We, black women, love our hair. The story behind why is long and beautifully liberating. I’ll tell you the short version. Allow me a soap box:
First of all, let’s acknowledge that in a very broad and overgeneralized way hair is universally important to all women across race, culture, regions, religions, and time. Whether it’s curly, straight, covered, bejeweled, or shaved. Women of all colors and creeds invest time, energy, and resources into making sure our hair is at its best. It is our crown and glory.
Black women have a special appreciation for the wonder that is our hair. We’ve faced a unique set of challenges, in that our hair has been used a weapon against us; against our self image and against the truth that we, too, are beautiful individuals. Because black women are magical, among other extraordinary things, about 8-9 years ago we rediscovered the truth that we are magnificent and our hair is magnificent and we’ve been expressing the HECK out of this magnificence ever since! Our hair is an testament of freedom and identity and an indulgence in the beauty they spent so much time trying to convince us we lack. #BlackGirlsRock #BlackGirlMagic #Melanin
In a nut shell, they took our crown, beat us with it, lied to us and told us we were ugly. In all of our magnificence we took our crown back, put it on and geared up to defend it all costs-just in case they ever attempt that stupid stuff again. We all lived happily ever after forever and ever, Amen. (Not really, but sort of.)
And don’t get it twisted. All kinds of black hair is beautiful! It’s one of the most versatile entities on the planet. I am blown away at the depth of creativity and innovation that black women employ with our hair. Curly, wavy, kinky, straight, relaxed, tex-laxed, loc’d, loose, long, short, natural, purchased, sewn, died, fried, and laid to the side as long as it’s healthy DO YOU BOO BOO, DO YOU!
You might be wondering what in the SAM HILL, black women’s love and appreciation for our hair has to do with a post that is clearly about parenting (One PARENT Wonder—hello?!) Well, our ownership over our hair extends to our children. Why? Because our children are extensions of ourselves. Their hair IS our hair. Plain and simple.
What does that mean in the real world, exactly?
Black women don’t like it when you touch OUR hair without permission, in writing, with 7 days advanced notice. But SO HELP YOU GOD if you make it up in your mind to touch a hair on her child’s head without advanced authorization. Do cut, comb, braid, straighten (please PLEASE for the love of bacon do NOT straighten) a black child’s hair without expressed consent from her mother. I would include fathers but fathers don’t seem to be as concerned about it as mothers. Father’s just want it to “look nice” and however that is achieved is usually none of their concern.
If someone else’s African American child is in your care, put the kamikaze barrettes in a bag and just give them back to the parents when they pick up their children. If you do get the bright idea to try and “fix” a black child’s hair without expressed parental consent, you better put it back EXACTLY the way you found it. EXACTLY. If the braid was leaning to left at a 75 degree angle, it would behoove you to reconstruct that 75 degree angle with the accuracy of an experienced brain surgeon. Personally, I would just leave it alone—unless you all are “Cool Like That” which is an actual level of friendship among African American people.
Brief overview of the African American Relationship Progression Scale from 0 to 10
(Zero being Hate and 10 being Family)
2-We Don’t Fool With Each Other
3-Not Cool Like That
8-Cool Like That
10-Family (blood relation not required)
In other words, it’s levels to this. And unless you are 100% secure that your relationship with the child’s mother is AT LEAST “Cool Like That” I wouldn’t even try it. You have been warned. The rest is on you.
Mostly, I’m done talking about hair but I needed you to understand ALL of that before I tell you a story about the territory that is my son’s scalp and his father’s wife.
Before I start let me state a disclaimer: Like all my stories, this one is about MY FLAWS, not anyone else’s. The only way to get to the point of this post is to tell you what happened as objectively as I can.
(I bet you’re itching to find out what happened….Messy Boots!!)
For the sake of time I will cut my usual, fluffy narrative and get to the point. Rest assured, this happened…in real life:
Jai’s relatively new (at the time) step mother graciously (and I mean that with full sincerity—which I feel I need to state due to my common use of sarcasm and the nature of this story) offered to keep Jai during his school’s winter break. One day, I picked Jai up from her care and when we got home Jai’s hair appeared noticeably shorter than it did when I dropped him off that morning. It didn’t appear drastically different, it simply looked shorter. I asked Jai if she cut it. He said yes. He was 4 years old.
SEATHING I texted his father about it, “Did she cut Jai’s hair?” He texted his wife about it. She told him she did not cut Jai’s hair………..WWIII ensued over lightning words and phrases via text message.
Canaan’s position on the subject: His wife said she didn’t cut it, that was enough for him. AND even if she did cut it, he stood by her decision to cut it.
My position on the subject: I KNOW my child. She definitely DID cut it. She has no right to alter Jai’s appearance without AT LEAST consulting ONE of his parents. Particularly his mother, since his father doesn’t seem to care. To make matters worse, Jai’s scalp had already been the battle ground of the PETTI-EST of power struggles between Canaan and I (which would’ve been an appropriate time to call us Petty Boots-es–if you’re still trying to get the hang of the phrase) and this little “situation” was not helping.
