Thursday, October 10, 2013

in which i talk about hair and adoption

We were heading to the car, two natural beautiful Afros dripping wet and ready for the hair braiding salon. Grandma and Grandpa had stopped in for a one day visit and our goodbyes and time spent with them meant that we were running late. In the back of my mind I knew that the Senegalese ladies wouldn't be standing around tapping their feet and glancing at their watch impatiently. That much, I understood. 

I got in the truck. I looked at the door to the house and saw a red faced Lydia standing at the doorway crying.  "What's wrong baby?", I asked.  "I don't want the girls to leave me. What am I gonna do all day?"   I said, "Alright, come with me, we will figure it out."  She grabbed purple dress shoes and ran to the truck with her hair a nest of tangles, Nick Nolte style, still sporting her over sized nightgown.

We entered the shop and talked about the girls' desires for their braids. I was careful outside of the context I'm comfortable in.  I know what the Haiti-hair-braiding drill looks like and I know what I am supposed to do to prepare.  I wasn't so sure today and I could feel my insecurity over all sorts of complex cultural and transracial adoption things rising up.  The ladies had anticipated dry hair and weren't thrilled that I came with two wet-haired girls. They turned on the dryer. (repeat insecurity feelings)

I left to run to the bank for the cash required in advance and left my phone number for the ten minutes I'd be away.  Lydie kissed her sisters and said, "I'm sorry you will sit for so long."  Lydie doesn't let me brush her hair much, and then also not at all. With a ton of begging, she brushes it herself but simply cannot fathom the effort her sisters go to keep their hair looking good. 

At the bank, the phone rings. "Hello, can you go buy hair milk for us? Phoebe isn't tolerating this well and is crying hard."  
"Absolutely, I can." I replied.  
Instructions were given, I headed to the store at the quickest legal speed.

As I walked across the WalMart parking lot prodding Lydia to hurry with her purple shoes, nightgown at 10am, and atrociously tangled up hair, it hit me.

I want to do whatever the right thing is with Hope and Phoebe's hair that I will ignore my gut sometimes and I will bend over backward to be nice, even when someone is being unfair. I will do whatever I can to try to bridge gaps between our cultures and backgrounds and I will work doubly hard to say to any brown woman I meet "I love this little girl and I want you to know that I know hair is important." 

Not only do I obsess over being culturally aware of all black-hair-rules (which is pretty complicated because my Haitian friends don't agree with my AA friends) and generally want everyone to like me; more than that, I want them to believe that I won't mess up the brown kids by raising them with my white skin. I am also some sort of freak because it doesn't bother me one bit to take my white kid into WalMart looking like she just went zoomin* on the crystal*. Fact is, I don't care what any of the people think of how the white kid looks. There isn't self-imposed pressure to get it right with her. 

I realized today when we pulled the plug on Phoebe's braids and left the shop early that I felt like a failure in ways that didn't make sense based on a small thing like not completing hair braids. (She was in pain and leaving was the right choice.)

I wasn't as upset about the hair braids not working out, but about not being able to understand everything Hope, Isaac, and Phoebe feel and experience in their brown bodies. I was sad that hair is a challenging thing for Phoebe. I was sad that they don't fit perfectly in Haiti because we are their parents and they don't fit perfectly in America because we are their parents. I was upset that even when I try hard to bridge gaps, sometimes the gaps remain. My 18 year old, Paige, likes to remind me that she doesn't fit perfectly anywhere anymore either.  Not gonna lie. Just leave me to my pity party and self loathing, please.

It feels like I am free to be a normal human fallible parent with the kids that are stuck with me because I pushed them out of my body, but with these children we've adopted - I don't allow that same measure of grace. For them I need to find a way to never make a misstep, always understand what they are facing, never allow people to decide things about them based on untruth, and protect them from experiencing pain in their lives.  

So, I think at the end of a story like this I am supposed to have some sort of take-away to offer, some sort of devotional pep talk.  

I'll have to get back to you.

(*these are drug words. there was much google research involved.)