Tuesday, May 15, 2018
(read about the panic attack I had the first time I gave my daughter a haircut here)
Whenever I see a black woman, whether in person or in a movie or on a magazine, I study her hair. More than one woman at Wal-Mart has probably wondered what my problem was as I stalked her through the hair products aisle trying to spy out what kind of leave-in conditioner she uses. Only once have I dared ask a black woman how she created the hairstyle she was wearing, and that was because she spoke to me first.
Insecurity, remember? (she gave great advice, by the way)
I'm doing my best and learning as I go, but doing Patience's hair doesn't come naturally to me. My friends are always so nice and tell me how cute her hair looks, but frankly, it's not their approval I long for. It's the black woman with two black children at the store who looked back and forth between Patience and me with a question on her face, who put a hand on each of her children's heads as her eyes flicked over my daughter's hair. That's whose approval I crave. And I don't have it.
A couple days ago, I told Patience it was Hair Day. Hair Day is when I do the whole two-hour rinse, wash, condition, comb out, condition, style routine that we thankfully only have to do about once a month. As we headed for the bathtub, I gave Patience's hair a playful tug.
"What style shall we do this time?" I asked.
The only answer she'd ever given to that question before was a shrug. Her preference always seemed to be "whatever gets done the fastest." But this time was different.
"I want it straight," she said. "Like yours."
Oh. Gulp. My heart beat a little faster.
"Okay." I forced a smile. "Let's see what we can do."
We rinsed and washed and conditioned and combed. Then I settled Patience in her "hair chair" and got out the coconut oil, hairdryer, and paddle brush.
"Straight all the way around," Patience reminded me.
I knew no matter how much I combed it out, how much hot air I used, how much product I applied, it was never going to be anything like mine. I would never be the mirror that she was looking for. But she didn't know that. So I brushed and brushed and blew and blew the best I could. Her smile grew the closer I got to the end, and when I said I was finished, she leapt from her chair.
"Now we're the same!" she said.
"You're right." I knelt down beside her, face-to-face. "We both have pretty hair."
"And we both eat scrambled eggs."
"And we both like to ride bikes."
She giggled. "And we both love daddy."
"I guess we're practically twins, then," I said.
I ran a hand over her hair, trying to smooth it down, but it just bounced right back up. It would no sooner lay flat than sprout wings and fly. She gave me a hug and said "Thank you, Mommy," and ran off to play. I watched her go, marveling at all the things we did have in common, despite obvious differences.
Maybe I'll never have the approval of that woman at the store. Maybe I'll never feel confident in my ability to do my daughter's hair. But maybe those aren't the most important things.