Longing for Becky’s good hair, or hair and cultural occupation

Ever since dipping my toe briefly in the “mommy blog” waters a few years back and realizing it just wasn’t for me…plus things like increasingly bright spotlights on me as I became one of the “official” Black voices in Maine…I’ve begun to shy away from writing about my kids. But things eventually circle back on you and intersect no matter how hard you try to keep them discrete, and so let me talk about my daughter’s hair for a moment.

My recently turned 11-year-old increasingly tween girl had a hair crisis recently. I had let her take on responsibility for her own hair without my meddling (like braiding it at night before bedtime) and all seemed well, even if her desire for long hair almost always ended up with her making a big, uninspiring curly ponytail or letting her hair hang loose and long and coily once or twice a week when weather and such cooperated.

Some days back, she told me she had a knot she couldn’t get out. What she had, it turned out, were two large portions of hair that had dreadlocked, but not into organized locs. No, they were dread-clumps for lack of a better term. Turns out she wasn’t paying attention while brushing and when she thought she had all the tangles out, it turned out she had only gone halfway down her head.

I did some emergency deep conditioning but couldn’t loosen the dreaded hair. A couple days later, while she was with her dad for a few days, he went in with some products recommended by some of my Twitter followers and after more than three hours of intense work managed to loosen up most of the smaller clump and a very small amount of the large clump. The rest had to be snipped off, giving my girl the most asymmetrical look ever (and not in a good way) and an emergency trip to the hairdresser a couple days later to give her a short, bouncy bob-like cut to save what she had and set her up for a fresh start at growing.

She hated it. No matter how much me, her papa and one of her best friends told her how cute it was; how much it showed off her face and eyes and made her look older; how much easier it would be to take care of; and even that she didn’t have to love it, just accept that it was a flattering look she might not want to keep…she insisted on hating it.

She went out of her way to put her short hair into a ponytail one night and then let it loose when her daddy tried to talk her down from her hatred again, then fluff it out purposefully and claim she looked like Larry from the Three Stooges. Admittedly, she kind of did when she forced her hair to look that way but otherwise, she was a cute girl hearkening back to some of the short, cute, classy cuts of models in the 1920s but with a modern twist.

In the days since, she’s calmed down and, even if she might want to grow it out a bit still, she admits it has advantages and she likes it a little now.

That’s good, but it brings me to a place of remembering how much white standards of beauty drive us Black women…and our daughters…to places of self-loathing and hair choices that sometimes burn our scalps, leave us with early-life hair loss and more.

My daughter has always dug long hair. No matter that her hair isn’t that so-called “good hair” too many Black people still covet; she wanted it to hang long and not to have to go through hoops to keep it from dreading up. She always liked herself more when her hair was loose and long, even though shorter cuts and buns and pony-poofs and such were often much more flattering. Even her grand-dad (her white grandfather) has commented to my co-parent how he likes pictures of her with her hair down more.

This is a subtlety of white supremacy that too many of us, white or Black, don’t notice often enough. Black girls and women are reprimanded or punished at schools and workplaces still for things like dreads or afros, even though those are natural ways for their hair to grow when chemical straighteners aren’t involved.

I think my daughter wants long hair not so much because it’s a true desire, but because it’s a desire to fit in and adopt the prevailing cultural norm of society. Long hair, straight hair, etc.

It’s an insidious and real threat to the self-worth and self-images of ourselves and our daughters. How many of us truly want to have hair like white people, and how many of us just don’t want to stand out or be ridiculed? How many of use alter our hair to fit something unnatural to us just to be seen as more attractive when we’re already beautiful as we are and should be demanding to be seen as such?

