It’s All About the Hair . . . or not

Preface – A few weeks ago I decided to write an essay on hair, specifically my sons’ hair. Hair is a hot topic at our house and I thought our family might provide a unique perspective. I was wrong. Unique? Not at all. As I researched the topic I soon realized mine was not a lone voice. There are a lot of white mamas out there discussing the hair debate as it affects their black children. (The conversations are not limited to adopted children; biological white mothers of bi-racial children have a lot to say as well.) Links to a few of my favorite stumbled-upon blogs will be provided at the end of the post. Some are humorous, some defensive, and some simply offer basic hair-care advice, but each one reflects passionate views. My words offer a small window into the Veatch-view on all things Veatch-hair.

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My husband Devan cuts his own hair. He does so in the name of frugality, but he also believes that clean and simple always out-trumps fashion. Secure in his skin, his hair has never been something he saw as a statement – it’s just hair – so clippers in hand, he self-sheers on a regular basis. His method is quick, efficient, and the resulting close-cropped-do prevents his motorcycle helmet from bending his hair every which way. As far as he knows, others do not define him by his hair and he cannot recall ever being asked, “So why do you have such a bad haircut?” (Okay, I confess that I’ve asked him that a couple of times, but he’s always adorable so I just let it go.)

Sam, our oldest, has evolved from mom-cuts to dad-cuts to barber-cuts to no-cuts to stylist-cuts and now, like his dad, he cuts his own. Yep, he even owns his own clippers. (Devan is so proud.) Like his dad, Sam considers hair, his or anyone else’s, a non-issue. It’s just hair.

A week in a Masaii village will give hair an entirely new look. (Sam, 2005)

A week in a Masai village gives hair an entirely new look. 2005

Sam during his no-cut stage.

Sam during his no-cut stage.                         Lake Naivasha 2005

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nathan and Jack have also experienced a range of hair-cutting venues, from home-cuts to barber shops to back home again. Unlike Sam, however, the boys have had encounters that border somewhere between the outrageous and humorous. And unlike Devan, who is rarely given hair critiques, Nathan and Jack are the recipients of hair-related comments and questions on a regular basis. Folks representing a cross-section of racial, religious, and political spectrums offer unsolicited advice on a frequent basis. (And touching the hair? Don’t get me started on the touching.) My sons have worn their hair natural, shaved, straight-edged, Afroed (it’s a word), twisted, braided and dreadlocked, each style opening the door for the curious to add their two-cents. (Our overriding family hair rule? Keep it clean, keep it reasonable, and remember that handsome is as handsome does.) A few more thoughts . . .

Fresh edges straight from the barber.They agree that they're looking fine.

Fresh edges straight from the barber.They agree that they’re looking fine. Our Manga Garden driveway – 2003.

. . . I’m not sure why, but approaching a white mother and her black children to ask hair questions seems socially acceptable to some. It’s a bit like a TV show one would call All the Questions I’ve Wanted to Ask and Now I have the Chance. I’ve been asked (in the boys’ presence), “How often do they have to wash it?” . . . “Is it true that if you just leave it alone it will just stay short?”  . . . “Did you pick a boy so you wouldn’t have to worry with the hair?” (That last question is in my hall of fame.) Nathan was asked by a stranger in the grocery line if his braids were a political statement. He answered, “No. I don’t think so” then looked to me and mouthed “Help!” If you’re my friend and you have a question about my sons’ hair, ask me in private; I know you love my boys and you’re curious. If you are a stranger in Target, go home and do a google search . . .

Yes, they are singing into an oven. Yes, sometimes we do crazy things in our family. But it does offer a great look at Nathan's current style. (To view the Veatch Brothers entire remix of "Call Me Maybe" visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ijT9Js_iKs8.)

