Mommy! My friend said my hair is not soft.
Mommy! My friend said my hair is puffy.
Mommy! My friend said my hair is not straight.
My heart unraveled into a thousand fragile strands that day as my daughter told me what her friend had said. She was hurt. Not solely because of what her friend said but more precisely how she said it. A nuance not missed by my intuitive young daughter. I took a deep breath. I chose my words with care. “Your hair is soft,” I told her as we touched it. “Your hair is not straight, but it could be,” I told her as we looked at pictures of all the amazing and stunning ways black girls and women could wear our hair. “Your hair is puffy sometimes and sometimes flat and other times wild and magnificently crazy,” I told her as I tried to make her smile. “We have options little love!” I proclaimed.
After all this conversation, after all this focus on the words I chose, I began to realize that my four-year-old daughter was becoming slightly obsessed with long, silky, straight hair. My four-year-old daughter, whose mother had a fierce and powerful ceasar in college. My four-year-old daughter, whose mother rocked the hell out of some box braids back in the day. Though I told her that I loved her hair so very much and so should she. She was not convinced. I could see it in her eyes. Oh the things I can see in her eyes. Eyes that were fixed on my ever-so-fly, short, straight, relaxed, silky, precision cut done to perfection every six weeks in Brooklyn. Another nuance that could not have gone unnoticed by my ever-watchful little girl. I became fully aware that what I said was less important than what I needed to do.
Hair does not frighten me any more. It used to. I once feared what others would think, what others wouldn’t think. There was a time I feared the way I chose to wear my hair would mean I didn’t love myself enough or loved being black too much. I used to fear that how I chose to wear my hair made me more feminine, more attractive or at times too masculine, too strong and less attractive. It took years of trying on different hairstyles, before I could finally embrace the different versions of myself. Hair can be the outward expression of the fears, hopes, dreams, beauty and love that we, as women, have within us. We get to decide which, depending on the day. As mothers, we get to decide which we pass on to our daughters.
What I did next shocked my girl (and my boy) in a profound way. On a hot Saturday in July, I chose to share my love for her in the loudest way I knew how. I know and understand that there are no silent expressions of love. I cut my hair off. I did it for Simone. As she looked at me, eyes wide, with the hint of that smile I adore on her perfect little mouth, “I want hair just like yours,” I said. “So beautiful and so perfect.” Forgetting how much I love teeny-weeny afros, I also promised to grow it out just like hers. That was a mistake. I have no patience for things like that anymore. For weeks she would proudly and loudly tell people, “My mommy cut all her hair off because she wants it to be like mine. That’s going to take her a looong time!” She has a good sense of humor that one.
I do know for sure I did something that day, in that moment, to help give her a stronger sense of self. Today she is a seven-year-old girl who gets inspiration from strawberry shortcake and has me twist pink and green strands into her two-strand twists one day. Today she is a seven-year-old girl who will rock her twist out until it is black uhuru locked and tell me when I try to tame it, “Mommy, I don’t care, I love my hair when it’s all wild and crazy!” Today she is a seven-year-old girl who has rocked a long straight do for about 18 hours or so because children can’t help but play and sweat out the best of intentions on yet another day. Today I do know for sure that for right now, in this moment, my girl fearlessly loves the skin and hair she is in and she is doing so in the loudest ways she can.