We went back and forth a LONG time about it. Canaan unwaveringly stood by his wife, against my observations and Jai’s 4-year old testimony. Needless to say, after expending an ungodly amount of emotional energy, I lost the battle. Truth be told, there was no real way for me to win. IF the deed was done it was already over and there was no changing Canaan’s mind about any of it.
I felt so hurt and defeated. You can say that was petty, but I’ve already breifly explained the complexities of black women and their children’s hair. (In which case this would NOT be a good time to call me Petty Boots because) cutting a child’s hair without the consent of his mother is something you just. DON’T. DO. Period. You just don’t. If you still don’t understand, it’s ok because at the end of the day we don’t know whether or not the black parent hair code was violated. So really it’s a mute point.
After all that, do you know what REALLY bothered me?
What I REALLY couldn’t get over…the thing that kept me up the rest of the evening sobbing uncontrollably was:
Being emotionally alone…especially since it was about Jai. Up until that point I had only taken on “baby daddy drama” parent to parent, one on one. It had always been a “fair” fight. This single mother vs. married couple stuff was a whole new kind of pain.
So you know what I did? I tried to rally support for #TeamLaNee. Possible allies with any authority in the situation were in short supply, so I reached out to my most convenient option: Canaan.
Somewhere between that first text message and the final one, it stopped being about who had a “right” to independently make decisions about Jai’s hair and it started being about rallying support against Canaan’s wife—because I felt vulnerable and out of control where my child was concerned, because she was my “baby daddy’s wife,” because I felt threatened by her (alleged) actions, and because I felt emotionally insecure and alone.
Canaan refused to join the resistance against his wife. And that was absolutely the RIGHT thing to do.
Can I tell you all that I cried a good cry that night? I had reached a new level of closure and the terrain was lonely and unfamiliar. I didn’t understand the flood of emotions I was experiencing. As I look back on it, I was feeling a deep sense of rejection in the shadow of a husband’s affirmation for his wife—few situations are lonelier.
Imagination + emotions are a strong and deadly combination. In my mind I tried to make that situation about Canaan choosing his wife over Jai. I both reassured and terrified myself with the idea that this was about protecting Jai because Canaan’s judgment was too clouded to protect him. BUT…at the end of the day, Jai was never in any danger, whether or not she cut his hair. Really I was more hurt by the rejection, loneliness and my lack of control in that situation than anything else. It took me a few weeks to fully process that situation…and a few months come to some hard and healthy conclusions:
(1) Your former lover/husband/boy-friend/sexual partner is an inappropriate source of emotional support and affirmation—regardless of the circumstances, especially if he is married or in a committed relationship. (It’s gonna take a whole ‘nother post to break down why–Stay tuned!) And when it comes to your child’s married/in-a-committed-relationship father, he has a lot in common with toilets—and not in the way you think: just because a toilet has water doesn’t make it an appropriate place to get a drink. To same end, even if your child’s father makes himself available to you in that way, he’s an inappropriate source for emotional support and affirmation.
(2) Drinking out of toilets and finding an emotional refuge in your child’s other parent/your former married/in-a-committed-relationship partner, may not have immediate consequences but you WILL get sick and probably deeply hurt. AND , trust that you WILL be contagious…to your children, to your co-parenting situation, to your ability to move on, to the other parent’s current relationship, to your current relationship. I could go on.
(3) The deception of “healthy co-parenting” is that it requires emotional support from other parent. This is a tricky and deceiving idea. Healthy co-parenting is more like being co-workers than it is like being friends.
Like a co-worker you DO have to:
-Intentionally exercise self control
-Make it work, regardless of how you feel about the person
-Do your part in handling responsibilities
-Do their part if they are slacking and have a good attitude about it (I’ve always hated group projects for this very reason)
You DO NOT have to:
-Like each other
-Support each other emotionally
While it is A LOT easier if you all like each other and give each other the benefit of the doubt, it is not a requirement to completing the assignment. In fact, your emotional needs don’t necessarily have a place in that relationship. And you can not allow those needs to over-shadow the productivity of your collective assignment.
(4) Emotional needs are real needs and they do have a place somewhere. Not in a toilet, though. You have to find new and appropriate ways to meet those needs; in Jesus, family, good friends and perhaps even through counseling. Too often we (definitely have to include myself) go from toilet to toilet trying to quench our deep thirst for love, affirmation, approval, and emotional relief…and then we wonder why we aren’t getting better. Add to this, that just because a person isn’t our child’s father doesn’t exempt him from being a STRAIGHT UP toilet. Anything less than what you truly deserve is a toilet…that will make you sick and contaminate the most sacred areas of your life.
You can have more. You CERTAINLY deserve more. You will never get more drinking out of the toilet, so do yourself and don’t.
Stay Wonderful! 🙂