More Than Hair

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I spent my entire pregnancy worried about hair.

Not my hair, but the little human’s hair who was growing inside of me. What texture will it be? How will I know how to take care of it? How often do I wash it? Will she one day look back at pictures of herself and blame me for her crazy-haired awkward phase?

My husband and his family tried to reassure me that they would be there to help and that I was, in fact, capable of learning the ins-and-outs of African American hair care. I still doubted.

When she finally arrived (I say finally, but she was two weeks early), she came out with a head full of 2” dark brown, silky, straight hair. I was almost disappointed. I guess I had looked forward to the challenge and the corkscrew curls. But I looked at this beautiful baby girl who was half mine, half his and was in awe of her beauty. Silky hair and all.

On month 4, she had to be fitted for a corrective helmet. We were instructed to shave her head because she had too much hair and they were worried the helmet wouldn’t fit properly. I cried. We took her to get an actual hair cut and made a big deal of it thinking it would help. My husband reminded me, “She is not her hair. She is our girl with or without it.”

It’s true. She IS our girl and she IS beautiful. How could I let myself believe that her hair was anything more than just hair?

Over the course of the next several months, her hair grew back. When the helmet came off, it revealed exactly what I had originally anticipated. Her hair had gotten crazier, curlier, and coarser. I started playing around with different products and tried my best to figure out how often to wash and condition and comb.

While her hair has grown and changed with each product experiment, one thing has remained constant – the comments.

“Look at that hair!”

“Oh, you must have had terrible heartburn!”

“What beautiful hair she has!” as a stranger reaches to touch it.

Every time someone comments on her hair, I almost want to reply with something like, “And she knows her ABCs!” But I never do because I’m guilty of it myself. There are countless evenings where I will sit and play with her curls while we read or point out an adorable ringlet bouncing around as she runs. When strangers comment, I usually reply with something along the lines of, “I know! She’s got wild hair!” 

As it turns out, I’m insecure about my daughter’s hair. Rather, I’m insecure about my ability to care for anything other than white-person hair, and I’m afraid of what that means about me as a mom.

We are almost two years in, and I still don’t know how often to wash it. I don’t know how to fix it. I don’t know when to condition, when to comb, or what products to use. When I roll my eyes and cringe at people’s comments, it’s almost like I want to acknowledge my shortcomings before anyone else notices. I want them to know that I’m aware so they don’t think I’m a bad mom for not knowing what to do with my own child’s hair. The only thing is, I’m not a bad mom and me saying these things out loud and making those faces could end up being much more damaging to my daughter than a little awkward hair phase that we can laugh about together when she’s older.

After finding a $35 bottle of conditioner that seems to be working for now, we’ve gotten into a rhythm. Her frizz is controlled and her curls are bouncy, just like all the commercials say they should be. However, her hair is still a topic of conversation. Perhaps it always will be, and that’s okay, but I need her to know she is so much more than that. I need her to know that her hair is part of her heritage, her genetics, her history. I need her to know she doesn’t have to let people touch her hair just because they are curious. I need her to know her hair isn’t just crazy, it’s beautiful. I need her to know that everything she is might include her hair, but is in no way defined by it. Most of all, I need her to know that everything that she is – inside and outside – is perfect.

But all of that is our job as parents to instill in her. So, while we are working behind the scenes, if you bump into us in the grocery store, you’re welcome to tell her how awesome her hair is – because you’re right; it is awesome. But right now, I need you to know that SHE is also pretty great.

And she knows her ABC’s.

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