amazingly witty sense of humor.

And the intimacy. The intimacy between us that day was the same intimacy we had when I used to wash her little locks of hair when she was a baby. And hold her tighter than tight when she was scared. Pure intimate moments don’t come often between parents and teens. It’s just the nature of kids growing up and becoming emotionally and physically independent.

But we had the purest type of intimacy that day. And we still have it. Though it’s softened. When she comes home from school and rubs my bald head. When she hugs me and gets her nose against the bristly nape of my neck.

I find myself frequently looking at the pictures she took of me that day. The various states of my shaved head. Punk rock, floppy bangs with shaved sides. Full-on mohawk complete with styling gel to make it stand up. And then nothing but stubble. Fierce, salt and pepper stubble.

Looking at the pictures now makes me smile because I think, “What a fucking kid. What an incredible young woman. What a lucky mom.”

Her bravery inspires me. She’s a warrior. Just like me.


Photo credit: Julia Cullen

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