Hair has gone from playing hardly any role in my life to dictating much of it. I have curly hair. Not super curly, but curly enough.
As a toddler I had loose little ringlets, but as I grew older, my hair straightened quite a bit. The short hairs around my face still curled in high humidity to give me a lovely lion’s mane, but other than that, it was just full bodied, we’ll call it.
Anyway, when I was in 6th or 7th grade, my mom took me to get a perm. From that point on, I had curly hair. It was truly a permanent, permanent. I’m sure the unbelievable level of hormones surging through my body, and apparently hair follicles, had some level of involvement, but at any rate, that perm stuck.
As an adult my hair routine consists of one of three regimens. If I am going to be seen somewhere, I employ the first. I simply wash my hair and use conditioner to get the tangles out. Then I get out of the shower, I squeeze the water out, brush it, spray some curling stuff on it and “crunch” it. (The spray doesn’t actually make it crunchy, but I honestly don’t know another verb that would get the point across.) That’s it. No hair dryer, straightener, curling iron – nothing.
The second regimen usually occurs the day after regimen number one. It entails getting out of bed, leaning over and “fluffing” my hair and proceeding with the day.
Regimen number three consists of pulling my hair back into a low ponytail, and the only tool it requires is a rubber band. This method comes in to play when number one and two are just not an option. This is usually due to the fact that either I washed my hair the day before, but the curls didn’t make it through the night, or I have to count days to determine when I washed my hair last it has been a few days since its last washing.
While it has taken me a long time to get to the point here, you can see that clearly, I spend very little time on my hair. Sometimes I think my hair looks great and sometimes it doesn’t. Whatever. I never really worry that people will draw conclusions about me based on the style or condition of it. Yes, I do have two biological daughters, but their hair requires about the same level of work as mine.
Enter my little firecracker, Hope. Wow! I HAD NO IDEA the difficulty and angst her hair would bring into my life. I love that little spitfire, but her hair causes me great stress. I just don’t know what to do with it. I have read article after article about how to care for it and watched all sorts of YouTube videos, and I still feel somewhat clueless. I have an entire basket of products I’ve tried to no avail, none of which I’m sure I’ve used correctly. I keep them around to both remind me of what I’ve already tried, and in the hopes that maybe I’ll learn how to use one of them correctly in the future, and it might just be “The One”. I follow the instructions on the labels, but I just don’t think they are written for a white girl. I think there has to be some information that the manufacturer is leaving out, incorrectly assuming that the user already has some base of knowledge. They assumed wrong.
I did find a product that actually lets me comb through Hope’s hair in the shower, so that was serious progress, but I cannot get it to look shiny and healthy and have those curls that I see on some girls. Granted, Ugandans have hair that is quite different than most African Americans here in the states. Hope’s hair is extremely coarse and tightly curled, so I’m not sure if my hope of achieving Macy Gray hair is even reasonable.
I have a new level of appreciation for African American women and the work that they have to put in to their hair. Whenever I see a women who has a fancy style, I always compliment her on her hair. I’m sure she thinks I’m odd, but I really think their efforts should be recognized. I mean it is hard work!
Well, until I figure Hope’s hair out, I suppose I could just do braids or twists or whatever. Oh, right. I can’t do those either. This white girl never learned how to French braid or even make those fancy friendship bracelets. All I could pull off were simple three stranded braids. Besides my best friend, no one was real anxious to trade their intricately mastered designs for my limp excuse for jewelry. To think that I would be able to achieve crazy fancy hairstyles like these, is honestly ludicrous.
Thankfully, regardless of her hair, Hope is pretty stinkin’ cute. I mean, really. Look at that little face.
So, why is this such a big deal? Because being a mom is my job, and I work super hard at it. My kids don’t wear the cutest clothes or have the latest shoes (except for when my mom buys them – thanks again Mom for Maya’s sparkling, flashing light shoes that you would never have in a million years let me wear as a child), so it’s not about that. It’s that within the African American community, hair is a BIG deal. It feels like the condition of your child’s care is indicative of your overall care for them. And if you’re white, that matters even more. I may be completely making this up, but it feels that I am being sized up as a mother based on whether or not I do a good enough job with Hope and Henry’s hair and skin. I have this huge fear that when other African Americans see them, they will immediately know they have a white mom. They are already going to feel so different – I don’t want to exacerbate it.
So how does all of this hair stress play out in real life? Well, my lack of hair expertise keeps me from going to the park, museum, public play dates, and even the gym. (It’s true. That last one isn’t just an excuse. Really.) If I am going to take my little chocolate angel in public, I feel like I have to have her hair done really well. BUT it takes a LONG time to do her hair. And I don’t know if you remember, but I have 5 kids who I homeschool, so all of that together often leaves her hair unfit for public viewing, which means the ‘public’ part of our life is minimal.
I am never in a hurry for my children to grow up, but I do look forward to when Hope’s hair is long enough for braids. I will gladly pay whatever it costs to take her to the salon every few weeks and have her braids done. It can get expensive, but I will gladly sacrifice other things in our budget to make it happen. Maybe I’ll even get her and Henry potty trained one day, and we can just put our diaper money into a braid fund.
My life has gone from having nothing to do with hair, to having everything to do with hair, and that’s just fine. My sweet Hope is SO worth it. Besides, we all need things in our lives we can’t quite master to keep us humble – apparently some of us need a lot of things. I will say my total lack of skill in overall hair care has left me questioning how in the world God deemed me qualified to be in charge of African American hair, which I am convinced is the hardest to care for. The only thought I can come up with is that He gave me such low maintenance hair because He knew I’d need to devote all available primping time to Hope’s. I suppose it all averages out in the end. If only I had a child who was emotionally low maintenance to balance things out around here…