Saturday, January 10, 2009


I generally feel fairly confident in my parenting abilities; I don't think I'm a perfect mom by any means, but I do think that Paul and I are doing a reasonably good job most of the time. Objectively, this means that our kids are healthy and generally happy. They're learning how to say "please" and being taught how to behave in public. Nobody runs around the house naked or hungry for any extended period of time.

The one big thing that can reduce me to a puddle of doubt and paranoia, however, is hair. Maybe it's silly, but I live in fear that strangers will judge my parenting abilities by the appearance of Atticus and Norah's hair. I wouldn't blog about this, except that it seems like a lot of adoptive parents have these same concerns. If you're a white parent who is raising black children, haircare is one of the few areas in which you really can't rely on your own experience and the parenting skills that were passed down from your own parents. When it comes to tantrums or nutrition, we have plenty of resources and memories of our own to refer to. Haircare, on the other hand, is a brand new animal.

Whenever I drive by a mother walking with a toddler daughter who has gorgeous cornrows or beaded hair, I have to fight the urge to pull over the car and demand to know how she got her child to sit still long enough to accomplish the style. Seriously, I would gladly spend time plaiting Norah's hair, but even getting it into three or four poufs is a monumental challenge. Our little ball of sunshine and smiles turns into a teary, sobbing, snot-covered tornado the second we take a comb to her hair. She screams. She cries. She thrashes her head from side to side and tries to run away. She's been known to bite. And those people on my adoptive haircare board who claim their daughters keep the same hairstyle in for weeks at a time? Obviously their kids aren't spending much time doing somersaults, napping with their hands in their hair, or dumping yogurt and cottage cheese over their heads.

I have pictures of the kids on my screen saver at work and my students love to look and comment. When some of them started to tell me I should bring Norah in for homeroom and let them do her hair because they could make it look so much prettier...well, the insecurity reared its ugly head. I made a panicked phone call to our friend Leia begging her to come over to evaluate my skills.

Leia and her husband and three kids came over for a play date yesterday. Most importantly, we had a great time and it was fantastic to see them again (it's crazy how long you can go without connecting with someone once you and your friends have kids - their kids have all grown about a foot since the last time I saw them). Secondly, she said Atticus and Norah's hair looks fine. She showed me again how to do twists and cornrows (using her daughter as our guinea pig) but said it was crazy to expect a little girl Norah's age to sit still for that long - as long as we're keeping her hair healthy and scalp moisturized we're fine. Eventually, she promises that Norah will become vain enough to sit still for more elaborate styles. She also let me test the Dark and Lovely products she uses on her own kids and suggested using a slightly heavier moisturizer on Atticus since his hair is coarser than Norah's. In addition, she recommended trying a wide paddle brush instead of the wide-toothed comb we've been using. Thank you, thank you, thank you Leia!

P.S. Since bringing the kids home, I've largely gotten over my fear of asking other people about their hair. I used to feel really uncomfortable about it, but I've always gotten good responses when I compliment someone on her hair and ask how she does it. My teenage students can be particular wellsprings of information about hair and skincare (even though they sometimes make me feel inadequate). They LOVE talking about hairstyles. Did you know that doing extensions can take up to 14 hours? I had no idea. One of the best tips they've passed along is to use Vaseline instead of Aquaphor to moisturize skin. I've found that it's just as good and about a tenth of the price of Aquaphor.

1 comment:

Life in Fitzville said...

I followed you here from the Johnson McCormick blog. Your kids are adorable. I have a Haitian son in dreadlocks (I just did a hair post actually!), but he is much older, so it was a bit easier. I do, however, have a pack of other kids (bio) and I remember having some who were harder with anything coming near their heads.

One trick I would use was doing hair during bath time. I don't know if it would help, because this was just with white hair, which was easier and quicker. But if your daughter likes the bath, maybe you could do the combing out/parting part of things while she is in the tub.

I also remember a mom saying she had a plastic box of "hair pretties" that she would let her daughter hold and play with. It kept her occupied to at least get a little done.

At that age, I would try anything. Maybe even lollypops as a special treat only during hair time, so she knows if she sits, she will get to have one?

Don't be afraid to actually stop people on the street. When I was starting my sons hair, I would stop grown men in stores if I liked their hair, and ask them what products to use. They were always very nice, and seemed to be impressed that I was that concerned with making his hair look good.

Good luck!