Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Great What If??

This post is about the future. The what if. The great unknown. Namely, that time when we release our children into the world to care for themselves, physically, spiritually, mentally, and in every other way. At that time, we as parents will be there for support and unconditional love, but decisions of every kind will be up to them. Surely, before they hit the legal age of 18, they will already be making many choices and decisions on their own, and we as supportive parents will allow that, even if some of the choices are not what we would make for them. Growing up is a process, not an end result. We can't control all aspects of their lives until some magic moment when the calendar says they are 18 and on that day they are capable of making all the choices and decisions for themselves, whereas the day before, they were not. That would be like throwing them to the wolves. I believe we have to teach them to manage their own lives, in increments, many years before that magic 18th birthday.

Since G is 7 and can't see completely through me and all my tricks yet (i.e. - the fake phonecall to cancel a playdate or inform a teacher that G will be late due to poor and bratty choices still works GREAT to turn behavior around on a dime), I will confess to a little bit of....what shall I call it....slightly deceptive influencing? LOL I don't have a name for it. You know....sort of exaggerating things to make, say, removing locs and going back to free hair seem much more drastic than it might actually be (I can neither confirm nor deny that she may assume that she has to go virtually bald and then painstakingly grow her hair back out long again for about forever before it could even possibly be straightened.)

I jest, but in the midst of affirming how wonderful and all-right she is just the way she is now, I try to insert a little bit of overly-dramatic seriousness about how NOT ok it is to want to change the core of who you are. Our site is named Keep Me Curly and I do believe that now it is their wish to be curly girls! But what if, someday, they don't? It is hard as a mom who has so much love and care and positive energy invested in my daughter's curls to think that someday she might choose to straighten them, but what if she does? She knows about relaxers and what they are. Here's a funny story of the first time she heard about them.
I have recently read a lot of science-y info on what happens inside the hair when it's relaxed, and it's pretty awful (post coming up on that book later!). I had a "moment" happen in Wa-l.mart when she was 6, but after we had put the locs in...with a disclaimer that it IS my intention to impart to my young child that relaxing hair is damaging both to hair and skin, and she doesn't need it to be beautiful, it's NOT my intention to personally insult anyone who chooses to chemically alter their child's hair, just know that it DOES damage it, just like perming straight hair is inherently damaging in the same way, too, and many of us have done that to our own hair.
This was originally written on the day it happened, Feb. 1, 2009:

Today, this was brought to me and held a foot in front of my face. I will admit I HAVE been waiting for this topic to surface, as I'd say that many of the black women and girls G sees do have straight hair.

Except the question at first was not "Mommy, how come this chocolate girl has straight hair and I demand that you put this in my hair right here in the store," the question was "Mommy can we get this, I want to have curls like THAT!"

So before I could create an elaborate lie and veer the conversation away from the fact that it IS possible for her to actually HAVE straight hair, I panicked and told the truth.

"No, honey, this doesn't make curls like that, this makes hair straight." I pointed at the box girl's bangs.

She then just silently looked at me, box held out, for one of those pregnant pauses.

"I wanna do that."

Here we were in Walmart, with like 4 other people in the aisle, while I was in that aisle to search for hair color for me to do a touch up (oh the irony!!!) and what, to me, is one of the most crucial moments in self-esteem history has just presented itself...what to do?!?!

So I said "Oh, honey, this is not good at all for children. It's made of a chemical that can burn your skin."

"How, Mommy?"

"Well the things they use to make black girls' hair straight is a very strong chemical and it can burn your scalp. And anyway, you have locs, and so to put this on and make straight hair, we'd have to cut the locs off and start over from the beginning."

She didn't seem to make an argument about that.

"I would never put anything like THAT on your hair that can burn you. And anyway, you are my curly-haired girl from Haiti, and that's what I wanted, you don't need to have straight hair like a white girl, that's not YOU!"

