I was doing M’s hair and she was giving me a hard time. She didn’t want to sit for braids. She wanted to be left alone to read her book, a feeling that I can totally relate to. In an effort to be more less Miss Hannigan and more Mary Poppins, I let her read her book with the understanding that she was going to have to work with me by keeping her head up and back straight as I blew out her hair.
I’m working on doing my best to not go from zero to Defcon 1 any time the girls don’t hop to the way I would like. When it comes to doing three heads of hair, it can get a little dicey. This time with M, however, I was determined to keep a cool head for as long as possible. I used gentle reminders to make her lift her head, to have her sit up straight. Despite my soft tone, she was getting frustrated with me. Her body language screamed, “For cryin’ out loud, can I read?!” I was getting frustrated with her. I would have much preferred to have been reading a book myself!
The process was taking twice as long because I kept having to stop and ask nicely (!!!) for her to sit up. I tried to hold it together for as long as I could until eventually, I had to close the book. There were some serious protestations and gnashing of teeth — her, not me — but I held my ground, simply saying that it was taking more time to get the job done because I kept having to turn off the dryer and make adjustments to her posture and her head position. She rolled her eyes and hitched her teeth and sucked her breath. She basically did all of the irritating displays of ten year old angst that ten year olds normally do, all of which really made me want to knock her upside the head with the flat side of my boar bristle brush — but I didn’t.
As I was parting her hair to condition her scalp, she said to me, “Why do I always have to wear my hair in braids. It’s so boring. Why can’t I just wear it in an Afro?”
And in those three sentences, there was SO much to unpack. My brain choked so hard on the possibilities this whopper of a teachable moment could provide, I’m pretty sure I smelled burnt toast. So let’s break it down.
Why do I always have to wear my hair in braids?
- Um, you’re a ten year old girl and ten year old girls wear their hair in braids sometimes.
- Let’s not talk in absolutes like always and never because that’s not the case. If I’m not mistaken, today you had your hair in two afro puffs, each one as big as your face.
- With respect to the braids, that’s a style that I can do on a Monday and it will last until Thursday, fingers crossed. There are two other little girls with large amounts of hair living in this house and there’s one of me with one set of hands. There are so many other things going on, that my being able to braid your hair and not have to do it again for a few days is a huge blessing.
- Braids are beautiful! Whether they are cornrows tight on your scalp, box braids like Poetic Justice (not that at ten years old you know who that is), two Dutch braids, one long French braid, a fishtail braid — all of them are gorgeous! And need I remind you:
It’s so boring.
I wasn’t sure where this idea of boring was coming from and asked M to unpack it for me. Evidently there was a little girl at ballet who came up to M and said, “Do you always wear your hair in braids?”
Just add a dash of Regina George stankness to the tone when you read that, and you’ll get a close approximation of what it sounded like when M related this story. I asked M what she thought the other girl meant by that. M said she thought it meant that she always (there’s that word again) wears that style and never changes it.
I told M that well, maybe what the girl was wondering if you always wear your hair like that because she might be jealous.
Ugh, I know! I’m totes quoting my mother here: They say those things/treat you that way because they’re jealous of you. It was totally unhelpful to hear then when I was in the agonizing throes of being an awkward teenager. Unfortunately, it was out of my mouth to M before I could stop myself.
Honestly, though, I really feel that the little ballerina girl is envious. Maybe she’s curious. Maybe she wasn’t all Regina George in her tone. Maybe there was a misunderstanding.
And maybe she was just a stanky little girl who was trying to stir up some stuff and make my daughter feel less than.
Whatever the case was, I said to M, “Who is she to you, okay? Who is she to you? Nobody! What difference does it make what she says and what she thinks? At the end of the day, you’re your own person and you’re there for ballet, not a fashion show (again, quoting Mom) or a photo shoot. And speaking of photo shoot, the primary reason why you’ve been able to do the modeling jobs you have is because your hair has versatility! We can blow it out, flat twist it, cornrow it, box braid it up, and put it in so many different, beautiful do’s. We can do so many things. It’s amazing!”
“I challenge you,” I went on, picking up momentum, “to flip through any of the myriad of albums that we have and find a hairstyle that is repeated on several pages in succession. Sure, you may see some repeated styles, but I promise you, if you flip through the course of a book, you probably won’t see the same style page after page after page.”
Her response? a big ol’ sigh of resignation.
Why Can’t I wear my hair in an Afro?
I love, love, love that M wants to wear her hair in an Afro. I think that’s fantastic. However, I have not yet taught her what it takes to do that style and maintain it. I said to her that doing an Afro style that you would like to have requires you — at least in my experience in rocking a ‘fro — to wash it, condition it, pick it out, shape it. It’s a multi-step process everyday in order for it to keep it’s shape and look neat. You can’t just pull your bonnet off in the morning and shake it out like Foxxy Cleopatra, expecting it to snap back into shape. I mean, maybe there are some folks that can do that, but our curl texture doesn’t grant us membership into the club. The maintenance involved would mean one more thing that she would have to do which in turn would take away from the things that she wants to do (hello, reading book, for example). During the summer when we have less responsibilities we can learn how to do it and she can wear her hair in an Afro, all day, everyday and twice on Sundays.
I said “M, you know, it’s Spring Break, right? And a handful of your friends have gone away to the Caribbean and stuff. When your friends go on vacation to some island, what do they come home with? How does their hair look when they come home?”
“It has braids in it,” she admitted.
I went on, “Your friends go on vacation and get their hair braided. Pay money on their vacation for someone to braid their hair for them. You have a mother, grandma, babysitter, people who braid your hair for you all of the time. People go on vacation and pay someone else to do for them what you get to enjoy on the daily! They can’t do it for themselves. They don’t know anyone at home who can do it for them. They want what you have, sweetheart. They want what you have and the only way they can get it is if they go on vacation.”
She looked dubious. I know that might have been a reach, and I had to stop myself before I went too far, losing the ground that I had gained. I was determined, though, to help her see the greatness that is her hair and the ways it can be styled.
I could see her mind working, the gears turning as she extrapolated what I said even further. “You mean to tell me,” she began, “that they have to pay money for a flight? Pay money to stay in a hotel? Find someone on the beach? Pay that person to do their hair? And then fly home? Just to get what I can get every day?
What I thought: Well, that’s a stretch. They could probably Google “Braid shops in Richmond” if they really wanted to get it done.
What I said: Um, okay. Sure. Yes!
With that affirmation, it was like a switch was flipped. Her attitude changed. She apologized for having a bad attitude. She commented on how her hair was growing because we were taking care of it. Hello! Braids are a protective style. When I was finished with her style — asymmetrical French braids with her edges laid and curly bows on the end, she looked in the mirror and said, “My hair looks really good. Thanks, Mom!” And then she went about her day.
I had to wait for the Hubs to come home to peel me off of the floor.
Featured image accompanying post is entitled Mother by Deborah Cartwright, found here.