Published on March 26th, 2014 | by Eve4
EVE on Putting Hair Goo On a Moving Target
A few months back, I published my first article about being a transracial family, and got comments implying I’m doing something wrong when it comes to my son’s hair. Now, women being told they’re doing something wrong when it comes to being mothers – or choosing not to be mothers – is so common it alternately makes me laugh and makes me want to crawl under a rock. But this is that, plus something else. That something else is the politics of black hair, a topic so emotional and big Chris Rock made a whole movie about it (a very good movie, by the way).
When I suggested writing a follow up article on the politics of black hair to my spouse, she suggested we were particularly unqualified to do so, as white parents. She might be right. But I’m plowing ahead anyway, with that disclaimer: I’m writing from the perspective of a white parent who has waded into the politics of black hair only because it affects my son. I can never write from the perspective of someone who has lived the politics directly. But I’m living it now indirectly.
First of all, it’s not just a race thing. My mom has what many would call a Jew-fro, and after adolescent years of coiffed hairdos that didn’t move and straightened her curls out, she opted to keep it curly. Her own mother never approved; the last thing my grandmother told my mother, before slipping into a wordless dementia, was “I don’t like what you’ve done with your hair.” What is it about women that makes us so hard on each other and critical of each other’s choices?
We are choosing to keep our son’s hair a beautiful soft Afro for now. Why? Well, first of all because I like it. When I look around at African American friends and acquaintances, the hair I most admire are Afros. It’s a preference, it’s not an absolute truth or judgment about anyone else’s hair. Secondly, we are not cutting his hair until his third birthday, per the obscure Jewish tradition know as the upshirin. What I like about this tradition is that it helps mark the point where a wild toddler looks more like small person, which I think helps adults calibrate and shift their expectations. Three, it’s actually a custom in some African American communities to wait till at least the first birthday for the first hair cut as well, so that’s kind of a nice synchronicity. Four, it’s actually simpler at this point. We didn’t know this when we started, but caring for his hair (conditioning and combing it out with a wide-toothed comb a few times a week, moisturizing it multiple times a day) as an Afro takes less time than if we were to make him sit for twists or braids or poofs. We’re happy to do this for him when he’s old enough to tell us what he wants, and when he can better understand the discomfort he will have to endure to put his hair into these protective styles. We’re also prepared (though it will make me sad) for him to say he wants to cut it all off so he doesn’t have to sit through any kind of care. But for now, he’s only 23 months and he can’t tell us what he wants, though he makes it clear he wants us to manage it in whatever way takes the least amount of time. Hence the title of this piece.
When you’re in a transracial family, you’ve got an added layer of defensiveness built up, ready to arm you against other parents who assume if your kid looks a hot mess one day, you must have no idea what you’re doing as a parent. Maybe it was just windy that day. Aren’t there more important things to talk about?
Obviously, there’s a parenting style here, too. It’s our style to not micromanage everything our kid does, but rather to try and let him be a kid, and play. There will be a time when he cares what clothes he wears and what his hair looks like. Until then, let’s let him just jump and romp and laugh and BE. My favorite piece about parenting is Khalil Gibran’s “On Children”. When we start micromanaging our kids, it’s almost always because our ego is getting tied up in who they are or who they are perceived to be. Back off and let them become who they truly want to be:
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.