Yes, they are singing into an oven. Yes, sometimes we do crazy things in our family. Yes, it does offer a great look at Nathan’s current style, which was twisted by yours truly.                      (To view the Veatch Brothers entire remix of “Call Me Maybe” visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ijT9Js_iKs8 )

 

 

. . . “Braids” were the second wish on Nathan’s 2005 Christmas list. Five hours in an Eastleigh* kiosk and 500 shillings (about $6 at the time) was all it took to make his wish come true. A few days later we flew to Turkey to spend the holidays with family who were teaching at the University of Ankara. The Turkish people, warm and welcoming, were more than fascinated with Nathan and Jack and had little regard for their personal space. Cheek pinching, direct pointing, and photo snapping made the boys’ time there a bit uncomfortable. While walking down an Istanbul street, a group of men shouted at Nathan, “Allen Iverson,” obviously referring to the legendary Philadelphia 76ers player known for his rows of braids. Nathan looked at me and in all of his 8-year-old wisdom said, “Do they really think we all look-alike? I don’t look anything like Allen Iverson.” And he doesn’t. Side bar – During the Friends sit-com craze I, along with almost every other American woman, tried a Jennifer Aniston cut at least once. While my hair may have looked a bit like hers, no-one ever called me Jennifer Aniston. Ever . . .

The Pacer jersey has me thinking more Reggie Miller than Allen Iverson.

The Pacer jersey has me thinking more Reggie Miller than Allen Iverson. ISK Kindergarten. 2003

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another view of the braid-stage. (Oh, Carnivore Splash - what lovely memories!)

Another view of the braid-stage. (Oh, Carnivore Splash – what lovely memories!)

. . . I personally don’t think a certain hairstyle will turn my sons into criminals, but there are those who think otherwise and have felt it their duty to tell me so. Once in a while I’ll skim the arrests photos in the local paper and have come to realize that criminals are very eclectic in their style. I’ve spotted braids, clean-shaven, bald, crew cuts, comb-overs, and cute pony tails in the police report; there doesn’t appear to be one preferred criminal style. Wearing a Dorothy Hamill cut in 1976 did not turn me into an ice-skater and my sons’ hair adventures won’t robotically turn their hearts to crime; hearts are turned by bad choices. My daily prayer is that all three of my sons would be men of integrity, kindness, and honor, regardless of their hair style.

 

. . . Jack is now sitting beside me, reading over my shoulder and adding commentary. He just said, “Remember to tell them about the touching thing.” In Jack’s own words: “I hate it when women come up to me and say, ‘Oohh, your hair is so soft.’ They did it a lot when I was a kid, but even now it happens once-in-awhile.” When I asked him what women touched his hair, he said, “I don’t know. Old women in Publix. Girls at my school. Church ladies. They ask me if they can feel my hair, but start touching before I even have a chance to answer.” Jack hasn’t really formed a theory as to why this happens, but the bottom line is that it crosses a personal boundary. When Jack was little he had sweet curls and it was not unusual for ladies to walk up in airport restrooms and say, “Ohh . . .” and then touch away. To all the touchers out there – please don’t.

Okay, I admit it. Maybe this hair really is too hard to resist.

Okay, I admit it. Maybe this hair really is too hard to resist.

There are more stories I could tell, but the bottom line is that we all need to remember that it’s hair. It’s personal. If opinions are wanted they’ll be solicited. (I have go-to girlfriends who have no qualms setting me straight about my own hair. They’ve earned that right. They love me. I trust them.) If you say anything to my boys about their hair, please simply remind them that they are incredibly handsome (smile) but much more importantly, encourage them to be  concerned about having good hearts and intelligent minds.

In the song “i am not my hair” (have a listen to this beautifully-sung memoir at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KtYarYhKa9c ), singer India Arie expresses what my clumsy words have been trying to say:

I am not my hair
I am not this skin
I am not your expectations no-no
I am not my hair
I am not this skin
I am a soul that lives within.

Amen.
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The almost-current state of Veatch hair, circa Christmas 2012.

The most recent state of Veatch hair, circa December 2012.

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There are so many words out there about the hair issue, most written by adoptive mothers. Two for you to consider:

http://www.chocolatehairvanillacare.com/ – great hair advice for those of us who know nothing

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/frenchrevolution/2012/05/06/transracial-hair-adoption-and-what-ive-managed-so-far/ – love this mom’s perspective
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The video at the link below is hilarious, at least to those of us who’ve been through it, but hilarious regardless. When Devan and I viewed it we counted the ones we’ve heard. Yep, almost every single one. Seriously. Enjoy. (And though the title suggests otherwise, no curse words were used in the filming of this video. Smile.)

