Walking into the living room, I come across Lil Burs slumped down in her seat. I walked to my seat where I was asked “So what do you think I should do with my hair? Can you braid it so I can have it frizzy?” What was all this for? She had been chosen to be in a school brochure picture and wanted hair style ideas. As someone who has regretted rash hair style decisions made the day before picture day, I said “Wear your hair the way you always do. It’s lovely as is.” To which she responded “Ugh, no I hate my hair. I wish my hair was like yours. It stays in place.”
Then a vortex whipped me back to St. Anne’s school in Brentwood where my peers said the same crazy statement to me. If I had a penny for every time I heard that back then, I’d have nearly a dollar.
When I was ten I had no idea what they were talking about. Because what they didn’t know was that washing my hair was a nightmare. In a tub, where my mom wielded a comb through insanely tangled hair without the least bit of care or concern. (After all, she too had once been the same little girl. Plus, I think it was a way to get out all her days frustrations.) Back when I was thirteen and one of my peers would say this I’d sheepishly smile and move on. They didn’t have to write off an entire Saturday sitting in my Aunt’s hair salon getting their hair done. And damn every eight weeks, when chemicals that burned like hell, was slathered onto my scalp all in the hopes to have hair that resembled theirs. In my twenties, I’d roll my eyes and go on, at length, about why that was the dumbest idea. Where I’d explain all the toils of my hair with a cost breakdown.
But today, I simple shrugged my shoulders and tried to tell her that she should love her hair – as is.
Deaf ears, people. My words fell on deaf ears. I wondered how she’d gotten to the ‘your hair stays put’ realisation. And wonder, as I’ve always wondered, why that is seen as a good thing.
In my defense, I didn’t bother going through the explaining my hair process for two reasons. 1. She lives with me. And has seen the two hour process (when I still had long hair) in getting it to look like it should. The hard shell hair bonnet, the pins, the rollers, all the conditioners and serums I have to control my hair. She’s chosen to pass all that because it stays in place. 2. I decided a long time ago to not be any ones petting zoo. Which begins the minute you explain that black hair is kinky at the route. The first and quick instinct is to dive into to see for themselves. And I’ve deflected her little hands from my hair for far lesser reasons. 3. And this is the most important reason – Lil Burs goes to a very interracially mixed school. In which, I think, that if she went in thinking she was suddenly the pro on the on-goings of black women’s hair, she would most definitely get a beat down. Some of those girls, even at twelve, look like they could throw down. Her ignorance is keeping her in one piece.
What I wanted, deep down, was to find a way to explain the great things about her own hair. But really, I’m still that thirteen year old who dreams of the ease of simply washing and letting it air dry. I’ve actually paid a lot of money and risked serious health problems (by having formaldehyde smothered on my hair) to get just that.
Really the only advice that can be given is what I’ve learned, like everyone else, is how to live with your hair. With age you learn to hate it less, while getting it to do what ever it is you want it to do. Or except its limitations. Then one day, out of nowhere, you look at it and love it for what it is.
I hope she’ll recognise those days and treasure it. Because those days are far and few between.