Monday, January 30, 2012

Hairy Stuff

My friends and family are so sick of me commenting on the fact that Sabine looks nothing like me.

I can't help it. I thought I'd stopped caring, but the other day I realized I haven't at all.

I recently asked my African American neighbor what she uses to smooth down whispies in her daughter's hair. She took me inside her house and began showing and telling me about the great number of products she uses for all different reasons. She told me I need a certain shampoo, conditioner, leave-in conditioner, head scarf, hair ties and styles. She told me I needed to watch a YouTube video by "this woman who is a black hair expert." She told me I needed to brush Sabine's hair a certain number of times and that if she cried, I should ignore her because I need to "break" her. Then she offered to braid, or cornrow, Sabine's hair for me.

When I left her apartment, my head was spinning with confused thoughts: That was so nice of her to take the time; she gave me so much information; but it was too much information; information I hadn't asked for: information I didn't really need.

I forgot about the encounter for awhile but then bumped into her again about a week later at the farmer's market. It was just after Sabine had been traumatized by meeting Santa Claus for the first time. The neighbor had a large, male friend with her and he kept talking to Sabine and touching her and making faces at her while my neighbor offered over and over again to braid Sabine's hair. Suddenly Sabine was swimming in a large puddle of her own tears, freaked out by too much stranger danger. So I said I had to leave, but was more than happy to do so since I was feeling overwhelmed myself.

I went home and told Kadin the story. He was excited that our neighbor was willing to braid Sabine's hair because he has always wanted to learn how to do cornrows. He kept encouraging me to have her do it. Before I knew it, I'd exploded into a verbal frenzy and was spewing feelings I didn't even know I had. And they kind of went like this:

The way my neighbor offered her services and gave me a mountain of information instead of just answering my one damn question made me feel the way I constantly feel when people ask me whether or not Sabine is mine. They assume we're not biologically connected because we don't look the same. That's painful because I've never felt more connected to anything in my entire life. She's my almost everything, literally a part of me, a piece of me and an extension of me (who is also her own person) after carrying her inside my body for nine months and so intimately caring for and growing with her for these past two and a half years.

When someone thinks she's not mine or that I'm too different from her or that I don't know how to take care of her or just her hair, I want to punch them in the face.

My neighbor may mean well, but she's not respecting my connection with my own daughter and she's assuming that my daughter is more like her than she is like me. But Sabine's hair is more like mine than it is hers (I just regularly have mine straightened). It's curly and frizzy, not a traditional afro. I know how to do her hair because I've been doing my own curly, frizzy hair my whole life. Sabine is mixed. She's not black or hispanic or white. She's all of those things.

When my neighbor bombarded me with extra information, all I could hear were all of the voices of the black women in my life who go on and on about how sorry they feel for black kids with white mothers who have no idea how to do their hair.

I think people should feel sorry for children who have shitty mothers, not children with mothers who do hair differently than someone else might.

I'm defensive or maybe overly defensive because of the constant questioning or assuming when it comes to my relationship with my daughter. My neighbor's hair advice somehow just felt like more of that. Whether it was or wasn't, it helped me to see that I will be dealing with the questions and people questioning our physical differences for the rest of our lives; that I need to learn how to better handle them for myself and for my daughter; and that those questions are probably the reason that I am super extra close and connected to Sabine in a way that feels unbreakable.

via Observando


Jessica said...

As the black mother of a bi-racial child - honestly - I have no idea what to *do* with that hair. My white husband has done my hair for most of our marriage and *does* my son's as well. I come from one of those families that was never good at hair. My other black friend with a bi-racial daughter just gets it done at a salon, braids, etc., etc. That's what both my mom and her mom did. Don't worry too much about it for now. Plus, I think you're doing a pretty good job. In the pictures she always looks neat - which is the best you can hope for with a toddler, no? If you saw my child, you'd see how it's not under control over here in the Valley.

If I had a list for all the people who ask me where he came from . . . . The last was a neighbor I ran into at Whole Foods. She knew him (my nanny gets out a lot), and for the few minutes she was talking to me explaining where she lived, etc., I realized she had no idea who I was in relation to him (and that I lived up the street). Because I so strongly feel like his mother, the thought delay is always so long before I realize *they* don't think I'm his mother.

Damn, I'm rambling - must get back to work.

Laura Mauk said...

@Jessica, I can't tell you how nice it is to hear from someone who understands or is in a similar situation. I'm too often frustrated by the reactions of some people, who think I'm paranoid or overly sensitive.

Miss A said...

Hey Laura,

I. Get. It!
I mean I used to be told that I was adopted because there is no way my middle easter jewish mother could have been my real mother and when people deny that side of me I want to yell because it is so so so strong in me. No matter how crazy my mother is, she's my main reason for being here.


I grew up with hair hatred (and color hatred for a while). Because my mom didn't quite know what to do with my hair (despise having long curly hair herself).
It wasn't until high school, and until having black and latina friends who had similar hair that I finally accepted then loved my hair (and color).

Growing up with a mom who didn't look like me was tough because we always always had to explain. I hate explaining. I've got no patience for explaining. None.


Laura Mauk said...


so comforting to know you understand. i have no patience for explaining either. i will keep you and your experience--the good and the bad--with me as i move though this.


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