cultivate (kuhl - tuh - veyt)
v. 1) develop 2) nurture

graft (grahft)
n. 1) transplant 2) bud 3) union

Monday, April 22, 2013

Hair-Raising Conversations

Usually when I leave the house with the girls, we resemble a three-ring circus. By the time I get to our destination, sometimes I don't feel like answering nosy questions from strangers. Selfish, I know. I try to be courteous and assume people truly want to be more knowledgeable of the ins and outs of adoption. Sometimes people begin by assuming all those children are mine. That's good. That way we get to skip a slew of awkward questions:

Are you a nanny?
How many times have you been married?
What?!? I don- Oh forget it. She's adopted.

If you assume she's mine we can advance to the second set of awkward questions:

So is adoption expensive?
*crickets chirping*

How do you manage her hair?
Well, mostly trained monkeys, but sometimes I actually give it a whirl. 

And that's where I'm camping today, folks. Hair. Pitch a tent, and get a fire blazing, because this is going to be a doozy of a camping trip.

First of all, I am aware that I'm white. I am also under no grand delusions that at the moment of adoption my fingers were infused with a special afro intuition. Any knowledge and skills I possess are the culmination of years of research, months of practice and a good dose of trial and error vigorously stirred together with persistence.

Unfortunately, there are times that I am judged based on my daughter's less-than-perfect hair style. There are sidelong glances, critical stares, obnoxious glares and even opinions voiced. I can handle the glances. Really, I can. I don't pretend to know the motive behind furtive appraisals from black women. I imagine any number of thoughts run through their minds: How does she know how to do that? I bet she had someone else do it. That looks terrible! That is downright impressive given her stick-straight hair. Whatever. I don't care. What truly bugs me are the not-so-subtle critical eyes and tongues. Partially I want to protect my own pride. I don't like feeling defensive around someone who happens to have more melanin than me. But, mostly I want to protect my daughter's confidence. God created her with tiny coils all over her head, and I'm in love with every single strand. One day soon she will begin noticing the disapproving eyes and taking notice of the negative comments. My response will play a large part in molding a tenacious love of her natural locks.

So, to the black woman in the grocery store, I know sometimes I don't strike the right moisturizing balance in my daughter's hair, or have the neatest, tightest cornrows. But out of love, I will continue to unpack this mysterious world (along with its bazillion products on the market, thank you very much). I realize I do strike a defensive posture and I'm sorry. I'm sure I come across haughty. Perhaps a warmer response on my part will encourage kinder words on your part?

And, to the black mama at the library, encouragement goes such a long way and I could have smothered you in hugs until we looked for all the world like a soft-served swirl ice-cream cone. Your sweet words were (and continue to be) a precious balm to my confidence as a vanilla mama to a chocolate daughter. I loved commiserating about the woes of misplaced silk caps, new hair growth that sticks out no matter what and the effects of dry winter weather on kinky hair. You offered a rare and far-reaching gift to my daughter and I: A soft place to land and grace to welcome us there.

Finally, to white folks near and far, my skills are rudimentary and I'm winging it 95% of the time. I am not an impressive white woman who has cracked the sacred hair code. I know we are used to running a brush through our hair and calling it good, so anything beyond fifteen minutes seems criminal. I do not feel that Sophia's hair is a burden. No, I don't enjoy every moment of detangling. Yes, it is wildly beneficial for attachment. Every style is an adventure and every product an experiment.* I am a mad scientist and loving it! There's no need to feel sorry for me.

To end on a high note, I'll share the latest hair lesson I have learned: Baubles at the end of the hair provide the perfect activity center on the go for a certain baby who-shall-remain-nameless. Also, a laundry basket + hair clips = a picture-worthy kerfuffle.**

Yes, her hair beads got caught in the laundry basket, and yes, I took pictures.

Learning As I Go,

*Eat your heart out, Indiana Jones.
**I wasn't fast enough on my feet to catch a photo of my oldest, who (somehow) managed to get her hair wedged fast between the seat and back of her dinner chair. Never. A. Dull. Moment.


  1. Ah, the comments (verbal and silent) that some people make... So glad that you had a wonderful conversation at the library! Love the picture - almost looks like Sophia thought it was funny. Ummm... between the seat and the back of her chair? That takes some talent.

    1. Yes, I had to pry the chair apart just enough so that Timothy could pull her hair out. Good grief!

      Seriously could have kissed the library mama!!

    2. Oh no! Ouch! (said I, while laughing uncontrollably) That takes some talent.

      I hope you have more comments and friends like the Library Mama!

  2. Your a brave Mama! Anything more than a ponytail or french braid is beyond me!

    1. Well, curly hair is a different ballgame, so if you had a chocolate daughter, I know you'd branch out too. Sometimes it feels more like sculpting than styling, but it is seriously so much fun about 97% of the time.

  3. Hi Cynthia,

    i'm a friend of your friend the puppetmaker. she shared this post with me. i thanked her and now i'll thank you, too. this was beautifully written and totally made me think about my thought process. and sophia is adorable and very obviously loved (which is most important).

    a chocolate mama with a chocolate daughter go through a lot of experimentation too. my mom tried more things on my hair than i can even remember. we learn together. :)

    1. If I ever meet you, I'ma gonna squeeze you so tight! Thank you, thank you, thank you! Your open mind blesses me, and knowing that it's a learning process for some no matter their skin color is a relief to read! You, in turn, have given me pause to consider as well. :)

      Also, she is ultra-loved to the max and she knows the dangerous levels of her own adorableness.


Please comment, but play nice.