Monday, July 6, 2009

Little Dolls: Tenderly Tending to Every Strand of Brown Girl Hair, With a Smile


Good grief, why didn’t anybody warn me? I mean, I had a bazillion dolls—most of them black with coarse hair that I spent hours combing and washing and pulling into ponytails and meticulously parting into perfect and perfectly fabulous rows of cornrows. Sometimes a piece of brown paper bag or a spare sponge roller could coax a curl or two, you know, for special occasions. An assortment of pomades (Afro Sheen and Dax were ready for the sneaking in the bathroom cabinet), Afro picks, rat-tails, and wide-tooth combs, and of course ribbons and beads, made my dolls Ebony Fashion Fair runway-ready. Their hair looked good, okay? And between every brush stroke/twist/hair clipping/braid, I plotted, man. I was going to have babies and those babies would be girls, and those girls would wear beautiful dresses and sit quietly while I weaved their hair into incredible hairstyles that would make them the envy of grade schoolers everywhere.


I got what I’d been begging God for since the day I learned how to braid hair at age five: two girls with a lotta hair I can comb. Except my girls don’t sit still like my dolls did. Their hair and scalp isn’t made of plastic and synthetic fibers. I can’t brace them between my knees and pull it and twist it and tug at it. I’m charged with taking great care of two heads of kinky, curly hair—not including my own—with little information and great trepidation, even after all these years. There were no books out there to help me figure it out when they were babies. And there still aren’t any black children’s hair care books out now. Taking care of all this hair is not easy.

If I just look at Lila’s head, or, Heaven forbid, announce that her hair will need washing sometime in the next month, she screams holy hell—like I just told her the moment all 7-year-olds will be hung upside down by their toenails is imminent. The girl can go three weeks with the same twists—lint and dried grass and all manner of rug remnants intertwined in her luscious locs—and not give a rat’s booty if it looks like complete madness. Just please, don’t say you’re going to comb it.

Mari is much easier. I still remember the first time Nick and I washed her hair; she wasn’t even a week old, swaddled in a blanket, nestled in Nick’s big hands. He held her head under the stream of warm water in the kitchen sink, and I rubbed Johnson’s Baby Shampoo over her curly hair. The girl fell asleep—like she was in a spa. I can pull it, twist it, scratch it, the kid is cool. But she’s got a dry scalp condition that keeps me workin’ day and night trying to figure out how to keep her head moisturized, shiny and healthy and natural. Some weeks, I have to wash, condition, and style her hair twice, almost two hours worth of work at each sitting.

I’ve spent exorbitant amounts of cash on hair products that promised miracles. When those didn’t work, I put together my own rosemary oil, Vitamin E, glycerin, and water elixirs for Mari’s hair, and shea butter and coconut oil concoctions for Lila’s—mixtures wholly conjured up from a patchwork of advice and internet research on how to care for African American hair. There's plenty information about grown folk hair. Hardly anything about the tender tendrils of little brown girls.

And when I’m not researching and combing, I’m talking to my babies—constantly talking. About how wonderful it is to have natural hair, with its gloriously kinky, curly, poofy texture—soft like cotton, strong enough to break the teeth of a comb. How it doesn’t need to swing to be beautiful. That afros are the fire.

Nobody tells little black girls such things.

No, we grow up with our own people telling us how “nappy” our head is, and mamas popping us in the neck for crying when all that tugging at our strong hair/tender scalps gets to hurting, and watching TV and magazine ads celebrate little brown girls with fine, loosely-curled, “other” hair. Brought up to believe this hair is a chore and a burden.

And so I wash and condition and massage and mix elixirs and spray and oil and pull and twist and part and braid. And I don’t complain. At least not to my girls.

They are not the dolls from when I was little, this is true. But they are dolls, the two of them, and their hair is beautiful.

Every. Single. Strand.

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  1. Wonderfully, beautifully, poetically put.

