Mixing It Up – Caring for Black and Bi-racial hair
Mixing It Up – Caring for Black and Bi-racial Hair
Kristopher Noseworthy and his wife Suzanne Dunwoody-Noseworthy adopted their baby girl Julie from Ethiopia in 2009. This is their humorous yet touching account of how they learned to care for their new daughter’s hair.
You worry about a lot of things when you become a parent for the first time. How to best manage your daughter’s hair goes on that list when you are an adoptive parent. My daughter was 11 months old when she came into our family. It was the first time that I had ever touched a black person’s hair and I wasn’t prepared for how different it would be.
My first mistake was to shampoo it every day as I do with my hair. After five days, her hair became brittle and dry and I had no idea why. One of my black friends politely explained to me that my daughter’s scalp had turned grey from dryness and that I should only wash her hair a few times a week. I ended up rubbing oil through my daughter’s hair and onto her scalp in order to repair the damage I had done in week 1 of being a parent.
My second mistake was thinking that stores carried hair products for everyone. After several dozen shelves and two aisles of hair products that I personally could use, I found that my local grocery store had only a half dozen hair products for curly hair. And, after reading several labels and seeing the ingredients, I was not at all comfortable using any of it on my one-year-old’s hair. It became clear to me very quickly that I was going to need a lot of help.
I would not have been able to make it through the first six months without my friends. They would suggest shampoos, conditioners and other products. They would patiently answer all my questions and show me how to care for my daughter’s hair. Little did I know that when I was scrubbing in the shampoo as I do with my own hair, I was actually knotting my daughter’s hair into an unmanageable state. That led to a one and a half hour hair dressing appointment in which I held my daughter on my lap, trying to distract her while a very patient hair stylist combed out all of the knots while my daughter screamed. I learned that day of the importance of keeping hair in braids. I had always thought of braids as simply a type of hairstyle but now, they are an essential part to keeping my daughter’s hair untangled, more manageable and everyone happier!
Through trial and error and many compromises, we have come to an understanding. My daughter watches whatever Disney movie she wants while I try to get her hair done before the end of the movie. I was always good at doing braids. But, I have now perfected the speed at which I braid. I don’t do anything fancy even though I am envious of the talents of so many women who can create spectacular styles with their daughters’ hair. I keep thinking that when my daughter is older and has mastered the ability to sit still, I might be able to try some different hair styles. But for now, we both only have the patience for one movie, every two weeks.
Please, Julie, forgive your parents their hair-ignorance. When we first met our daughter, she was 11 months old and her hair had been organized into tiny little bundles with tight, brightly-coloured elastics. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why someone would do that to her. She obviously hated it because she kept pulling at them and trying to eat the elastics. Unbeknownst to us, some kind stranger had done us an enormous favour.
As we started to get to know our little girl, one of the first things we did was take out those elastics and give her a good bath, including a thorough shampooing and conditioning. Every day, in her bath, Julie would splash water at me while I doused her head in shampoo, worked it in with the tips of my fingers and then rinsed it. (I can’t help but cringe as I write that.) Every night we would apply hair moisturizers, based on the suggestions from friends. Fast forward a few months and we decided it was time to tame the wildness that Julie’s hair had become.
After consulting a few friends with curly hair, we went to one of the best hairdressers in the city. She had previously worked with adoptive parents and was willing to work with us and our one-year-old. Most importantly, this woman preferred natural hair and was unwilling to use anything strong on our daughter’s hair. Our fragile confidence in our abilities to take care of Julie’s needs was tested against the consummate skills of a true professional. The hairdresser used three different detanglers and took over two hours to do Julie’s hair, with my wife holding our squirming child in place and brushing away her tears.
After our visit to the hairdresser, we were committed to the regular braiding of Julie’s hair. In her wisdom, the hairdresser had told us to keep Julie’s hair in braids until she was old enough to tolerate the longer sittings required for fancier styles. We saw the wisdom in this. The braiding of our daughter’s hair became my wife’s responsibility and I had heard that doing each other’s hair could be a good bonding experience for women.
Suzanne figured that sitting our very active toddler in front of a favourite movie and tackling one braid at a time would provide enough of a distraction and allow for breaks whenever necessary. This strategy took a little while to perfect and, after one particularly difficult session that resulted in both mother and daughter weeping in frustration, I became part of the process. Although I was a knob-fingered fool at braiding, I could undo an existing tress and pre-treat the hair with conditioner so Suzanne could swoop in and tame the ‘fro.
It took months of intensive moisturising and care for Julie’s hair to become healthy and to find the right number of braids to make the process as efficient as possible. If the braids are too thick, they are hard to manage. If the braids are too small, they take forever to complete. One of the cardinal rules in our house is that no hair session can last longer than a children’s movie.
Three years later, Suzanne and Julie have much more amicable hair sessions and Julie’s hair is much healthier. I am no longer required to help speed along the process, and I kind of miss that. However, I have realized that our knowledge was gained the hard way and every mistake we made was paid for in the unintentional suffering of our beautiful, vibrant little girl. As a result, Julie has one hair style and one hair style only. We sometimes look in envy at other girls Julie’s age who have cornrows or a fancier arrangement of braids but soon realize that none of us, Julie included, want to embark on the oh-so-familiar and oh-so-painful experimental phase as we learn what to do by doing what we aren’t supposed to do.
Editor’s Note: Thank you Kristopher and Suzanne for sharing your story. Today we’re happy to report that thanks to her parents’ perseverance, Julie and her hair are thriving!