I’m glad my daughter is beginning to like her shorter hair. I hope she begins to love it. More importantly, I hope that she soon embraces letting her hair be what it should be and helping it to stay there, rather than trying to force it into an unnatural mold.
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A rare reflection on almost 25 years of mamahood

I started this blog back in the golden era of the “mommy blogger” (way back in those ancient times of 2008) and despite achieving some recognition as a mom blogger, it was clear early on that writing about my kids just wasn’t a sustainable gig for me. I owe this in part to the fact that my kids were almost 14 years apart in age and my son was well into high school when I started blogging. Meanwhile, my daughter was a toddler and frankly there are only so many ways to spin a day in the life of a toddler so that it’s entertaining.

Over the years I have shied away from writing about my kids because really, their stories are not mine to share even when they affect me. Everyone is worthy of being allowed the space to shape their own story and to decide whether or not it is for public consumption; though occasionally I do share tidbits about my son’s music career and my now-tween daughter’s zany moments (right now Taylor Swift and Beyonce play on loops in my head thanks to her incessant need to sing their songs…Calgon take me away!).

However a recent visit with my adult son reminded me of just how fleeting our time is with our kids. Our culture dictates that for eighteen years, we provide material, emotional and mental support and guidance and then we send our precious children off into the world. Yet that supposed end is really just the beginning, what we are really doing in the first eighteen years of their lives is laying the foundation for the relationship that we will hopefully have with our kids for the rest of our lives.

In recent years, I have seen my own relationship shift with my father as sometimes it seems that I have become the parent as I guide him toward making what I hope will be the best decisions. And, at times, I have used my legal authority to make decisions on his behalf. Last year when my father was ill, many people asked if I felt put upon and truthfully, while I was frazzled at times, never once did it dawn on me to not be there for my father. I admit, there were some aspects of his hospital time that I really would prefer to forget forever!  Looking back, I attribute it to the fact that while my parents weren’t the best parents…they were young and broke; sometimes a tad too gruff…at the end of the day they laid the foundation that I carry with me everyday of my life. No matter what, there was love and care. It wasn’t perfect but it sustained and nurtured even in in the hard moments.

Over the past six years as my adult son has navigated early adulthood, I have come to realize just how important the foundation we lay with our kids really is and how little of it depends on any of the things that so many of us get wrapped up in, including yours truly. In the end, the latest gadget, shoe or trendy item is fleeting but the time and the love we give is what is often going to be remembered. They aren’t going to remember or really care that you co-slept, nursed or used cloth diapers but they will remember how you showed up and whether or not you were just going through the motions.  So many times I have felt that I have fallen short as a parent because I didn’t do XYZ but both as a parent and an adult child, I realize that the love we give and the respect and support that we give are the most important tools of parenting. They are the glue that keeps the relationship together as our kids go out into the world and form their own lives. It is often what we will be measured by when our kids grow up and decide if they want us in their lives. Space can always be made for the imperfect but rarely for the toxic and harmful.

At times, I feel like I have lived many lives in a scant 43 years, I have been twice married, buried a parent and seen most of my family die on me, thus becoming the matriarch of our little branch before the age of 35, I haven’t run  Fortune 500 companies but I have been responsible for several organizations nonetheless. Despite a less-than-privileged start in life, I eventually hit the adult “milestones” and as I grow older, I realize that so many of the trappings aren’t what make this life and this journey. Granted, the trappings can make the ride a bit more comfortable at times.

Watching my son, the man, navigate the world and looking at my daughter grow, I am reminded of just how fleeting this time is and how as they grow, we grow. It is that continual growth that hopefully keeps us all connected. Parenting is not for the rigid; it is never-ending and while the early years may be when we put in the physically grueling tasks that at times interfere with our core functions, one day those moments and actions will be blips in the grand scheme of things. Hug ’em, love ’em and cherish even the small tedious moments, as cheesy as it sounds. As for me, I might even try to sing along with one of these Beyonce songs but I am sorry Taylor Swift. Your music, I just can’t accept.
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The dance of Black motherhood or the journey to humanity

To choose to bring a child into the world is not for the faint of heart; to make the decision to raise a child is to experience the highest of highs and the lowest of lows and, in essence, to gamble with your heart and soul. That child you nurture and raise can grow up to be the next CEO, ax murderer or decide that your parenting choices were so horrendous that they turn their back on you when they come of age. To parent or, specifically, mother while Black is to take all the pressure that mothers everywhere face and to have them amplified and projected for all to see and to be judged in a way that other mothers can only imagine.

