Jonah Balden is my eleven year old son, who weighs fifty-eight pounds, stands four feet tall, and had a fourteen and one-half inch long ponytail. He did, that is, until Friday afternoon, when he had that long, beautiful hair cut off and donated to Locks of Love. For those of you who don’t know, Locks of Love is a charitable organization that takes donations of real human hair to make wigs and hair pieces for children with no hair. A majority of their clients have alopecia areata, a rare disease which causes hair loss. They also help children who have lost their hair for numerous other reasons including cancer treatment. Cancer is what inspired Jonah to grow his hair out until he had the minimum ten inch long ponytail to donate.
About three years ago, Jonah’s grandma, Marie Balden, was diagnosed with cancer. At the time, Jonah’s hair was a little on the scruffy side due to putting off his regular “little boy” haircut. In a light-hearted conversation about the possibility that grandma could lose her hair because of the medicine she would be using to fight her cancer, Jonah suggested that he could give her some of his hair. That conversation led to Jonah’s discovery that there was an organization that would take real hair donations in order to give it to kids with no hair. Jonah decided right then and there, that if his grandma couldn’t use his hair, he would give it to a kid who could, in his grandma’s name.
In the year and a half that followed, Jonah got his ends trimmed here and there, but no cut. Grandma would tease him about his long hair, but she always reminded him that in the end, she was proud of him for his willingness to grow his hair for someone else. Jonah’s grandma passed away on Christmas Day, 2009. Jonah was still shy of having the ten inches of ponytail he needed to donate, so it continued to grow, for almost another year and a half. There were down-sides to being a boy with long hair. Waitresses and old people called him “she,” boys would grab and yank on it for a competitive edge in sports, it was really hot in the summer, and there were more than a few marathon snarl-untangling, brushing episodes. On the up-side, girls loved it! They couldn’t keep their hands off his beautiful hair, in which the bottom layer of his hairline had cork-screw curls that you could stick a pencil through, and the hair would naturally wrap around the entire pencil. Stacked up side by side, constantly having tons of female attention, far outweighed all the negatives put together.
Jonah reached his minimum ten inch long ponytail quite a while ago, but he just wasn’t ready to cut it quite yet. In the beginning of March, on what would have been his grandma’s 80th birthday, he announced that he had been thinking it was time to cut his ponytail off, and donate it to Locks of Love. We gave him a couple weeks to make sure he was really ready. Yes, he was really ready. We made an appointment with Robin Reid at Expressive Design. Robin had trimmed Jonah’s ends a few times, and always respected his desire to keep his length as he worked toward his goal of donation. Even more important, was that Robin was his grandma’s hairstylist, so she knew Jonah’s story from the beginning. I was more nervous than Jonah when haircut day rolled around, which made me realize that the time we had given him to make sure he was ready, was probably more for me, than him. The monumental event was almost magical. One of Jonah’s best friends, Kevin, was there for both moral support and as a live model for what the new haircut should look like. Faun Goodwin, Grandma’s Hospice Circle of Love RN, was there as well to share in this full circle moment. We talked, laughed, and reminisced about Marie and how much we all missed her, and how proud she most certainly was on this day. That was all it took for the tears to start flowing. It was like we could almost sense her in the room with us, we could almost see her smiling face, we could almost feel her encouragement, and we could almost hear her say to Jonah, “I love you, you little shit.” The deed was done, Robin had just cut off his fourteen and a half inch ponytail.
In the end, Jonah hopes that his hair donation will inspire others to do the same. Even more importantly, is that Jonah wants to get the word out to other boys with long hair who are probably not very far away from having a ten inch ponytail. But, boys may be a lot less likely to know about Locks of Love, so getting the word out is what matters to Jonah. He also likes to brag that most boy hair is in better shape than girl hair. He never tortured his hair with peroxide or color, he never fried it with flat irons or curling irons, and he never broke its structure with permanents. He only shoved it in a football helmet a few times. Of course Locks of Love will take “tortured” hair or “non-tortured” hair, but Jonah wants to encourage other boys to donate, so Locks of Love can get more of the latter.
Jonah is very special to me as his mother, and to his dad, his brother and sister too, and really, to all his family and friends. Some day soon, he will also be very special to some child who has no hair, but who will receive a wig made from Jonah’s beautiful hair. But, within the organization of Locks of Love, he’s not special at all. I was both stunned and thrilled to learn, that of all the hair donations received by Locks of Love, 80% come from children. Children giving to other children somehow moves us all a little more. It automatically has us dig a little deeper in our hearts to find that place of real inspiration and love. Even more touching, is an organization like Locks of Love, that almost fully functions on the knowledge, certainty, and absolute proof, that children will give so freely to other children. Now that is special.
For more information on donation guidelines, and how to donate, visit http://www.locksoflove.org/