Nearly every parent of a young child has had the experience at one time or another. Suddenly, the child stands there, unexpectedly transformed.
Perhaps it’s the result of an outlandish make-up job using lipstick, eye shadow and rouge applied exuberantly to all the wrong surfaces.
Or the transformation may be due to the concoction of a new outfit drawn from the parent’s closet and consisting of vintage shirts, high heels and silk ties.
For pubic radio reporter Jeff Cohen, it was a haircut gone wrong, perpetrated by his daughter Sadie, then 5, on her little sister Eva, then 3.
Using his reporter’s approach to interviewing, Cohen recorded his daughters’ explanation of their escapade and then turned the story into a best-selling children’s book after the recording went viral. This weekend, the author, a New Orleans native, appears at both The Magic Box and Barnes & Noble to sign copies of “Eva and Sadie and the Worst Haircut Ever!”
Cohen said that interviewing the girls required a deft balance of journalistic skills and fatherly curiosity.
“I am a sap and have always chronicled my girls and things they do and say because I want to hold on to it,” he said. “When Eva appeared with the haircut, I wanted to interview them about it, and the challenge was to sound like a reporter instead of a dad, so I wouldn’t inhibit their answers. I gave them the full reporter treatment, sitting at the dining table.”
Cohen succeeded, for the girls’ explanation of what transpired is anything but self-conscious. Sadie explains, in essence, that she was doing Eva a favor.
“Her hair was so long that it was almost about down to her tush,” Sadie said. Eva agreed: “It was almost down to my butt, and it was really itching my hips.”
After the debacle, Sadie was contrite, allowed that what had happened was terrible, but said, “Everyone does that kind of stuff sometimes. It happens like once or twice or three times in every life. Or twice. Or, I mean once.”
Once the initial shock had passed, Cohen admitted that he found himself more annoyed with the timing of the haircut than with the deed itself.
“To be honest, the problem at the time was that the haircut happened on a Sunday just before a Saints game. We have people over every Sunday for the games, and I cook,” he said. “In my small mind, it was getting in the way of me watching the Saints.”
Cohen did not intend to become an author of children’s books. After years of newspaper reporting at Connecticut’s Hartford Courant, he transitioned to reporting for the public radio station there, WNPR, where he has covered a variety of subjects in the past four years. It isn’t as surprising as it may seem, he claims, that his writing career now ranges from reporting on political primaries to penning children’s books.
“They draw on the process of gathering information, having curiosity,” he said. “But the difference between writing for print and reporting for radio is that in print, the emphasis is on the writer’s voice. In radio, it’s on the voice of the person you are interviewing.”
Cohen says he thinks being able to hear the tone of the subjects’ voices, the inflection, pacing and emphasis on words makes for powerful storytelling, especially in the case of Eva and Sadie’s misadventure.
“As adults, we basically have filters that generally stop the words between our brains and mouths and do us a favor, but as kids, they don’t have that – words go straight from their brains to their mouths,” he said. “One of the things I liked about Sadie’s explanation was her saying the haircut was the kind of thing that ‘happens once or twice or three times,’ then walks it back when she realizes that might not be a great thing to say to a dad.”
Cohen, his daughters, and his wife, Izzi Greenberg, make several trips to visit family in New Orleans every year, including for Mardi Gras.
“I ride in Babylon,” Cohen said. “I can remember sitting on St. Charles Avenue when I was a kid, doing my homework while I waited for the parade to come.”
Sadie and Eva (now 8 and 6, respectively) may make an appearance at their dad’s book signings this weekend, but book fans should not expect to see remnants of “the worst haircut ever.”
“Eva’s hair is back,” Cohen said. “And they both have hair long enough now that they can put it up in ballet buns.”