He got his first shaving kit a couple of Christmases ago. It came from a neighbor, not an antiqued silver set with a badger brush all tucked in a velvet-lined box, but the plastic kind emblazoned with Lightning McQueen and including strawberry fluoride smelling shaving cream and all enveloped in and impossible-to-open molded plastic casing and wrapped in Mickey Mouse paper. I thought it seemed cute. He wasn't interested.
And then I cleaned out the cabinets under the bathroom sinks, found the box, and placed it on the edge of the tub for Lil E to see. That simple clearing of clutter coincided with an interest in shaving -- not of man faces or even his dad, but of lady stuffs and particularly arm pits.
He is fascinated by who chooses to have clean-shaven underarms and why that mostly seems to be women. Since it is just Lil E and me most of the time, the business of being a lady doesn't faze him. He's used to it. There's evidence of it in many corners, drawers and conversations in our home. It's strange then to catch him staring off, squinty-eyed and wheels clearly turning, only for him to confess he's cranking away on who decided women should shave under their arms and men shouldn't and why "the ladies don't want the tickly stuff that's kind of fun to feel under there" and if they didn't shave, if all that hair would get crazy out of control in some kind of zombie or closet-hiding monster.
Pit perseveration, it's the really good stuff of six-year olds, I guess.
Given that's where his head has been, it surprised me that when he finally chose to unwrap the bladeless razor and test it out on his baby-soft skin, that it went on his face. Of course, he's seen his dad shave on many occasions. But according to Lil E, he's still using the same electric razor method he did during all of the years I knew him. I'm not sure where he learned to lather up or if it was just some kind of mysterious testosterone instinct at work, but there was no question that if he was going to be fake shaving, it would be across his cheeks and shimmying over his lip and carefully rounding his tiny cleft chin.
I had to help him a bit, showing him how to turn the little mountain of pink goop from the Lightning McQueen spray can into a cloud of cream in his palm. He looked in the mirror I pulled out for him while I helped smooth it out where one day, sideburns will be. Then I placed my hand over his hand over the hollow razor and gently pulled down and swept up, showing him the rhythm I've seen the men in my life do a million times. The one I hadn't yet been able to imagine my own boy doing one day years from now. Certainly not one I expected to show him.
He shaved his perfect, sunkissed, sweet face clean. He beamed a big, proud smile at himself in the mirror and then at me, his dimples etched out under the last remaining lines of shaving cream.
He will forget this moment, I imagine. And when the time comes for real, he will scoff at his mother, giggling or maybe even weepy to see him skimming his face to shave away errant bits of fuzz. He may keep wondering about the things women do and the rituals ascribed to gender, and perhaps will choose to follow his father's way with the electric razor rather than using blades. Real blades.
Even as the images of those future shaves flashed through my mind, I let myself believe that it is all very far away even though I know, we all know, that of course it isn't.
Then, because he is six and his face and his confidence and feeling about himself were all smoother than ever from fake shaving, he did something else I didn't expect.
He swiftly poured out a palm full of shaving cream, lathered it up and smeared it all over his....chest.
"Do men or ladies ever shave all the crazy hair off of their chest?" He said it more as a statement of enthusiasm than a question. I answered anyway.
"Well, yes." I said. "Some men do shave their chests."
I was trying not to burst the bubble of his squeaky-clean confidence by laughing and it wasn't easy.
"GOOD! Because I am probably going to be super hairy like Daddy and when I am a man, I am really going to have to take care of that!"
And with that, he pulled and swept that little red plastic razor up and down his concave first-grader chest and arond his half-outty belly button and right up to his clavicle.
If I would have turned to grab a washcloth or wipe up a puddle of water outside the tub, I might have missed it -- the moment when he came to his armpits, the briefest blip in his fake shaving time, when he paused, processed, decided something I'm guessing has to do with being a real guy who shaves his chest but stops short at turning his underarms into something ladylike, who draws some kind of internal line between swiping the chest and face clean and getting all grunty about the gender division of stubbly bits, and then chooses to leave them as is, opts to let that super hairy, crazy, tickly zombie stuff shine like an emblem of his someday, future, please-God-faraway manhood.