There are some interesting aspects of being a white mother with a dark dark dark baby. I myself have come to the place where I forget that we have this surface difference. When it comes up in casual conversation, or I see someone trying to figure out why I am acting like her mother, I get this sort of slap up the back of my head and realize, “oh yeah we look different”. Indeed we have a contrasting set of pigments working in our skin, but as my husband knows more and more every day, Kira and I could not be more alike in personality where life blood pumps, dreams, fears, thoughts and feelings.
It’s a naughty fun for me when I’m out and about alone with her and a mom becomes friendly with us and wants to give me advice like I am a brand new mother. I begin to listen to her tell me that I should enjoy it while I can because it goes so fast, and that girls are like this, but boys are like that, and not to worry someday I’ll get my sleep again. I wear an expression of knowing the inside joke; as Craig says one never has to guess what I’m thinking. I know if it were me doing the dumb talk I’d recognize I was going down the wrong conversation trail. Sometimes I take great pleasure in telling the well intended soul that she is my fifth child and I have one in college, I know how fast it goes. I even consider asking if they’d like some parenting advice. It’s just so entertaining to see someone put their foot in their mouth. But other times I nod and think, it’s not worth it and I scoot out of there. Many times I’ve been in real conversation with someone I meet and she wants to know the address of my blog to learn more about our adoption story. In many cases I’ve been asked, “where do you go to church? I’ve been looking”. I can absolutely with great enthusiasm recommend Kingsland Baptist to anyone I meet. I would even say if you don’t live here having a look at the website and listening to the teaching of Pastor Alex Kennedy is worth the time. The more we learn from him the more we respect his theology and heart.
Back to topic: quirks of being a mzungu (Ugandan word for white person) with a black baby. Once when I was visiting Kira’s baby home I had just snuggled her up and inhaled all of her sweetness when one of the managers was speaking with me. He suddenly became concerned because there were patches on Kira’s face that looked like a rash. He abruptly stopped speaking and carefully inspected her skin. I looked, and laughed hysterically, because it was my makeup that had rubbed off on her! White make up on black skin doesn’t look healthy. We laughed about it. Her skin is so incredibly beautiful I really have some pity for myself. I love to dress her in bright contrasting colors because she radiates next to outfits of turquoise, orange, pink and really any color except navy and black. As a mother the best part of her skin is that I don’t have to worry about sunburn. What a relief. I recount endless battles with my boys while I slathered stinging cream over them to find them later with patches of red where they had wiggled out of protection. Her little head isn’t going to burn so I don’t have to fight her to wear a hat. There’s so much freedom in that. Craig didn’t believe me about the sunscreen so one time during a meal with George (our Ugandan friend) I asked him if he has ever protected his skin from the sun, he shook his head. “Our skin was made for the sun.” When I peer closely at African women my age, I am so ridiculously jealous that their skin doesn’t age from the sun like ours does. I’ve been using sunscreen on my face every day since I was in my early thirties so I wouldn’t look like a prune when I turn fifty. I’d celebrate some freedom from that if I had it.
I have a serious insecurity about Kira’s hair. When I take her out I am so worried when I meet a black woman who comes over to talk to my cute baby. I am afraid that there is something I am doing terribly wrong with Kira’s hair that only a woman who grew up under the care of a mama who knows how to take care of an afro would know. I don’t really know what to do with her hair. I want to say to her, “does her hair look ok to you? Am I doing anything wrong ? Tell me what I don’t know”. I am learning about her hair though as it grows in a little thicker. A part of me was relieved when the Aunties at the baby home cut it all off, because I could learn what to do with it gradually as it grew. It is an intimidating mass of tangles.
I know that when she wakes up in the morning it has been rubbed into tight little balls that make her head bumpy with patches of scalp showing. I suppose this is what is called “nappy”, though I am not sure. When I wash her hair the water runs right off. I have to push the water into her hair. I use four products on it so I can get a comb through it. Stop right there, I am so not used to combing a child’s hair. I never combed my boys hair, I just ruffled it up with my fingers and let them squirm out of my reach. I send them to the mirror when it is sticking up all over the place. But with Kira, combing through her unbelievably tight coils has required some time and effort. If she has a second comb in her hand she will allow me to work through the knobby hills until it is a spongy soft turf.
Spongy is an exactly right description for her hair because it collects everything she contacts. When I comb through I can’t believe the stuff that pops out of there! There’s lint, dog hair, threads, food and all sorts of bits that she gathers while playing. It is a comedy to watch it all surface. After a few hours of play her hair rolls up into balls again and I pull out the comb so no one will think I am stupid about caring for her hair. Really, when it comes to this task, I feel a little stupid.
All through our waiting for our adoption the one thing that made me nervous was my lack of knowledge about the secrets of black women’s hair. These are well kept secrets, except I knew they disappeared for many hours into salons I’ve never been into and spend an exorbitant amount of money to come out looking smooth and coifed. I also knew they panicked about getting it wet, though I have no idea why. I began to look very closely at their hairstyles and I became more and more confused. Finally, I came across a documentary by Chris Rock revealing all the secrets about it. He has two daughters and one asked him, “Daddy, when am I going to have good hair?” This sent him on the search to understand why a little girl would believe she did not already have good hair. So, I learned a few things that shocked me. If this is a subject that fascinates you I recommend finding the dvd, Good Hair, but for now I’ll highlight a few astounding discoveries.
As soon as a girl is old enough, around puberty, she is allowed to go get it chemically straightened. It is a chemical that will eat an aluminum can if left on too long, so imagine how much it could burn a tender scalp under the wrong hands. Women call it creamy crack because they are so addicted to the smooth hair it produces. But nappy roots grow quickly and this requires frequent and expensive touchups.
The other option is extensions that are glued to the hair. If these get wet, they fall off. Hence the panic a woman may have when it rains or if some boisterous boy shoots a water gun her way. There are also “weaves”. This is when a woman has her whole head of hair braided tightly to her scalp, then they purchase hair that is sewn into their hair. It lasts a couple of months. This hair falls luxuriously over their shoulders and swings in silky soft waves. This is an addiction. These weaves can cost hundreds even thousands of dollars. And the big rule is: no one touches a weave. Not a husband, boyfriend, or child. Hands off the weave. The most shocking realization is where this pretty hair comes from. Women in India, who go to their temple, twice in their life (usually), will sacrifice their gorgeous long hair for their religion. The temple then sells the hair to an industry that profits richly in making these weaves. Scandalous!
What is a mother with a conscience to do? I’m a great admirer of the natural hair, and I applaud the women who wear their God given hair, but I don’t know what it is like to want smooth hair, because I’ve enjoyed it as a gift of God all my life. I will sympathize with Kira because I know I have extraordinary hair. Most women, regardless of race, have often told me they’d give anything just for a handful of my hair. Kira will one day ask me why she doesn’t have hair like mine. When the time comes, and Kira and I have many discussions about her hair, I will listen carefully to her heart. We will learn to compromise, and she will learn no matter what she says or how many fits she throws, I am not spending a thousand dollars so her hair can swing! A part of me wants to know if this obsession for smooth hair is handed down from generations of women in a family, or does it spontaneously come from each individual child. I guess we will wait and see because Kira doesn’t have a mama suggesting there is anything wrong with her hair the way it is.