This past week, Toya Graham, a Baltimore mother, saw her acts of parenting go viral in a moment that has been dissected and judged by many including yours truly. To recap, Toya’s 16-year-old son was attempting to join the protesters in Baltimore when his mother caught sight of him and physically hauled his ass off but not before laying hands on him which, in 2015, meant the moment was recorded and sent off into the world for all to see. The family is currently having their “15 minutes of fame” and hopefully something positive will come of their viral moment.

Personally, I am not a fan of laying hands on kids. The last time that I laid hands on one of my children was when my now 23-year-old son was 4 and I was a frustrated and young divorcee. I have apologized many times over for that moment, it wasn’t my finest and I swore to never repeat it again. Now with two kids and 23 years of parenting experience, I have kept that promise. However, I have learned in all my years of parenting that to raise Black kids is to exist in that same state of duality that scholar W.E.B. DuBois wrote of on the Black experience in the early 1900s.

I love, nurture and care for my babies but at the same time, they must understand that the weight of their skin color carries an extra burden. It is viewed differently than their white peers. That meant for my son unlearning any notion that the police were his friends. He learned that lesson at 16 when he was accused of looking like a suspect who turned out to be a short white man but not before he was brought home in the back of the squad car for the infraction of buying a sandwich at a local snack shop and walking home to eat it. It’s the lesson he now understands everytime he is stopped for the simple act of driving while Black and has his car illegally searched. It’s why he is stopped more often than any of his white peers when he hasn’t even violated any traffic laws. It is the price of Blackness, and as a parent it has meant instilling in him the tips for how to survive in this world that is unforgiving for Black skin especially Black, male skin.

The Baltimore mom said her actions were the actions of a mom just wanting to keep her son safe and I believe it. When my son at 16 first encountered the unjust realities of this world, I too got scared but I made different choices. I now fight the system that created this unjust burden that weighs heavily on Black and Brown skin and criminalizes our young. We all do the best that we can with the tools that we have at hand.

As Black mothers, we carry an unfair burden that our white counterparts rarely face. We are asked to carry the weight of the Black community on our backs. Part of why Toya Graham’s story has gone viral is the misplaced notion that all that ails the Black community is a simple need for more Black parents better parent their children. As a Black woman and mother that offends me because the majority of Black parents I know and have met along my life journey are parenting their kids. They are parenting often against the odds in a world hostile to our existence and the existence of our kids. They are often parenting in conditions that are unknown to far too many white people. It is the unfortunate side effect of the racial silos that exist in this country that so many people assume that all things are equal based off our their own often limited views.

This morning I came across this piece in today’s New York Times written by a fellow Black mom and frankly it annoyed me even more than the think pieces that have been written about Toya Graham. In part because, in an attempt to talk about the state of Black motherhood in the United States, it dehumanizes all Black mothers by stripping away the individuality of Black mothers. Yes, we face challenges that our white peers may not face but that doesn’t mean that as women and mothers, we don’t have our own tender and even confused moments as mothers. To be a Black woman does not mean we possess some supernatural abilities that are only given to Black women. While we often are not as active in the current day game of mommy wars, I have shared many spaces with Black women as we grapple with the same pieces of humanity that are white counterparts do. It’s just that rarely are our tender and vulnerable moments aired and celebrated as our white counterparts are.

The dance of Black motherhood is a delicate dance that does exact a toll but at the same time we are all humans journeying on a path doing the best that we can, some of us with heavier loads but in the end all deserve to have their humanity recognized and acknowledged in this world.

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