Here is a close-up picture I took Sunday. See if you can guess what this is:
a. Nolan’s first whiskers
b. The first visible sign that my son is moving toward adulthood at lightspeed
c. Another reason for mom and dad to ask who this person is and what has he done to our little boy
d. a, b, c, and g, as in, gulp!
Puberty – yeah, you remember, that glorious time in your life when your hormones are going berserk – has taken up residence in Nolan’s body. The 11-year-old staring back at me in the photograph I have in my office has grown roughly five inches and gained perhaps 50 pounds since he started sixth grade in September 2017. He has acne and is starting to develop, um, shall we say, south of the border. And Cindy and I get small doses of teenage attitude even though Nolan is nonverbal. We’ll get gentle and sometimes no-so-gentle nudges when he wants us out of a room. Normally he’ll point at me when I ask him, “Who loves you?” He picked up the pace and completely ignored me last Friday when I asked him that before he boarded the school bus.
And now, tiny whiskers have taken up residence on the right side of his upper lip. No, it’s nothing like the kid I saw last spring by Nolan’s middle school who I’m guessing either was an eighth grader or an undercover narc. But whiskers can sprout like dandelions. Today it’s a few barely noticeable hairs. Next week Nolan could be on his way to having a beard that would rival Rip Van Winkle's.
I don’t know what the big right of passage is for teenage girls, but shaving ranks pretty high for boys. I still remember my father letting me put his electric razor on my face and occasionally dab on some Hai Karate as he was getting ready for work in the mid- to late-1970s. I couldn’t have been more excited when my folks bought me my first razor when I was about 16. Never mind the fact my facial hair was peach fuzz and I didn’t have anything that even resembled a mustache and beard until I was well into my undergraduate years in college. I was shaving!
Nolan, on the other hand, won’t be as excited – and by not excited I really mean petrified. This is a kid who fights Cindy in his sleep when she tries to cut his fingernails and toenails. This is a kid who weeps and gnashes his teeth when it’s time for a haircut. Obviously, I have my work cut out for me.
My inner voice told me the best way to start the process was to go full-on Bob Wiley, Bill Murray’s character in “What About Bob?,” and take baby steps (“All I have to do is take one little step at a time, and I can do anything – even get a teenager with severe Autism to shave without screaming bloody murder!”). But perhaps there was a better way. I solicited advice from the guys who belong to the Autism fathers support group on Facebook that I joined a few months ago. Some of these dudes deal with more challenging circumstances than Cindy and I do and have seen just about everything.
So I reached out to the group members and asked them for tips on how to start getting Nolan to shave, and the responses I received were very helpful. One dad of twin boys with Autism said he had his sons hold the razor both when it was off and on, then he had them touch the razor to show it wouldn’t hurt them. A couple of fathers suggested buying a certain razor. One dad who was able to shave his son after two months of slow exposure to an electric razor told me just to make sure my wife didn’t try to pluck out the whiskers with tweezers like his wife had tried to do.
Armed with a little more self-confidence, I called Nolan into the bathroom last Saturday. I held up my razor for him to see, pointed at it, and said “razor.”
Nolan’s eyes widened, he yelled “All done!” and bolted from the bathroom.
And, we’re off to a great start.
Cindy was sitting in the living room when I came out and told her what had happened. She asked me, “Do you want me to get the tweezers?”
Hilarious woman, my wife. Just remember, darling, Nolan is due for a haircut and you’re the family barber.
Undeterred, I waited a little while before trying again. I had Nolan come back in the bathroom and once again showed him my razor. I held it up for him with the power off and said, “Touch razor.” He poked it for a millisecond and bolted as if he’d touched a hot stove. But I’d also like to point out he didn’t yell at me that time.
Feeling a little braver, I got Nolan back in the bathroom one more time a little later and turned on the razor. He gave me an “Are we done here?” stare before leaving. But I’d also like to point out he didn’t run away that time.
And that was Introduction to Shaving 101. Maybe with practice and patience we can work our way up to shaving by Nolan’s freshman year in high school. Maybe if I cross my fingers this is all the facial hair he’ll have for a while and he won’t need to shave every day until he’s, oh, about 25.
But I can see that my son is growing up in a hurry every time I look at him. Gulp!