Thursday, August 6, 2015

When hair day feels less like bonding and more like bondage.....

I'm about to write a story that will encourage some and offend many more. Such is the story of my life.

All my life I have had stick straight hair. Very boring. It gets oily when I LOOK at conditioner. I used to (and still do) envy women with beautiful curly hair. Beach waves?? Swoon. I would get perms as a child, and the lovely curls would be gone in a week with my hair mocking me all the while. I curl my hair with a pound of hairspray and all that happens is a new tiny hole in the ozone layer appears. My hair is still straight. And I still try buy the newest $100 curling iron that the guy at the mall can stop me with to convince me that THIS is the one that will work for me!

I'm gonna be of my biggest hurdles when adopting an African girl was hair. Have you seen my hair? No? Oh, that's because it is generally in a ponytail. I get ponytail. That's all I got. I had been around enough adoptive families of African girls to know that there would need to be more knowledge of hair care than a twistie and a brush, if you can find it.

So now I'm gonna be REAL honest. If you know me in real life, this isn't a secret. But for anyone else....well, here goes.

Things with my Ugandan Sweetie haven't been all that....well....sweet. She has been home almost 4 years and I can't say it has been all rainbows and unicorns. I don't need to go into detail of her story, or the many dynamics of our story right now...but there is one particular subject that has been a source of major contention in our relationship.


When I committed to raising an African daughter, I dove into every blog and YouTube tutorial I could find to figure out what to do with her hair. (I kid you not, my bio daughters have asked me why I spend so much time figuring out what to do with their sisters hair, but can't even learn how to french braid.. Fail.) And it doesn't take much digging into the world wide web to read time and time again about the importance of African hair and the proper care of it.

Here are a few key things that I have read and grown to believe to be true about my daughters hair.

1) In Africa, hair is more than hair. It's a culture. It's a story. It has history. It demands proper attention and care. Hair care is a time of BONDING.
2) If my African daughter desires to have straight hair, it is because she does not see the beauty of her natural hair and probably deep down wishes she was white.
3) If I do not care for my daughters hair properly, I will be frowned upon by the entire African American community.
4) It is my responsibility as an adoptive mom to teach my daughter about proper hair care, and until I can teach her, I must do everything I can to give her gorgeous locks.

So here is the deal. My DD ("dear daughter" is what that means, Mom) had hair in Africa that her birth mother, and probably sister, and who knows who else once cared for. I have pictures. So I know this is true. Upon entering the orphanage, sadly, her hair was shaved. I understand this is a disgrace to young girls everywhere. But that moment triggered something DEEP in my DD.

Since she has been home, I have tried everything I can think of, not to mention everything in my limited ability, just as the blogs tell me to. (Have you seen the "Pinterest Fail" photos??? I have an entire scrapbook of "Hair Fail" photos. It just never looks the same when I do it! Where's my twistie???!!!)

So here is what the first few years looked like:
*I tried every style I thought was within the realm of my abilities to do. (Yarn extensions?? Hilarious! She did look a little better than the presents under my tree at Christmas, but that's about it....Two strand twists? Um, no comment. Bantu knots? Apparently those are painful to sleep in. Puffs? Where's the Kleenex?)
*I took her to several different salons that specialize in African Hair care. I don't really want to go into this story....but I will just say that it was obvious that I was not welcome. My daughter was, but I as her mom was not.
*I have had women stop me in public places (even one who stopped me while pulling out of a parking lot by pounding on my window) to tell me I was doing it all wrong.  (Which I wouldn't mind so much had they offered an actual solution.) I left these places in tears calling my AA girlfriends pleading with them to tell me what I was doing wrong and how I just don't get it! (My bio daughters have walked around with Raven's birthing youngens in their hair and not one person has ever said a thing.)
*Relaxers are for white moms who don't know how to care for their African child's hair. (I for real read that on a review of a relaxant.)

But the worst story to tell is the tension that arises daily with my actual daughter over the care of her hair. That one is the hardest. I can put on my big girl panties for the rest of them.

So a year ago I decided to go the route of locs. (Or maybe dreadlocs? Or locks? I don't know...I've also been scolded by other adoptive moms for wording that wrong...) I chose that it would be better to take out the daily hair struggle with a low(er) maintenance style - micro locs. I really believed this to be the answer to the drama in my home surrounding hair. AND...I thought they were super cute. Win!

