I’ve been blessed with several black female friends who, when they found out I was adopting a black girl, issued me a challenge: “You have to take care of her hair.”
Of course, I thought. Wouldn’t all mothers take care of their little girl’s hair?
Clearly I was naive as to the depth and complexity of the hairable world of hair of little black girls.
Long before I met Addie, I was introduced to the blog-bible of Caucasian mothers who have adopted black girls, “Chocolate Hair, Vanilla Care.” I began to study at the feet of the author, who taught lessons of cowashing, shingling, plaiting, and carrier oils. It would take months to read and understand her years of experience and wisdom. I’m not quite there yet.
Out of all the hairstyles I studied, I decided that the one I liked best was just a natural Afro. I so hoped that Addie’s hair would be ringlets that would be naturally suited for a cute curly Afro!
When I first met Addie, her head had just been shaved days before. Apparently, lice was common in the orphanage, so the children’s hair was regularly shaved. I would have much rather dealt with lice than a year of, “Why is your little boy wearing all pink?” I was so sad for Addie’s shaved head, but as her hair grew, I realized that it was growing into perfect tiny spiral curls. I was elated that my little girl would have beautiful perfectly ringlet-ed natural hair.
Fast forward 10 months.
My bathroom closet looks like a drug store clearance rack — a hodgepodge of products — conditioners, detanglers, moisturizers, curl activators, frizz tamers and on and on. We’ve experimented with a dozen different products in different combinations, and all with the same results: Addie’s hair looks adorable when she walks out the door, and like a rat’s nest when she walks back in.
I realized that I needed to call in backup.
So I met recently with two of my black female friends to discuss the trials of the hairable world of little black girls.
They assured me I would do fine. Yeah right.
I explained that after trying to do “natural hair,” I am waving a flag of defeat and trying to do something different with Addie’s hair. “But my problem is that I can’t find anyone who does black little girls’ hair. I’ve Googled numerous terms and can’t come up with anyone.”
Both of my friends laughed. “Oh, you don’t Google these folks. At least no one good. You have to have to find them by word-of-mouth.”
So I asked them for a reference. One decided to give me the name of someone she had recently used and that person’s cell phone number. “Candice. 555-1212.*”
“There’s only a first name here,” I remarked. “Can I have her last name?”
“Oh, there are no last names in black women’s hair. But tell her that Shari Jarvis* with the Senegal twists gave you the number and tell her your story.”
“Gotcha,” I replied. “Where is her salon located?”
“No, no, no,” she chided. “You ask her to do it ‘on the side,’ and she’ll come to your house to do Addie’s hair. It’s actually even cheaper that way.”
She was speaking my language. I proceeded with my line of questioning. “So if I like a black woman’s hair, can I ask her what products she uses in her hair?”
“Nope, that’s a secret.”
“So, I can’t ask who does someone’s hair, or what products they use, but recommendations are all word-of-mouth?”
“What if I were to do her hair myself? I’ve seen this great website that shows me how to do Bantu knots, cornrows, and extensions.”
They assured me that extensions were beyond my scope, but I could probably attempt something more simple. By this time, I was starting to get nervous about having anything to do with Addie’s hair. They reminded me that she had to sleep in a satin sleep cap with a satin pillowcase. Be careful about her rubbing her head against the car seat, and make sure she doesn’t play with her hair.
They also reminded me that they themselves were thankful that they had boys and never had to deal with the hairable experiences of dealing with the complexity of little girl hair. Very reassuring.
So Sunday night, I attempted to put Bantu knots into Addie’s hair, but I soon realized that her hair wasn’t long enough, so I quickly switched to comb coils. The rest of the night wasn’t so quick. THREE HOURS LATER, I finished my first hairstyle on Addie, with no small amount of whining. Addie didn’t enjoy it much either. (Ain’t nobody got time for ‘dat!)
How long will it last? I’m told that many styles will last for 2-3 weeks, which is 2-3 days in Addie time.
When I picked up Addie from day camp today, the black woman sitting at the entrance table complimented me on Addie’s hair.
“I really had no idea what I was doing, so it means a lot to me that you say that,” I replied.
“Are you kidding me? I have no idea how to do that!” she replied.
“Oh, it wasn’t too hard. Maybe I’ll be able to put you in touch with some people . . . once I know you a little better.”
* Identifying information has been changed to protect the innocent.