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First Person is a daily personal piece submitted by readers. Have a story to tell? See our guidelines at tgam.ca/essayguide.

Illustration by Chelsea Charles

Running the clippers over the back of my husband’s head, I watched the brown and silver hairs fall around my bare feet. I found my glass of red wine on the bathroom counter and took a slow sip. Leaning in, I tentatively glided the clippers around his ear.

I can’t remember the last time I looked at Nik this thoughtfully. Maybe it was when we were first dating. He’s asked me to cut his hair for years, but I kept brushing it off and encouraging him to go to the professionals. It just took a pandemic lockdown for me to try my hand at a homegrown haircut. In the before times, we never had the energy to cut each other’s hair. Ten p.m. was reserved only for collapsing in front of the TV, after the three kids were in bed and the kitchen was clean.

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In those early upside-down days of the pandemic, I pored a little too diligently over the clipper manual, procrastinating the task at hand. My haircutting was hesitant at first, but my confidence grew as I managed to take hair off while keeping some on. I trimmed the sweet nape of his neck and the graceful curve of his crown. When I was finished, I was unexpectedly proud to see that the haircut looked good. My husband looked handsome and new.

Figuring out what to do with our hair seems frivolous at a time like this, and yet my family’s hair kept on growing and our ever-scragglier locks called out for some attention. In those early weeks, I wondered what other people were doing.

As weeks rolled into months, I didn’t need to use my imagination any more. Online, my aunt posted a proud photo of my uncle’s new short crop. My best friends exchanged photos of the haircuts we’d experimented with on our partners and children. A former neighbour posted about how her eyes welled with tears when she turned her back, only to see that her husband had cut off her young son’s curls rather enthusiastically. A dear old friend bravely gave herself a pixie cut and then a close-cropped buzz, in preparation for her first day of chemo. My sister showed off her fresh haircut, courtesy of my brother-in-law, as we chat on a video call to try and cross the distance between us.

In our house, it is not just my husband who has received a tentative trim from me. I have also cut my five-year-old daughter’s long curly hair, taking off quite a few inches despite – or perhaps because of – her turning her head around every few seconds to look at me. With her new, short cut I can see the teenager she will be in a decade.

When it was my three-year-old son’s turn, I gently washed his hair, singing Fleetwood Mac’s Landslide: “But time makes you bolder, even children get older. I’m getting older, too.” As he heard my muffled voice through the water and felt my hands holding him aloft, I hoped silently that he feels safe in this era of pandemic, even though I do not.

When I swept up their honey-brown and blonde trimmings, I kept the curls on the kitchen counter all day in the dustpan. I couldn’t bring myself to toss it out.

Over these many months, I have looked with sweet pride at my family’s haircuts. Even this recovering perfectionist doesn’t mind the small mistakes of one curl that is too long or one ear looking ever-so-slightly higher than the other. I realize now that cutting my family’s hair is an act of care.

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Caretaking is a combination of vulnerability, love and closeness. It takes all three to cut a family member’s hair. In a time when we are distancing ourselves from our communities, friends, family and the public sphere, this closeness that we need most. Being close to somebody – to my husband, as I trace the razor over the hills and valleys of his head with my other hand on his familiar shoulder – feels more special than it did before.

Humans naturally are caretakers for that which we love. I see it in countless daily acts as people give what gifts they have to help one another muddle through. Small and large acts of care are happening everywhere, as communities, neighbours and strangers help one another out in ways that would’ve previously seemed unimaginable.

I don’t know if I will continue to cut my family’s hair after this pandemic. Like all of us, I do not know what the world will look like after this. I don’t know what we keep, what we lose, what we shed or what we find. Staring down the barrel of a pandemic winter, I know that caretaking will be a powerful survival strategy, for our families and our communities.

I also know that I intend to always look at my husband as intentionally as that night when I first cut his hair. Closely enough that I see every strand that falls over his forehead, and that I know where his neck starts to curve. I intend to remember to be present with my children as I wash their ever-growing hair. I intend to be grateful for the intimacy of that act rather than resentful of yet another task in a long day. I intend to remember that our home is with each other, and that there was that one year in 2020 when we spent weeks together without leaving our cabin, and we never lost love for one another.

Naturally, months into my amateur pandemic haircutting career, my own locks began to look too long. Too dishevelled. Too much like I hadn’t left home in weeks. My dark blonde waves were beginning to look like I myself could use some care. When closed businesses started to hesitantly open their doors, I donned my mask and went into the local hair salon. As the hairdresser cut off 12 inches of neglected ponytail, Landslide sang out from the speakers mounted on the wall, asking, “Can I sail through the changin’ ocean tides? Can I handle the seasons of my life?”

I believe that I can – that we can – but not without caring for each other.

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Alice Irene Whittaker lives in Chelsea, Que.

First Person is a daily personal piece submitted by readers. Have a story to tell? See our guidelines at tgam.ca/essayguide.

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