Mohawks and Personal Expression

So instead of sitting on my armchair-turned-throne of laziness, moodily brooding about all the things I’m recently very bad at (list includes, but not limited to: routine personal hygiene, attention to housework, and motivating certain children to just finish their schoolwork for the year already), I thought I’d hike all the way to my “office” (the computer nook in the kitchen) and post something about things I am good at.

It’s a pretty short list right now.  Mostly, it’s limited to this:

Which, in case you’re not sure what you’re looking at, is a Cub Scout, marching in the town Memorial Day parade, sporting a mohawk dyed red, white, and blue for the occasion.  It was every bit as festive as it looked.

This, of course, is the Cub Scout’s younger brother, who is also sporting a mohawk.  Which is orange.  Which, despite the dye bottle’s assurances to the contrary, is not washing out, and will mostly likely leave his hair only via the clippers.

So here’s what I do well.  I give my boys mohawks and dye them unnatural colors.

Why?  Because that’s what they ask for.  Ever since they’ve been old enough to ask for specific haircuts, the mohawk has been the number one choice (followed by “spiky, like Doctor Who”)

It’s something, anyway.

As parents, I suspect that Ken and I are above average on the strictness scale.  Take clothing, for example.  Seven years of seeing what passed for “suitable attire” at the middle school level settled the issue of modesty in dress for me long before I converted to Catholicism or had children of my own.  This means our daughters are not to wear shorts that could double as underwear in terms of length.  Our boys are not allowed to display their underwear from the tops of their pants (we’re trying to work on “no underwear on display at all”, but our boys are still young, so I’m hoping there’s still time to drill that one into their thick skulls).  We’re not talking Catholic-Amish wardrobe choices here, but collars do have to be worn to Mass, and writing across one’s butt is never, ever acceptable (no, boys, not even if it’s a “Kick Me” sign that you taped to an unaware sibling).  So the kids’ ability to express themselves via their clothing is limited to what passes Ken’s and my litmus test of modesty.

Same thing with music.  I’m not much of a music lover, so I don’t feel the need to have it playing in the background during our weekdays.  Ken, however, is a music lover, and very much finds music is a means of personal expression.  Unfortunately, judging by the music he picks, Ken wants to express a lot of screaming and swearing, since that’s pretty much all I hear coming from the radio when he’s in charge of the dial.  So we have the always fun discussion about whether or not Pearl Jam shrieking at the top of their lungs, even if it’s mostly unintelligible, is really good for the kids to listen to.  In turn, he stares at me pointedly and begins muttering about drugs when I try to crank up Tom Petty.  Despite this, one of our sons has developed a strong love for all things Elvis, and another one is happy to occasionally declare that he’s “got the moves like Jagger”.  Whatever that means.

Books and movies are another area where people like to cultivate an identity, as every single Trekkie can attest.  Here, they’re both subject to the same parental censorship as anything else fun.  I try to read all the books my 10 year old does- sometimes even before she gets to them.  When I’m backlogged on junky serial books on fairies and unicorns and such that she wants me to preview, I hand her something like The Hobbit to buy me time.  Ken and the girl are going to start reading Harry Potter soon, with the idea that they’ll read one a year, watch the movie, and by the time the book’s characters and moral situations get more complex, our daughter will be old enough to intelligently respond.  Hunger Games, however much I enjoyed it, is just going to have to wait a few years before it gets released to the kids.

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Cari Donaldson


Cari Donaldson lives on a New England farm with her high school sweetheart, their six kids, and a menagerie of animals of varying usefulness. She is the author of Pope Awesome and Other Stories, and has a weekly podcast about homesteading at

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  • Dwija Borobia

    I think my kids aren’t old enough to have preferences for things that are not our preferences for things, ya know? One of my daughters is more girly and the other one is more tomboyish, but nothing inappropriate has ever been suggested, so we haven’t really had to lay down any laws.

    But with (soon to be ) 4 girls, it’s only a matter of time….

  • micaela

    My parents always *said* we could do our hair however we wanted, but then I asked for a perm when I was 12 and they said no. By the time they came around I was over it (to be more accurate, perms were “out”) and I was glad I didn’t have one. I suspect it was all a part of their diabolical plan to raise me as a healthy and whole person with few personal regrets HAHA! I’m guessing my tongue, nose, and belly button piercings in college gave them many sleepless nights. But my argument was always, “It’s not a tattoo. I can take them out whenever I want.” And I did. Where do you stand on piercings, Cari?

    That said, my parents were pretty chill about all other hair requests. A few of my brothers sported Mohawks, they all had hippie hair at one point, and my oldest brother even had a mullet. Made ever more striking by his naturally bright red hair. Oy vey.

    The real thing I care about is modesty as well. Trying to instill that in this culture is haaaaaaaaarrrrrrd. (Whiny voice)

  • chaco

    I hold that kids can’t process abstract thought (Gray) until a certain age. They can only process Black & White. If we subject them to too much abstract, it can nurture the confused mindset of Relativism; “There is no Truth except what is RELATIVE to one’s own appetites or experiences.” I feel so fortunate to have grown up in an environment of Andy Griffith/ Mayberry RFD, Bonanza, My 3 Sons, Daniel Boone etc. where there was always a clear-cut distinction between Black & White – Good & Evil. Our home schooled, ages 23, 21 & 17 got alot of Beatles & other 60s music. Our oldest girl loves “I Love Lucy” shows and our boy loves John Wayne. [Did you know he had a Death Bed conversion to Catholicism ?] Such materials didn’t hinder their ability to process more recent cultural norms, but I think it helped to prevent their falling prey to what a recent Pope said was the greatest sin of our age; “The belief that there is no such thing as sin.”

  • At our house we drew the line on fashion statements that had certain philosophies attached to them. When the parents of one of my daughter’s friends bought MY DAUGHTER short shorts with phrases like “spoiled rotten” and “hot stuff” printed across the rear, we happily embarassed her by making her return them. And then we spent two years of middle school denying her the right to be a goth because of the nihilistic message that came with the outfits. In high school, however, when she decided to create her own unique (and often dreadful) look by assembling stuff from thrift stores, we just let her go for it because there’s no inherently evil message in having bad fashion sense.