  2. I can totally relate, Denene---having a 3-year-old and 6-week-old thickly-crowned daughters, as well as my own abundant head full of natural hair, it is a challenge to swim against the chemical tide on the daily and maintain their hair, and my sanity, at the same time. I'm hoping that, as my girls age, the time and effort I put into attractively styling their locks, while maintaining their health and positive self image, will be appreciated, preserved and maybe even passed down the line. Keep fighting the good fight, my girls and I are right there with you! :o)

  3. Okay, I think this might be my favorite MBB post, due in large part to all the pictures of those pretty li'l brown mamas littered among your words. Maaaan, I feel you on this one, Laawd knows I do! Marley's hair is just about fully loc'd now, and I find that I have to wash it every 10 days or so b/c of the same grass/lint/everything under the sun issue, especially in the summer. I probably won't loc Sage's hair b/c it's pretty easy to manage, but I do find myself saying stupidness to them like "don't lean back on your hair" or "Try not to mess up your hair today, I just did it, dang!" I know, ridik, right?!! But it's just that they both act like I scream "okay, I'm ready to pull out three of your toenails now!" when I even look in the direction of the shampoo and conditioner. Sigh...Let's pool our resources and hire a black hair care nanny...c'mon, let's (LOL!).

    You're so right about reminding them how beautiful their hair is though, and I do that by reminding them that I wash, condition, and groom their hair "so often" (as they put it) b/c it's so beautiful, and I want it to stay that way. Whenever we draw princesses and queens, we draw them either with locs or pretty African braids, ya know, the little things that send the message that their hair is perfect just the way it is. Now if I could get them to keep their daggone head scarves on through the night...

  4. Hair - Arrrgh! I have four girls, and each of their hair is different, and they like different things! The oldest 20, and the younges 9 both have natural hair. The youngest does what ever the oldest does, and the two middle both have perms. We go round, and round and round some more when it comes to hair!

  5. Love it! You have gorgeous girls with crowns of glory. Thanks for the glimpse of what I have to look forward to. I am committed to keeping my baby girl's locs natural. I pray I have your patience and fortitude.

  6. Amen!! My Miss J is the same way, lol. If you mention comb she's out, which is why she loves her afro puff so much. Her latest request? A full on afro.

    Thank you for showing/reminding us of just how wonderful/beautiful/versatile/ "our" hair is.

  7. i love doing jada's hair...and i am jealous, a lot, that i can't do anything fun or creative with mine like i can with hers. i have to say, being a white momma of a brown girlie pie, i get the question all the time about "do you do her hair yourself?" i just wanna scream's not hard, just different. anyway, i love your girls hair thru the times...i would love to be able to do the mini spirals...don't know what they are called, but i learn on you tube...that's how i corn row'd the first time!

  8. @mommaof4wife2r: WOW!!!!! You learned how to cornrow watching YouTube? How awesome is that?! If you can cornrow, you can do the "spirals," which are really called twists. It's just taking two chunks of hair instead of three, and twisting them around each other... now I'm all curious to go on YouTube and see if I can find some creative hairstyles. That's AWESOME.

    @the rest of my beautiful moms: Thank you for the comments and the compliments. Thank goodness we're not alone, huh?

  9. i feel you. i have some SERIOUS afro-kinky/curly hair that i rock au natural. before the munchkin was born, i wanted a girl. i must say i'm happy he's a boy (although he feels the same way as your daughter about hair washing, and he had a HUGE 'fro until the other day.)

    i too have turned to YouTube when my hair styles have gotten boring, or i need some advice on reviving my dry hair. there are TONS of great vids on there, some for kids too.

  10. Thank you for writing articles about these topics. I want my daughter to appreciate her natural hair but am struggling to find the best way to take care of it. It's not about what's easiest for the parent (relaxers, weaves, etc) its about caring for the hair and giving your child the self esteem to appreciate what God gave her to work with.

  11. That first picture of the girls is SO YUMMY!! They're so little and cayuuuutte in this pic! Lila was still at the stage where you wanted to stage random kiss attacks on her li'l cheeks and forehead! It's so great how pics can remind you of how much they've grown.


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