Jane, at the seasoned age of 6, has had her fair share of bad hair days. Infancy brought with it the “half-fro,” a few tufts of curls sprouting about her head. By age 2, she had a fuller head of curly ques.
By age 4, her curly ques had become tight, down close to her scalp, course in texture and, to be honest, a real flipping challenge.
We tried everything under the sun. Name a product, and we bought it, tried it and pitched it as we nearly went broke online.
In the aisle at Acme where all of the “ethnic” hair care products are housed, we were accosted with unsolicited judgment disguised as well-intentioned advice, horrified that there is a product some folks actually use on their wee ones’ scalps named Sulfur 8. That just cannot be healthy. It is sulfur, in the name of all that is good and holy.
We googled “black toddler hair care,” “afro hair care,” “African American hair care,” “Afro-sheen.” We even looked to Google to help us figure out cornrows, the colorful beads and whether silky pillowcases are safe for toddler sleep habits. And most importantly, I wanted to know “Why in God’s name doesn’t my BLACK husband know Jack about how to do black hair?”
By age 5, Jane had blown through 3 hair gals we paid to come into our home, 3 or 4 salons, a beauty college that laughed us right out the door, and a co-worker of Vance’s who attempted to tame the ‘do.
No wonder Jane was beginning to think blondes might have more fun. At this point Jane’s hair situation was no fun at all.
By age 6, Jane and I were afro-deep inside the very last straw of negative hair experiences, when we finally found Miss Watta. Nestled between an appliance repair shop and a Laundromat is a place called Fatima’s on Wilbeth Road. The signs in the windows advertised braids and all kinds of hair do’s.
Little did I know inside that shop was not just our best bet, but one of the best people I have come to meet – Miss Watta.
Miss Watta kindly took Jane into her beauty chair, artfully braided her cornrows and was benevolent with her pricing. We left with Miss Watta’s phone number; it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
Now Watta welcomes us into her home every couple of Saurdays to do Jane’s hair. We have come to know and love Watta and her family, and most importantly, they adore Jane. Watta’s kids totally spoil Jane and Jane is enveloped into an environment that exemplifies the African culture as kind, patient, committed and loving.
Those lessons are worth the “no pain, no gain” attitude required of a good set of beaded braids. (Hint: if you ever decide to go Bo Derek in “10” with your own hair, swallow a healthy dose of infant Tylenol first.)
Jane and I showed up for a regular Miss Watta appointment a few weeks ago. Six hours later, Jane looked gorgeous. Her cornrows were military precise and her beads matched her St. Vincent Elementary uniform colors. Win-win.
Until we get in the car. Then a more quiet than usual Jane asks me if her hair is pretty.
“Good crimany Jane, your hair is fantastic,” I say.
“Are you certain? Some of the older girls at Miss Watta’s have longer hair and they can wear headbands,” said Jane. “Do you think they are prettier than me? How did they figure out how to put the headband on? Hmmm. . .they can’t be smarter than me. . .hmmmm.”
Calmly I said, “Jane, listen to me – your mom, your Sarah, whoever you want to call me. Listen to me with an open heart. Your hair looks amazing. But your hair does not mean one thing. You mean everything. You are the kind, smart and important person here. Your kick-butt braids are just a bonus.”
I drove directly to the beauty supply shop I had passed on Arlington Street earlier. We walked in hand in hand. I guided her to the little ladies section. I think Jane noticed a glance or two from other patrons because she squeezed my fingers just a smidge.
We ended up in the blinged out headband/barrette section. If a few bucks worth of hair junk would help this incredible child feel as incredible as she is, well, then I will buy out this joint.
I knelt down, grabbed her fingers. Stealing a line from Jane’s favorite movie, “The Help,” I looked squarely into those wise old brown eyes of hers and said, “Jane. You are kind. You are smart. And you are important.”
Neither of us said anything else.
We gathered up a few too many bucks worth of bows, headbands and barrettes and marched, hand in little hand, to the register.
We got stopped by an older woman. She was black. Her hair texture resembled Jane’s. She had a tear in her eye. She smiled, patted Jane on the head, and smiled at me sweetly.
On our way out, Jane and I both heard a gruff, yet feminine voice, belt out “Hey, Mama! I saw how you love her in there, with the bows. You’re white. But you’re a real Mama to that baby girl. Thank you.”
I thank Jane for being the stunner that she is. From an infant with a half-fro to a mature toddler-ish blonde Carly Simon look alike, to a continually growing little lady whose fantastic hair pales in comparison to her shining heart.
Whether she’s blonde, natural, relaxed, micro-braided or sporting dreads or cornrows, not a bit of it matters. She is painfully kind, wickedly smart and humbling important. No more, no less.
Grateful Prayerful & Hopeful