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*Eastleigh is a residential and commercial area in Nairobi, Kenya. Nathan’s hair salon was a corrugated tin and wooden kiosk.  I sipped warm, sweet tea from a metal cup while two lovely Kenyan women transformed Nathan’s look. What a lovely memory.

36 Comments

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36 Responses to It’s All About the Hair . . . or not

  1. Ilinke

    Sheila,
    What a fun post to read. I still am shaking my head at some of the things “well meaning” strangers do. I’d love to see the boys’ rendition of Call Me Maybe, but the link didn’t work!
    Keep writing, you have lots of followers!
    Ilinke :>

  2. Lisa

    great message and love, love, love the video. Lord help me if I say something like that and if I have I’m Sorry!!!

    • The hilarious thing, Lisa, is that I’m sure I’ve said things like this to people! That video had me rolling. And no worries – you’ve never called me Angelina! Smile.

  3. Margie

    Love this! Where have you been hiding the video?! You had Kate and I rolling! (Kate is on her third viewing.) Love my handsome talented nephews–those on youtube and those that are not. And I don’t think I ever ever touched Jack’s cutie baby curls–my loss! May those touchy ladies stay far far away!

    • Margie – I thought for sure I’d sent you the link. They’re some funny guys for sure. Tell Kate I want a video of her rolling. You may have never touched Jack’s curls but you did cuddle him in that sweet Aunt Margie way. He knows you love him! xxxooo

  4. Peggy Sammons

    As I read that I could almost hear an Andy Rooney tone.

  5. Sally

    I’ve come to the conclusion over the years that everyone must think Alex and Grace are deaf. And I’m expropriating the transracial video to Facebook.

  6. This reminds me of being pregnant. Same thing: a pregnant belly is somehow regarded as public property: touching, all kinds of personal questions, lots of attention. Weird! The hair rule in our house: Do want you want. It’s all changeable (unlike the tattoo and piercing rule, which is DON’T DO IT!). There are bigger things to fight about! Do you remember Sean’s extra long hair in 4th-5th (and 6th)?

    • Oh how I remember Sean’s flowing mane. (Tell him that I am glad it was a phase – he is even more incredibly handsome with a short cut.) The touching is interesting, isn’t it? We also have the tattoo and piercing rule listed under “Nothing permanent until you’re on your own and paying your own way.” So excited about skyping this weekend.

  7. Sonya Morris

    Shelia, what a fun post! I am intrigued that your husband and son Sam think hair is just hair. OH NO not for me who religiously processes my hair to get the straight “I am a fashion queen/model) look. My hair is a fashion statement, though only to me I think. Lol
    I enjoyed this post and the perspectives. Looking forward to your next one.
    Thanks for sharing your stories.

    • Sonya – You are a beautiful fashion queen, now and always. Believe me, I do not share Devan and Sam’s nonchalance about hair; note the absence of reflection on my own locks. I cut, color, condition, and flat iron on a regular basis. Until my boys are old enough not to care if the gray-haired lady with them is mistaken as their grandmother (their white grandmother at that) I will use product to cover gray and tame the wildness.

  8. Julie Perez

    Sheila, another priceless entry! Loved it! I’ll think of it every time I hear “Hair” on my 60s station now… The video was great, it never fails to amaze me how thoughtless people can be…and you already know how I feel about Sam and Nathan’s ( and Jack the videographer), “Call Me Maybe”…I have shared it with countless people since I first saw it, Love it! Love you, Jules

    • Jules – I honestly don’t think it’s insensitivity; if so I could counter with meanness and call it a draw. My thought is that people simply don’t stop and think about their words. If they did, my hope is that they would reevaluate. Thanks for your support. (And can I hear some Band on the Run? Smile.)

  9. Susan

    Love, love, LOVED the boys’ video! My hair is my worst attribute, so I really got a kick out of this post! It was cool to have long, stringy hair when I was growing up, but now that I’m a very seasoned adult it’s a constant battle! Seems like the more I abuse it

  10. Susan

    the better it does! Looks my unfinished reply was sent. Oh well, time for me to get my rear in gear and get to school – regardless of my hair! Nobody seems to care/notice but me!

