Wednesday, April 10, 2013

H is for Hair

I have really good hair. It grows freakishly fast and it's straight when I straighten it and it's curly when I curl it. I can wear it down or pull it into short pigtails. (They're short because I donated a bunch recently) I get expensive haircuts and I haven't dyed it in 8 years. I'm really picky about my hair. It's one of my best features.

Lily's race is a mix of Black, Latina, and White. (In descending order by percentage.) I knew when we decided to adopt outside of our race that hair would likely be an issue. I knew I'd have some learning to do, and I was ready to accept the challenge.

What didn't occur to me was how my hair and my feelings towards it would affect Lily. Nor how my feelings towards her hair would affect me.

When we got Lily she was twelve days old. Her hair was slick and curly. Throughout her first year the curls got tighter, starting in the back and working their way towards the front. By her first birthday she had the cutest afro you've ever seen. So we let it grow out that way. Or... we tried to.

For the next two years we managed her afro the best that we could. I would trim it at home, and a few times we took her to a kids' salon where she could sit in a car and watch a movie. It looked cute most days. But we knew it was tangled- badly tangled- at the roots. And on days when it didn't look so great, we felt judged. Sometimes strangers would even stop us. Did we need help with her hair?

Now, my feelings towards these strangers and whether this is appropriate is a whole other blog. Or series of blogs. (I don't stop strangers who put their kids in dorky outfits and ask if they need help with fashion. And I don't stop strangers whose kids don't sing on key and ask if they need music lessons. I understand it's not a perfect comparison as there are major culture ties with Black women and hair. But still. Keep your opinions to yourself, total strangers.) But the point is that something needed to be done, and we knew it.

Her tangles weren't for lack of trying or caring. But Lily is tender-headed. How could we possibly work through those tangles to pull it back into any other style? We couldn't imagine getting her to sit without writhing and screaming.

Enter our good friends from church, who explained that we wouldn't do it without writhing and screaming.

They came over one Sunday afternoon, armed with cupcakes and more hair products than I have ever seen. And the four of us got to work. We worked for four or five hours. We worked until we were all exhausted. We worked until Lily started screaming for help. "Grandma! Grandpa! JESUS!"

And we made it to about the front of her ears.

That was nearly a year ago. Since that day, Ryan and I have looked at the whole... hair thing... in a new light. We learned that we have to hold her down. We learned that she will scream. We also learned that eventually we won't have to hold her down, and she'll stop screaming. (Last Sunday she sat for four hours. We would have bought her a pony had she asked.)

And four days ago we finally got all the tangles out.

There have been some crazy hair styles along the way. Pony tails in just the front with tangles in the back. Twists on just one side of her head. Hair sticking out in all directions. And it's not that we thought these styles were OK. Or that we didn't care. We were trying.And she lost a good hunk in the back that just couldn't be saved. Not that she has bald spots or anything. It's just much shorter there. Fortunately we can cover the spots with pony tails, and we can keep it detangled as it grows back.

So we're learning about her hair and how to take care of it. We're getting much, much better. And she's learning that it's a lot of work to keep her hair pretty. And she's learning to be patient. And she's learning to sit still. And she's learning that she'll probably get a lot of treats if she just stays calm.

But what we haven't learned yet is how to deal with the emotional issues that come with having different hair. Both hers, and mine.

For her, it has come up twice. About a year ago she was playing with my hair. And then she looked sad. And she said "princesses don't have Lily hair. Princesses have Mommy hair." Fortunately I was able to find "The Princess and the Frog" in a hurry and pop it into the DVD player. I showed her how Tianna (as a little girl, anyway) has hair just like hers. And she was immediately placated.

And then yesterday, I was wearing pigtails. Not because it's age-appropriate, but because I was running around and needed it out of my face. She asked if we were going to put her hair in pigtails, too. We told her we would. And we did. And she cried.

"NOOOOOOOOO! I want them like YOURS!"

I didn't know how to explain that her pigtails couldn't be hanging from the back of her head in two sleek curls like mine. All I could tell her was that we had different hair, that I loved her hair, that she was beautiful. I reminded her that everywhere we go people comment on her awesome hair. (Which is unique in our uber-white town.) She eventually settled down. But it broke my heart.

And then there are my own issues with her hair. I don't want to feel judged everywhere I go. I don't want to have to worry if we can run to the mall because we didn't get very far in the detangling process the night before and her hair looks crazy today. I don't want to wish I could explain myself to strangers who look at me with judgement. I don't want to try to convince Lily to wear a hat, because I don't ever want her to pick up my discomfort and make it her own.

There are tons of blogs out there about taking care of Black hair. There are even blogs written specifically by White women who adopted Black children who are learning to take care of their hair. And they're really helpful

But what we don't talk about much is how we deal with the learning curve. I may need to discuss it more here, in fact. Because I'm learning. But I make a lot of mistakes. And I need support in that.

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