During my Adopt A Special Kid fost-adopt training, the instructors warned the group of the many things we might or would have to deal with in the years ahead with our kids: attachment issues, identity and esteem challenges, inward and outward expressions of anger and rebellion. But there is one key issue they forgot to mention.
This may be specific to transracial families, and maybe more specific to non-Black parents who adopt Black kids. But … brother. Have we ever had some battles around hair.
When the kids were little, I kept the hair situation simple—or at least, attempted to do so. Every couple of weeks, I got out the clippers, and gave them a full buzz—just like dad’s. They looked good with no hair, being naturally cute enough to pull off just about anything head-wise.
Where Daveon was concerned, this went easily enough. His hair grows in these wonderfully even, regular rows, so running the clippers through them was as easy as running a knife through softened butter. No muss, no fuss.
And then there’s Mark. You know those descriptions of dark forests in Grimm fairytales, where thick undergrowth grows all tangled and matted, making it almost impossible to scrape through to get to the floor? That’s Mark’s hair. Wiry, stiff, and knotted in about a million directions at once. Trying to clip his hair was like trying to drive a tractor through a field of barbed wire. You get stuck a lot.
And now, a pop quiz: Guess which one of my kids is “tender-headed”? Could it be Mr. “Smooth as Silk” hair, so that the irritation would be minimal? Of course not. If anyone was ever going to call Child Protective Services on me during those early years, it would be when I was trying to clip Mark’s hair. The kid started screaming bloody murder before I actually touched his head with the blade, and wouldn’t stop until I finally brushed him off. This process took an extremely long time, as I had to keep stopping to let him regroup and catch his breath.
Six-year-olds aren’t big on the concept that if something is unpleasant, the smartest thing is to get it over with as quickly as possible.
He gets bonus points for the time I was cutting his hair out front, and he was actually pretty calm about it—over the years, I had learned how to lighten my hand pretty well. And then Aunt Leigh pulled up and got out of her car, and out came the bloody murder screams all over again. Who says the kid can’t act?
After those first couple of years, I gave up, moved on to paid haircuts, and let the boys wear their hair however they liked. This led to the “unkempt Afro” phase. They looked great coming out of the barber’s, but since they never met a comb they felt obligated to use, they quickly moved into “I have no grooming habits” territory by about day three.
They also subjected their hair to a variety of experiments. They both tried braids: Daveon’s wouldn’t stay in because—surprise—he didn’t take the proper care of them, while Mark “Mr. Tender-head” couldn’t even get through the process. At that point Aunt Steph—who had valiantly offered to do the honors on him, as she does for her girls—and I realized that we could make a fortune if we could invent a “scalp numb” product for just such occasions.
As the boys have gotten older, the hair issues have settled down. Daveon usually sticks with a mini-fro that he’s pretty good at keeping in shape, though a recent attempt at blonde from a spray bottle left said ’fro a pretty interesting shade of orange. Mark has been more experimental, variously trying out a flat-top and a Gumby, both of which I must say he pulled off pretty well.
Me, I just stick to the clippers. It’s free, and gets rid of the gray. And I don’t scream.