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What I Realized After My Son's Haircut Revealed His Brain Surgery Scar

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Up until recently I had always given Lucas, my six-year-old son with autism and ADHD, his haircuts. He is squirmy, sensory averse, resistant, and uncomfortable during them. I just couldn’t honestly imagine what on earth taking him to a barber and expecting him to sit totally still and cooperatively would even possibly look like. Then there is wait time to consider, where he had always spent climbing and crawling over and under the lobby chairs whenever big brother was going for his haircuts. Then of course, there’s my husband, who wants me to let it grow. Lucas does have some pretty fantastic curls. I often considered that God gave Lucas those curls to cause people to come up to us and tell us how beautiful they are. He must have heard that a hundred times from strangers in public.

• What is PTSD?

But the curls were causing a problem. Every time Lucas would get sweaty, or when swimming or bathing came up, he would start to get very angry, anxious, and act out. He hated when his head felt hot and sweaty and would drip down from those curls to his forehead and neck. Understandable. We live in the hot Florida sunshine, and it is inevitable that one will sweat while just standing outside, never mind trying to run and play. The bottom line is that when I offered to cut his hair shorter to reduce how long it took to dry, I didn’t really say it in a nice way. He was refusing to shower, and I thought he was going to scream, “no way!” and get right into the shower. He had mostly hated haircuts prior to this. Anyhow, the answer wound up being a definite “yes!” I figured if it would help him feel free to play outside and swim and important things like shower daily, then we would try.

The first few haircuts I did at home left his hair close but not too close — about a level 4 on our home electric clipper. I figured that was as short as I was comfortable going without making a bald spot accidentally. Trimming his hair at home had mostly good results from a behavior standpoint, though I am not a skilled barber by any means. But we got our desired result, way more compliance with showers.

Since it had been going well (and since Lucas agreed), we decided to get a haircut at the barber. I set my expectations very low. I was fully aware that we might leave the shop with only half a head having a haircut and half remaining uncut. Trust me, I had learned by then not to expect things to go as planned, and to have a way out early if needed. I already planned that I would just touch up the other side at home if it came to that. But I had my fingers crossed it would go well. We arrived at the shop. Lucas knew what to expect from Omar, his brother’s turn many times before. I was nervous, but followed Lucas’ lead who seemed to be ready to comply with the person about to cut his hair. I gave them no warning. I did not mention autism. I did not mention ADHD. I just said he doesn’t want to feel sweaty when he gets hot. Then I shut my mouth as hard as it was not to micromanage, I knew Lucas and the person had to establish their own trust and connection. If I was a nail biter, I would have been biting my nails about then. Everything was going surprisingly well, and we decided to take it really short. A nice faded cut would be something I couldn’t really do at home.

She adjusted the clippers, and just like that his curls flew to the floor. I was probably holding my breath ready for him to decide he was ready to stop right there. But through all this, he was actually doing amazing. I needed to relax. As I tried, she kept cutting quickly along to help get things done before he was going to be done with sitting still. As she came around to his right side where I was the hair quickly flew this way and that way, and all of a sudden just like that, I realized — the scar he had from having brain surgery as a one-year-old, had been hidden for the last two years. The scar becoming more and more noticeable seemed like a curtain being pulled away, revealing without my permission, the the surprisingly raw nature of the matching scar in my mama heart. It surprised me, because, we had been able to put that behind us, having been cleared from all recent EEGs, and MRIs. Now, all of a sudden, here it was screaming in my face “you can’t pretend I don’t exist now.”

I immediately regretted the decision to cut his hair that short. The scar was so obvious. Everyone would see it. I was going to have to deal with questions about it, and I was going to have to look at it every day. A swarm of thoughts went through my head. How will I explain it if he asks me about it, should he notice it in the mirror? What if he winds up facing something that serious again? How will I be able to handle that? The words of the neurosurgeon echoed in my head, “We will make an incision that will be in the shape of a question mark…We will take away a part of the skull and access his brain…” That is enough. I certainly did not want to think about that again, now that we were so far passed that hard time. This was certainly bringing up some PTSD for me.

Yet, as much as the scar brought up painful memories, it also made me question myself. He is, and always has been, my beautiful Lucas. He is my amazing gift from God. He gives me reasons to smile every day. Why did the scar effect me so deeply? I mean, we had already lived through the experience and survived and I knew he had the scar. Maybe it was that the scar represented the hard parts of this journey, the frustration I was still holding onto that things have been so hard for us, that nothing had come easy and it wasn’t fair. And it is true, but it doesn’t negate the beauty of things. And I had to look harder to find that.

Emotional and physical scars are very similar and can be intensely linked. Scars represent each time something hurt, but they also represent each time something fought hard to heal and successfully recovered. Hiding scars doesn’t make them go away. They must be faced no matter how hard, even when facing them causes pain. I will never forget the day he had surgery, we had this picture from right after. His operation had taken only 45 minutes and I was still kicking myself for missing the call from the operating room about his status. Who does that? Who misses their son’s neurosurgery OR call about his brain surgery progress? Well I did. But, when I saw him, nothing about me felt sad in that moment. I just thought to myself, “he made it. He is still here.” And just like that, scars can go from scary to thankful. Horribly tragic to magical. Near death to so alive. So today I will choose to be grateful that the scars don’t have to reactivate pain, but they can also help me remember the gifts throughout it all. We must face the scars, or we will wind up hiding from them because they cause too much pain.

I will choose to embrace them, because they tell our wondrous story. While the damage and the hurt remain on one end of the scar, on the other side sprouts the bud and the bloom. There is usually an ebb and flow to life, and where one traumatic thing happens, there are also wonderfully amazing things going on, if you look close enough to appreciate it. Maybe it is a relationship developing with someone. The acts of kindness your situation inspires in others that bring you to tears when you least expect it. The prayers people pray over you. The stories people feel led to share with you of times when they overcame similar struggles. You find out ways that God has painted masterpieces in other people’s lives, and it gives you something to hold onto.

So, his scar was made in the shape of a question mark. Maybe, beyond the medical importance of that technique, there is value in that. It is a very good thing to remind myself to ask. Ask, when I look at that scar, am I going to see the pain, or am I going to see the wonder? Maybe, sometimes, the scars make us better.

A boy drawing

This was drawn by my older son Omar. When I told him I thought it was beautiful, he said to me, I didn’t know if people would like it with the scar on it. Turns out, the actual coloring book didn’t have lines for the scar. He had added that himself. And I think the picture is perfect.

Photo submitted by contributor.

Originally published: May 27, 2020
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