    • Susan – I think your hair is cute! Yes, my boys are quite adventurous with their videos. It’s become a tradition for them to do covers and have been filming since they were little. We have quite the collection and they will someday make for fun viewing at rehearsal dinners!

  11. Miriam G Walker

    Loved your blog. I am Lori and Susan’s Mother. It was great to hear from you.

  12. Oh Miriam – of course I know you are Lori and Susan’s mother. I remember your gracious smile and kindness from those Samoset Baptist days. So very good to hear from you and thank you so much for commenting. How in the world are you?

  13. Amanda Boulier

    I can totally relate to the “my child’s hair is somehow everybody’s plaything” thing. It never fails whenever anyone sees Isabella the topic instantly switches to her hair. They want to touch it, put their fingers in her curls and tell her she looks like Shirley Temple. I am starting to realize why people with curly hair end up hating it and wanting it straight! She went through a phase where as soon as someone mentioned her hair she would press her hands on her head, pout and hide her face. She is getting more gracious about the attention now but it still seems to make her uncomfortable.
    Plus when my hair is long all of my wave is pulled straight. So when I am with Isa in public people will question her as to where her curls came from . . . as if I couldn’t possibly be her mother because my hair is straight. So she was 2 years old and she knew to answer people’s ridiculous genealogical follicle question with, “Daddy gave me my hair.” People are weird, God love ’em. I guess a portion of the curly hair harassment is color blind . . . a portion.

    • “People are weird, God love ’em.” Smile. You’re spot-on right. I always try to remember that I may be the weirdest of all; that admission gives me grace for others’ weirdness. More than anything I appreciate the conversations that weirdnesses allow! (I feel a blog topic coming on.)

      • Amanda Boulier

        Funny you should say that. I used to tell people that I am weird and wouldn’t want to be normal . . . that normal doesn’t exist. My grandmother heard me say that once and became very worried until I explained it to her. If everyone was “normal” then what would we have to talk about? :o)

  14. Jayne Romine

    Well, I never get tired of watching the boy’s ‘Call Me Maybe’ video.

    As usual, your blog causes me to pause and think. I never really thought that much about the hair. I guess it really is an important part of our self-image. I would add that there are many stages in life where hair plays a significant factor. One of my closest friends is presently going thru chemotherapy for breast cancer. She has always had long hair. In many ways, her conversation and concern has concentrated more on the loss of her hair than the loss of her breast. That has been a bit difficult for me to understand, but I’m not living her reality.

    I am probably guilty of the question asking about the boys’ mothers. Your boys are beautiful young men, obviously loved on and cared for by you, Devan, family and friends. I still reflect on the fact that in order for you as a family to know their joy, there had to be some form of loss. My heart goes out to the women, that for whatever their circumstances, brought these souls in to the world and entrusted someone else to raise them up to be good men of character. I imagine there was love involved with both the giving and receiving in Nathan and Jack’s path of adoption.

    • Jayne – we all joke about having bad hair days, but all jokes aside, it is amazing how those bad days can influence mood and self-worth. Sad, but true . . . I cannot recall you having asked any uncomfortable or insensitive questions about the boys. In fact, you and Jay have both shared very complimentary comments concerning the boys’ manners. This mama loves compliments – helps me through the challenges.

      We’re fortunate that we know a little (a very little) about the boys’ biological mothers. Nathan’s mother was 13 years old and was fortunate to spend the latter part of her pregnancy in a catholic home where she received some pre-natal care. (Jack is 13 now; I cannot imagine.) Jack’s mother was HIV+ and was already symptomatic when she delivered Jack at the national hospital. She could have had him anywhere and just left him, but she chose to go to a fairly public place where she felt he’d receive care. Soon after his birth she left and never returned. The boys know both stories and I tell them that I believe their mothers showed their love by ensuring they were both born in as-safe-as-possible places. Their courage blessed me.

      Thanks so much for reading and responding. 🙂

  15. I haven’t blogged myself in ages, but have also blogged about hair in the past. And now I still google “adoption” “hair” and “dreadlocks” occasionally, just to remind myself I am not alone. My son also hates “touchers”. And my least favorite question is “how does he wash his hair?” Sarcasm sometimes takes hold of me, and I will give a detailed description of him getting into the shower and applying shampoo!

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