I have my mother’s hair. It’s painfully straight with a mind of it’s own. Most of my life, I have kept it short since my hair has never been my strong suit. In college, I wore it long and dyed it blonde constantly convinced that I had to stay far away from my natural hair color. Once I started working, I needed a change. So, I cut my hair short, let it go back to it’s natural color and never looked back. My hair is now somewhere between my ears and shoulders, darker than it ever has been in my life with grey streaks. So, why am I telling you about my hair? Because my son has delightfully beautiful hair that demands more product that I ever dared to put on my own scalp.
When he was born, one of the first things I noticed about my son was his long, wavy hair. My African-American friends immediately began to question if he was 100% African American because of his thick, wavy hair. The birth mother told me in the hospital that eventually it was going to curl and curl it did.
First, I have to tell you, that I went to an African-American hair care class while waiting for adoption. It was free and I was curious and you never know what life can bring you. That class changed my life forever. I remember the lovely older couple who sat beside me with a beautiful African-American male infant in their lap. He was barely two months old and I could not stop staring at the glee on their faces and the cuteness of his feet.
What changed my life about that class was quick conversation that I had with one of the mothers. She adopted a beautiful African-American girl who was there with amazing beaded hair. I looked at this hairdo and was immediately overwhelmed. I can’t make a pot holder so how in the heck am I going to bead someone’s hair that takes hours to complete?
This mother remembered me. With my adoption agency, you agree to come to talk to at least one group of potential adoptive parents once you reach the other side. She was one of the people who gave her talk when I was a new potential parent. She remembered me. I saw her glance in my direction several times during the training.
During a break, she came right over to me to ask me if I had adopted yet. No. It had been almost a year in the wait process and I am sure my eyes told the story of my frustration. She suggested immediately that I get on the last-minute call list. So, if someone goes into the hospital last minute, they can call you immediately and you have 24 hours to get there. This list frightened me. The reclaim rate was over 40%. I could not bear the idea of saying yes, stopping my life in its tracks, taking an infant home and the mother suddenly changing her mind. But, this woman was persistent.
Honestly, I can’t remember what all she said to convince me but the one thing I do was - “You can always say no. If it doesn’t feel right, you can say no.” Before I left the training, I was signed up on the last-minute call list. That act put my son in my path and made me a mother. I wish I could remember that woman’s name to thank her, but I think she knows. She kept saying, “I don’t know what it is, but I have this strong feeling that you should be on that list.”
But I digress. The training was very helpful and scary at the same time. I took notes as quickly as I could but thought to myself, how am I going to figure this out. Here’s the secret, you always do. You ask questions of people around you. Don’t be so humble not to take the suggestions of others. Try something out. See if it works.
African American hair is beautiful and sucks down product like crazy. If you put that much conditioner on my hair, it would look like a cow licked me. When I put hand fulls of conditioner on my son’s hair, it disappears. I can only wash it once or twice a week since shampooing can be drying on his hair and scalp. Combing his curly mane is tough. It hurts him and he fights me.
I don’t remember this from the training, but I learned this quickly after I brought him home. You cannot cut African American hair during the first year of life. His hair pattern is getting set and an early cut can disrupt his pattern. So, by my son’s first birthday, he had a headful of curls that stood up about three to four inches above his head. It was beautiful, but a lot of work.
Getting shampoo through it was like going into a boxing ring with a prize fighter. My son knew how to bob and weave like a champion. Massaging his hair to the point that the product reached the root took five to ten minutes of work. I could never get a comb through it and thanks to his wonderful sleeping ability, the back of his hair stayed matted and crazy.
Everyone loved his hair. I loved his hair, but by 13 months, we had reached a point where my son needed a haircut so that I had a fighting chance to keep it healthy looking. I did not want a little kid with dreads, but in the back of his hair, we were well on our way. So one of my friends recommended a great barber and made our Saturday appointment.
We got there right at our appointment time, but waited over 45 minutes for our turn. It’s not easy keeping a mobile 13 month little boy occupied in a lobby. I brought snacks and milk trying to convince him that we were just hanging out. He was great but I was a nervous wreck but I knew what was coming next.
When it was our turn, I had to sit in the chair and hold him in place. I brought toys hoping to distract him and had them on my lap. The barber immediately took those toys away and told me that my job was to restrain him. Before any words were said, the barber grabbed a pic and immediately began to pic out my son’s hair going from root to tip as quickly as possible.
My son now believes that he is being attacked screaming as loudly as possible. In a way, he was being attacked. Curls are tangles and this barber was pulling out 13 months of curls. My son went from burying his face in my chest to lurching backwards with all of his might to pull away from me. I became the strange combination of safe harbor and evil enemy.
Once the picing was done, the cutting started. My son stopped screaming and moved to quiet sobbing. He was still trying to move away. So I had to hold his head in place at times to help the barber cut his hair. More picing happened throughout the cut so more screaming commenced.
My friends warned me that his screaming would hurt my feelings and that I would cry through this experience. I was ready for that, but it did not happen. I was so busy trying to keep my son safe and still that my energy went to my arms. After 20 minutes, we were both exhausted. We were covered in hair and his stress sweat.
The barber wanted a photo of the two of them to show off his work. We got the photo, but my son was still so upset that he lurched in his arms trying to get away. My poor guy had the snubs for an hour after that happened. He looked amazing with his new cut. All of that dramatic hair on his head was taking away from his sweet face.
After that hair cut, future hair cuts became easier. I am learning how to comb and pic through his hair. I am asking questions of everyone. One of his daycare teachers combed out his hair one day and then came to talk to me about it afterwards making sure that I was OK with it. OK? I was thrilled only bummed that I could not watch her technique.
If you finding yourself raising a child from another race, you have to ask lots of questions and take lots of suggestions. I don’t know what I am doing half of the time with his hair, but I am relying on the village around me to guide me through this process.