A couple of months ago, I decided it was time to begin to teach my 10 year old how to take a bit more ownership of the care of her beautiful locs. She was heading off to camp for a week soon and wouldn't have me there for daily care. Here is where another issue enters in. She does not much appreciate it when I instruct her in anything - how to fold clothes, how to do the dishes, how to swim, how to do math, how to write, how to sing, how to dance, but mostly - how to do hair. So to avoid this getting more awkward for you, the reader, I will just say that me instructing her on how to care for her own hair went south rather quickly.

Within a month of being in her care, her year long locs began to fall apart. Unravel. Frizz. Fall out. Smell. Turn yellow (seriously). I was so confused. Once I figured out what was going on, Aaron and I realized it was time to come up with a new plan. Ultimately, she was unable to care for them on her own, and me continuing to care for them was not an option either. The hair stress meter had reached its limit. But what was I to do? Her hair had been locked for a year! Aaron brought up the idea of cutting off the locs. Remember the traumatic orphanage story I mentioned earlier??? Yeah...that was triggered at the mention of cutting off the locs. Did you know it was possible for a 10 year old to not talk to their parents for two days? Yup. Totally possible.

I would beg and plead with her to find out what she wanted done with her hair. I thought I had come up with a happy solution with these cute little locs. One day though, she informed me that she wanted hair like her sisters - her white sisters, with stick straight hair just like .... Moms. WARNING WARNING! I'd read about this! We're now supposed to up our game about how much she should embrace her beautiful black hair!!! Right???!!!


See here's the deal....when you have a strained relationship with your child, maybe pushing into what you have read to be true about what they should believe isn't a great time to actually force it. I needed to listen to HER. I HAD to listen to her. It was made harder by the fact that she wouldn't give me ANYTHING to go on...but I had to find SOMETHING that she desired or didn't desire and show her that I cared about her heart in this. Whatever was driving the heart, I don't know...but I cared about it. Hair needed to become a drama free zone, and the only thing she was offering me other than wanting her white sisters hair was that she did NOT want us to cut her hair.

So I turned to YouTube...again.  I found ways to try and revive the locs. But she was not in favor. WHAT ARE YOU IN FAVOR OF LITTLE ONE?!?!?!?! And why can't you tell me????!!!!!!

So then I found that apparently you can UN-loc locs. So I said to Aaron and our Ugandan Princess that the since the only thing I was hearing from our DD was that she did not really want the locs, and did not want her hair cut - I had to try. So for 28 hours (really more like 56 hours since there was almost always 2-3 people at a time working on the loc removal) - I tried. And we did it. We got all 317 locs unlocked. (And WOW! Talk about a protective style!!! Her hair had grown almost 4 inches in a year! It had only grown 2-3 inches total in the 3 years prior!)

And then I did it....I used a relaxer. Which thanks to the movie, "Good Hair" with Chris Rock, I lost sleep over this option. But I had to. She wanted long hair that could be brushed like her sisters. And maybe that is me allowing her to neglect her heritage. Or maybe it has something to do with the fact that she would peak around the corner and watch longingly while I would brush, flat iron and pull into a hair tie (because remember, I'm an expert at that) her white sisters hair. Pain free...on many, MANY levels. It was time for pain free (or at least less pain) and drama free.

So for the foreseeable future, I will continue to try and put curls in my hair while removing them from my daughters. (Seriously, girls are so weird.)

And you know what? These pics of her smiling???? It's the first time I've done anything that made her smile in a really, really, really long time. I caught her in the bathroom earlier staring in the mirror running her fingers through her hair with a big smile on her face. She laughed when she noticed I was watching. So I don't know, I'm sure I am doing her hair all wrong.....but today? Well, today, her heart found joy. And in the world she and I live in??? Her joy??? That was a crown of glory.

(ps....A lot of you adoptive mama's have been following our journey on FB and Instagram because you either are in process of locs or are thinking about it....I still LOVE the look of micro locs, and the ease. It really was the most care-free style we had tried. But ultimately, other issues come into play with a 10 year old girl....she needs to own the hygiene of it a bit. If your daughter can't do that, maybe wait. If she can...go for it! They are fun and free and beautiful! Feel free to email or IM me if you want to talk in further detail about my little story vs. your story. Bottom line thought? Don't worry about what all the other adoptive moms are doing...just do what you and YOUR DD need done!)

Big sister SAVED me with her helping hand!

As did some amazing friends!

We liked this look. She did not. But she's still smiling!

Now we know what she will look like as an old lady!

The feeling of a brush going effortlessly through her hair for the first time..... 

Seriously! This girl had NO hair just less than 4 years ago!!

I got to use my hair tie on her. I got this.