The first haircut I gave was to the oldest. He was a toddler. I used a pair of oversized orange kitchen shears. He held an orange popsicle, and all the hair I cut from his head ended up first on the popsicle and then into his mouth. He has not touched a popsicle since.
But it was a pretty good cut for a novice. Even my mother, who could cut a kid's hair with two butter knives tied together by a shoelace, said so.
The kitchen shears only got me so far, though, so I soon invested in an electric dog grooming clippers. The apparatus cost $22, which was $10 cheaper than the version for humans. There weren't any of those slick click-on attachments that blend and feather and whatnot, but I could buzz a boy's head clean in about six minutes, which was about how long they would sit still.
Then, a few years ago, the boys noticed that most kids did not show up for the first day of school looking like Marine recruits. I retired the dog clippers and bought some real haircutting scissors, the kind actually intended for human hair.
Small and light, ergonomically functional, with a smooth clip and a clean point that delivers precision straightness to bangs and navigates ears the way a sports car navigates hairpin turns.
Or so I thought.
It was an everyday haircut, but somehow—maybe I was distracted by the boy's suddenly monstrous feet, maybe I was simply careless …
As soon as he screamed, I knew what had happened.
"I'm sorry! I'm sorry! I'm sorry!" I cried, running to get ice and a paper towel. Then we both saw the blood.
Flashback to the day my mother accidentally shut my 8-year-old brother's finger in the door of our car. His own scream, her own "I'm sorry! I'm sorry! I'm sorry!" The new blue bike he got the next day, and the sight of him riding that bike around the neighborhood with his splinted finger held up in the "We're No. 1" position.
The bike lasted only a few years, but the story lives on.
My son did not need to go to the hospital, but he did need to wear a little bandage on his ear for a few hours and hear me promise that I would never cut his hair again. When I asked him how I could make it up to him, he said he needed me to take him out for ice cream.
As he ate, I searched for absolution. "You know it was an accident and that I'm really sorry, right?"
"Yeah," he said.
"You will remember that I was sorry and that I took you out for ice cream, right?"
He paused, spoon in midair, chocolate ice cream smeared all over his smile. He looked me straight in the eye.
He said, "What ice cream?"