My Education in Hair: Understanding the Power of the Braid

Power of the BraidOne of my best recent memories is of my daughter looking at her hair in the mirror, shaking her head, and saying “I love it, I love it” over and over.

It was memorable not because it had taken hours to do her hair, but because for the first time since I’ve known her, she was excited and happy about her hair.

My daughter is four, and she’s black. I’m white. She was adopted and has been with me about a year. So, my hair education has been fast and furious. It was a great day when figured out how to put beads on her braids so her hair clicked and clacked when she shook her head.

Adopting a daughter with hair so different from mine has opened a whole world for me. I have spent most of my adult life getting haircuts that require the least possible amount of daily maintenance. I’m definitely not used to having hair be such a big part of my culture. For my black daughter, hair matters. She is beautiful, and it’s important for me to help her feel as confident and proud as possible. As her mom, hair is one of my jobs.

However I have to confess, for a long time I did as little as possible to keep her hair looking good. I didn’t know what I was doing, and she didn’t want me touching her hair. Those seemed like two good reasons to outsource the hair responsibilities. Plus, I found a great lady to do her braids and there was plenty of other stuff to worry about. But that wasn’t enough.

My hair wake-up call came when a close friend visited and gave me frank feedback about my daughter’s hair. I’m not sure the words “hot mess” were actually used, but I got the point. It was time to get to work and figure this out. I joined Facebook groups on hair care, watched videos, read blogs and bought lots of products. I quickly learned that healthy and well-styled hair required daily effort and that it was my job to make it work.

At first it was pretty miserable. I took forever to do anything and my daughter wasn’t used to siting for that long. But, she’s a trooper and thanks to relaxing of the TV rules, she made it through the first few styles. They were simple and not great, but we were both getting used to the process.

The hair breakthrough that lead to the memorable “I love it” day was finding a tiny pack of beads and a beader at Bed, Bath, and Beyond. I rushed Practice Makes Perfecthome, fired up the You Tube videos, and practiced on her Cabbage Patch Doll. By the time my daughter came home, I was ready to give the beads a try. She loved that first batch of beads! And wouldn’t stop shaking her head around to hear the clicks. Eventually, we worked up to changing beads to match outfits. She even had Royals beads to celebrate the big wins.

Our most recent breakthrough came after a trip to the beauty supply store. We bought some braiding hair, and I was set on giving her a new look that I had learned in another You Tube video. It was a disaster. I really had no idea what to do. I ended up giving her one simple braid that went half-way down her back. Turns out that was all she needed. At the time, her favorite movie was Tangled and she couldn’t stop swinging her braid back and forth. Her brother added to her joy by telling her to “let down her hair” over and over. With the braid she loved, doing the daily maintenance on her hair was easy. She was willing to do whatever she needed to have that braid. She even wore her satin sleep cap!

After about a week of a reasonable braid, we decided to get a little crazy. Over Thanksgiving, she had a very long braid, with beads. She loved it! That braid was flying all over. She even wore it for Christmas card pictures, along with the biggest smile.

Now we’re back to our regular braids and beads (and how wonderful it is to say “regular”). I still have a ton to learn. I’m a slow braider and making straight parts is hard for me. But the more we practice, the better we both get. She is willing to sit longer and more calmly to get her hair done. That means I can practice my cornrows and parts, which are slowly coming along. And while all of this is happening, we are using good products and taking good care of her hair, which means it’s growing and staying healthy.

I’m grateful for all of the people who share their hair tips and expertise on the Internet. What would I have done before that?! I wish that I had gotten my wake-up call sooner, so that my daughter didn’t have to be the kid at school with the messy hair (I’ll probably hold on to that mom guilt for a long time).

We are headed in the right direction now and I’m pretty sure there are more “I love it” moments in our future.

Michelle is the lucky mom to a young son and daughter, both adopted from Haiti. A KC-native, Michelle left for college in Iowa and then headed to Africa to be a Peace Corps Volunteer. She ended up in Washington DC, traveling to places like Botwsana and Nigeria for a company that improves the lives of people in developing countries. After earning her master's degree in PR and Corporate Communications from Georgetown (Hoya Saxa!), she moved home to KC to raise her kids near family. Still working for the same company, just from her Overland Park basement now, the best part of her day is picking up her kids from pre-school and hearing them holler "mom."