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Don't Stop Believin'

Liane Kupferberg Carter is the mother of two adult sons, one of whom has autism and epilepsy. Liane is a journalist whose articles and essays have appeared in more than 40 publications. As a community activist, she has worked with both national and local organizations. You can read Liane's blog post on 'Autism After 16' here.

Two days before our 19-year-old son Mickey leaves for sleep away camp, he asks to get a haircut.

No big deal, right? But 15 years ago this would have been unthinkable.

Back then, the barbershop was the scene of some of our worst parenting moments. By 8:00 in the morning of the Dreaded Haircut Day, my husband Marc would already be muttering, “I need a scotch before I can do this”—and he doesn’t even drink scotch. Bracing himself in the barber chair, Marc would clench Mickey in a bear hug and scissor-lock him with his legs. Mickey would flail frantically, headbutting his father and screaming like someone undergoing surgery without anesthesia. Customers gawked. One old man snarled, “Rotten spoiled brat.” Marc sweated through his shirt. When the barber declared he was done, I’d take Mickey into my arms. Sobbing and spent, he’d collapse against my shoulder; smearing us both with snot and hair. We tipped big. Very big.

Unable to face a repeat performance, we’d let long months go between haircuts. Mickey’s great-uncle Jack liked to tease him. “You look like a girl, buddy!” he’d say. Some days when we’d walk by that barbershop on our way to the deli, I could swear that as soon as the barbers saw us passing, they’d quickly pull down the white shade in the window that said “Closed for Lunch.”

But today when we enter the barbershop Mickey sings out a cheery “Hi Dom!” as he plops into the chair. Dom drapes him in a maroon cape, and picks up a shaver. A screen splits in my head: I can still picture that terrified little boy, even as I watch my son, nearly a man, sitting solemnly watching his reflection in the mirror.

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