And then I started squooshing her face and kissing her and I scooped her up there in the aisle and told her I loved her just like she is, and all her friends know Gyrlande just like she is and she doesn't need to have white girl hair, and a brown girl with white girl hair is not the girl I adopted from Haiti, anyway! I like my girl just like she is, with locs that curl on the ends and beautiful brown skin.

And she laughed and reveled in it and asked me to scoop her up again, and the box of relaxer was forgotten.

For now :)

This is a video post that is definitely worth watching. It's by one of our Beautiful Blogger awardees, Mocha Mom. If you recall, her blog is called CherishMyDaughter.  Please check out this video she made called:  "What If My Girls Grow Up And Relax Their Hair?" It was very insightful to me, as I think about this kind of thing more and more as G grows and becomes more influenced by the world around her. And my "tricks" become less effective and more transparent! ;-) Next up, the "eye roll" and "Mooo-ooommmm!"

Have you thought about the "what if" issue? Have any of you dealt with teenage or young adult daughters who despite being raised with natural hair, have decided to relax it? Please tell us about it.


  1. I actually did the opposite. My step-daughter had a relaxer when I met her and I transitioned her hair out to it's natural state. It is my fear that she will want to go back to a relaxer when she sees a majority of teenage black girls with them, but it is my hope that she is confident enough with her hair that she will not feel the need to fit in to look like the other girls. Since her hair has grown out naturally, she seems to love it. She is 11 now and she does wish it had more defined curls, but she is definitely embracing her natural hair. It also helps that I showed her part of the Chris Rock's documentary where she saw a pop can get eaten by the chemicals that are used in relaxers. She also has memories of her scalp being burned when getting the relaxers and her hair being trimmed shorter and shorter after each relaxer. She loves that now her hair is getting longer and longer.

  2. I am not looking forward to the day when my little one wants a relaxer. I remember when I was 10 I had to have a jheri curl. My mom was ready for me to start assuming responsibility of my own hair care so I had the choice relaxer or jheri curl. I decided to go with the one that didn't involve the hot hot curling irons, but about 2 years later I changed over to a relaxer because the curls were out of style. And 20 years later I decided to cut all that chemically processed hair and go with all natural teeny afro. I'm so happy about the change and now I don't have to be do as I say not as I do when the subject of chemical processes come up with my daughter.

  3. OK, First of all... What a nice story! You are just so sweet!
    My kids are both biracial (black and white) and both have 3C hair. I loved my sons curly little afro as a baby and I still hate myself for what I'm about to say... My daughter came around when my son was just 21 months old. At that time, I had NO idea what I was doing with hair at all. All the black people I know told me just to use hair grease, and ALL of my family and friends have always told me to put a relaxer in my daughters hair- "It will make it SO much easier to deal with!" Well, when my daughter got older and her hair started growing longer everyone was telling me I better learn to do something with that hair. I decided if I was to try this and it messed up their hair (like their dad told me it was going to), I could just cut it. I did'nt want to cut my daughters hair, so I tried it on my son! The poor baby! It did'nt seem to burn, he did'nt complain so I figured it was going to go ok. It was the WORST mistake I ever made EVER! I was so glad I did'nt try it on my daughter! My mom even went out and bought me a relaxer, just like the one in your picture, to use on my daughter. I returned it to the store! Even though everyone keeps trying to tell me I'm crazy for putting myself and my daughter through all the work of taking care of her hair, I should just straighten it and cut it short, I will never change her hair! I love it and for now she does too (usually). When she gets older and wants her hair straight - she does ask for it sometimes now- but when she wants to make it permanent I plan on showing her the pictures I took of my son's hair after I did it to him. It was terrible! Even after I cut his hair, it never was the same again :( I absolutely hate myself for that! BUT I am glad I did'nt try it on her at least... The pictures of the results will be enough to change her mind! I wish I would have listened to their dad!
    I have had to learn everything about caring for and styling hair on my own, and I want to let you guys know that your blog has been a lot of help! I did'nt know until I found hair blogs that grease was bad for hair. Your kids are so lucky to have you.


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