Tuesday, June 21, 2011

It's OK if She Screams!

One time we were in Kansas City on a short trip. At the time, my daughter was only about 6 months old and her hair was short and fairly straight.  There was a black woman that was working in a department store that stopped us and asked us a few questions like, "How old is she?" And "Where is she adopted from?" After we left the store, she came running out. She was hollering, "Wait! Wait!" I couldn't imagine why on earth she would be running out of the store...while at work...to flag us down.  We stopped, a little apprehensively. She ran up to us clearly out of breath, and said, "I just want to tell you that white people that adopt black girls don't always comb their hair out very well and it gets ratty. You need to really comb her hair out, even if she screams. It is the best thing and eventually, she will get used to it."

So began my journey into black hair.

My hair is straight as a string. I've never had a curl on my head that wasn't put there by a curling iron, blow dryer, or hot roller. I have always wanted naturally curly hair, but that just wasn't in the cards for me. Since I have no knowledge of what it is like to have curly hair and I have no experience with African American hair, bringing our little, black baby home was an eye opening experience.

I can't really compare my daughter's hair to any other black person, since I have no experience with Afro-American hair. But I can tell you that her hair is the curliest, thickest, hardest to comb, hair I have ever seen. Don't get me wrong, though. I'm not complaining. I love her hair. Her hair is soft as cotton and when it is down I could just touch it all day. I love her hair in her afro-puffs (little pony tails), braids, corn rows, or just in an afro. It is beautiful.

Today it is time to wash and braid my daughter's hair. It is a day I both dread and love. The challenge of having a toddler sit for hours while I remove the braids, wash her hair, and then re-braid is a pain. It is time consuming and makes both of us slightly irritable. On the other hand, it is a wonderful because we spend hours of quality time together, talking, singing, and watching our favorite Disney movies.

Since black hair is very different from white hair, I have had to learn a lot of new things. For example, black hair is very dry, does not have to be washed daily, and breaks off easily. Unfortunately, I have first hand experience at how easily black hair can break off. I can't really explain the trauma it causes in a mother when you realize the cute hairdo you put in your daughter's hair, the one with all of the little plastic hairbands, begins to break off at the root. The root! All of the hair, at the root, around the perimeter of her head...gone! Did I say, at the root!!! It was like something out of a horror movie. I actually thought about suing the company because there was no disclaimer on the package  that said, "WARNING! This will cause your daughter's hair to break off at the root!" Needless to say, I have not used that hair do again and hair moisturizer is my friend.

To learn how to work with her hair, I watch videos on YouTube and talk to lots of black women. I have been known to stop strangers on the street for the sole purpose of discussing black hair. "Excuse me ma'am, sorry to bother you, but I have adopted an African-American girl and I was wondering if you could tell be about how you got your hair to do that?" or "Excuse me, but what hair cream do you use?" or "Excuse me, but does your daughter mind sleeping in all of those beads?" I don't know if these women appreciate my curiosity or just pity me, but they always oblige and answer all of my questions.

When I am combing out my daughter's hair and she is screaming, I tell her about the kind woman in Kansas City who told me how important it was to have her hair combed out. She doesn't seem to appreciate my story of the sweet women, but maybe, one day, after the screams fade and she is grown, she will.