My daughter's hair has been a growing concern her whole life. When it's fully combed out it floats past her shoulders, lifts to the top of her head, wrapping around to the front of her face like an oversized, Elizabethan cotton-candy collar.
Her hair is considered "mixed." Not the nappy, wiry ebony of black hair, nor the curly, frizzy brunette of white. Hers is a glossy, raw umber that falls below her shoulders when I've tamed it, coating each section lovingly with Curly Q conditioner and binding it tightly in braids and elastic bands. When left free in the bathtub, it floats around her head like dark seaweed and she becomes a most rare and exotic mermaid, no other one like her to be found except in the shores of her dreams. To see it dry and natural is an intimate glimpse of the woman she will be, powerful and not to be overlooked.
The full appearance of her hair is a rare event reserved for the necessity of trimming it back a few inches to a more manageable length. Yesterday was one of those occasions and I stood by her side, a proud, but nervous parent, wanting the world to acknowledge my accomplishment. No matter that I can take no credit for its impossible splendor. Yet I am its nurturer. An accomplished comber, able to navigate a part through the dense tresses as easily as Moses parted the Red Sea.
Even Miss sits transfixed, shyly and a bit fearfully looking at her full self. To achieve this ephemeral moment she must sit patiently for longer than most other seven year olds could master. For a half hour or more she must endure the murmurs of "I'm sorry" spoken kindly by the adult who winces every time she accidently pulls an unseen knot. It happens frequently, as if the hair refuses to unbend itself and show its full glory. But instead it keeps tangling, each time the comber reaches further down the strand to achieve the elusive goal of combing from the scalp to the hair ends without stopping.
The whole enterprise of getting it cut and rebraided took more than an hour and a half. At the beginning of the appointment our African American stylist was confident and self assured. Yes she can do mixed hair; she has three granddaughters and has cut hair for 15 years after all. Toward the end I could see her tiring – randomly snipping away at stray hairs that refused to be part of the unified whole, no longer carefully aligning them with the rest. It was painful to watch and in the end, I had to walk away to help her save face as she struggled to get all that hair through one impossibly tiny hair band – the same one that I had used to restrain that section of hair earlier that week. At last she cut it out and started over, twice. For 10 minutes she grappled with it as if it was a puzzle, and finally secured the pigtail and twisted it up loosely, halfway done, still one more side to be tackled.
It is hard for me not to boast of my skill. After all, I am a white woman and this African American hair stylist struggled where I succeed. At least she glimpses my commitment to my child, our journey together, the way no other mother on the playground can. Throughout it all, Miss sits patiently, embarrassed by her frizzy nimbus. When she was young, she would fight against her hair, wanting to avoid the task awaiting us each week. But together we've come to an understanding that working as a team is the only way to keep her hair from becoming an overwhelming obstacle that neither of us alone can conquer.
Now at home, the next haircut at least six months away, we return to the rhythm of release and quick rebinding. Preserving the center part from week to week as a guidepost to mark the beginning point for our weekly undertaking. Distracting ourselves with videos and conversation. Checking her hair off our "to do" lists along with laundry and dishes. Binding us ever closer as mother and daughter in our shared accomplishment.