Adoption Stories

Published on March 26th, 2014 | by Eve


EVE on Putting Hair Goo On a Moving Target

A few months back,  I published my first article about being a transracial family, and got comments implying I’m doing something wrong when it comes to my son’s hair.  Now, women being told they’re doing something wrong when it comes to being mothers – or choosing not to be mothers – is so common it alternately makes me laugh and makes me want to crawl under a rock.  But this is that, plus something else.  That something else is the politics of black hair, a topic so emotional and big Chris Rock made a whole movie about it (a very good movie, by the way).

When I suggested writing a follow up article on the politics of black hair to my spouse, she suggested we were particularly unqualified to do so, as white parents.  She might be right.  But I’m  plowing ahead anyway, with that disclaimer: I’m writing from the perspective of a white parent who has waded into the politics of black hair only because it affects my son.  I can never write from the perspective of someone who has lived the politics directly.  But I’m living it now indirectly.

First of all, it’s not just a race thing.  My mom has what many would call a Jew-fro, and after adolescent years of coiffed hairdos that didn’t move and straightened her curls out, she opted to keep it curly. Her own mother never approved; the last thing my grandmother told my mother, before slipping into a wordless dementia, was “I don’t like what you’ve done with your hair.”   What is it about women that makes us so hard on each other and critical of each other’s choices?


We are choosing to keep our son’s hair a beautiful soft Afro for now.  Why?  Well, first of all because I like it. When I look around at African American friends and acquaintances, the hair I most admire are Afros.  It’s a preference, it’s not an absolute truth or judgment about anyone else’s hair.  Secondly, we are not cutting his hair until his third birthday, per the obscure Jewish tradition know as the upshirin.  What I like about this tradition is that it helps mark the point where a wild toddler looks more like small person, which I think helps adults calibrate and shift their expectations.  Three, it’s actually a custom in some African American communities to wait till at least the first birthday for the first hair cut as well, so that’s kind of a nice synchronicity.  Four, it’s actually simpler at this point.  We didn’t know this when we started, but caring for his hair (conditioning and combing it out with a wide-toothed comb a few times a week, moisturizing it multiple times a day) as an Afro takes less time than if we were to make him sit for twists or braids or poofs.  We’re happy to do this for him when he’s old enough to tell us what he wants, and when he can better understand the discomfort he will have to endure to put his hair into these protective styles.  We’re also prepared (though it will make me sad) for him to say he wants to cut it all off so he doesn’t have to sit through any kind of care.  But for now, he’s only 23 months and he can’t tell us what he wants, though he makes it clear he wants us to manage it in whatever way takes the least amount of time. Hence the title of this piece.

When you’re in a transracial family, you’ve got an added layer of defensiveness built up, ready to arm you against other parents who assume if your kid looks a hot mess one day, you must have no idea what you’re doing as a parent. Maybe it was just windy that day.  Aren’t there more important things to talk about?

Obviously, there’s a parenting style here, too.  It’s our style to not micromanage everything our kid does, but rather to try and let him be a kid, and play.  There will be a time when he cares what clothes he wears and what his hair looks like.  Until then, let’s let him just jump and romp and laugh and BE.  My favorite piece about parenting is Khalil Gibran’s “On Children”.  When we start micromanaging our kids, it’s almost always because our ego is getting tied up in who they are or who they are perceived to be.  Back off and let them become who they truly want to be:

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,

For they have their own thoughts.

You may house their bodies but not their souls,

For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,

which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

You may strive to be like them,

but seek not to make them like you.

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About the Author

Eve is a poet, fiction writer, and playwright whose work has appeared in LilithPoeticaNew Vilina ReviewConcho River Review, as well as many other literary magazines and several anthologies.   She is also a mother and lives in Boston with her spouse and her son.

4 Responses to EVE on Putting Hair Goo On a Moving Target

  1. Victoria says:

    Great follow up! I laughed at the last thing your Grandmother said was. My Grandmother is 93, and brutally honest about what she feels with things like that.

  2. Astarr says:

    Thanks for your article. As another Jewish mom of a multi-racial (Black, Cherokee, Jewish, Irish) boy, I can appreciate and share many of your points — and laugh with you at the simple complexity of it all. Plus, as a Bay Area activist type, I have always loved the Sweet Honey and the Rock adaptation of Gibran’s poem. Now, as a parent, it makes me tear up.

    Have you seen Aya de Leon’s Puffy Hair Project? My son is in the book.

    I also want to add, as someone who has studied anti-oppression/anti-racism/diversity theory and practice, I think its helpful to leave space for the aspects of this dialoge that are harder for white folks to grasp. My son, in addition, likes to wear princess dresses – a lot. I have received subtle admonishment and corrective advise from some Black women in stores, etc. I read it like this, “Hey white lady, don’t you know your son already has to deal with racism everyday, which you will never quite understand, no matter how hard you try — now you’re gonna let him dress like a girl, on top of that??”

    Right or wrong aside, I get that the outcroppings of slavery in this country run deep – we are all living in its ever-present static. Some of us, though– are forced to deal with its tentacles daily.

    I never feel the need to apologize or explain my son’s afro or gender fluid clothing choices to anyone. At the same time, I try to understand the deep-seated attitudes that are responses to a disease that has ripped at the heart of the humanity of this country — and know that there are some things I will never fully comprehend. I can, in turn, choose to be present for whatever comes toward me – as a listener, witness and a mother who loves her child with the fierceness of a warrior and the tenderness of a dandelion. As a white woman raising a child of color in a racist, but slowly evolving culture, it is the least I can do.

  3. Va says:

    “As a woman who’s had natural hair since the early ’90s, before the millions of natural-hair products and YouTube tutorials were mainstream, I had a hair regimen that was far from complicated. Wash and go. Apply some moisturizer and keep it moving. There was even a time when I was responsible for my cousin’s hair, when she was the same age as Blue Ivy, and the most I could manage with a 2-year-old was some single-strand twists. I’m not even going to mention the fact that those twists almost turned into locks, several times. Imagine trying to keep a hyper child in a seat for more than an hour? Not happening.”

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