Help Wanted (Hair)December 2, 2010
So, Mara’s been with us a month! I just sent in my first-ever foster care reimbursement forms today. She’s hopping around in the living room and brining me finger puppets while I write this. Although she’s congested and snorty, she’s doing well and she’s still a little lovey.
What I want to write about here, though, is something completely superficial. Mara came to us with badly damaged hair. Her hair is absoutely gorgeous, no curl definition but just a glorious halo, but there are a lot of problems with its health. For reference, I’ll send you to Happy Girl Hair and say that Mara identifies Little R, the twin on the left of the header image, as actually being Mara herself (and those big, wickedly cute eyes are truly very similar!) but her hair texture is more like that of Little B, the twin on the right, and very much like Lee’s.
As far as the damage, though Lee hates when I say this, picture Mr. T and you have a pretty good picture of what her hair looks like. Her hair is long enough along the top for braids more than three inches long (and for people who aren’t familiar with kinky natural hair like hers, much of this post may seem a bit alien including that there’s no one standard way to measure length) but the sides and “kitchen” (the nape of her neck) where she had the most hair loss are at most about an inch and a half long if you stretch the coils to their full length and much, much shorter in the parts that were totally empty. She no longer has bare patches and she’s almost always great about helping me moisturize with spray (a/k/a “spray! yay!” hereabouts) and oils and humectants.
Her previous foster mom says that her hair loss was a result of her tugging on her hair, but I don’t think that’s entirely true and I think the foster family’s lack of experience dealing with highly textured hair was part of the problem. They took her to a coworker who could do hair and who’d put it in very small and very tight braids, which I’m sure she did fiddle with and which probably did lead to breakage. I have reason to believe they also left styles in for a long, long, long time and then detangled without detangler, which can also cause breakage. Mara didn’t sleep with a bonnet and was directly against a rough cotton pillowcase that drys out and breaks hair. I know they did try to use Doo-Gro and other products on her hair to the point where whenever they washed her there’d be a waxy ring around the bathtub, so none of this is meant to say they were neglectful or didn’t have good intentions even if they weren’t doing anything like what I would do. Anyway, for the last month Mara has had satin around her hair whenever feasible and lots of scalp massage and oil and so on and her hair seems to be thriving, but it’s also damaged.
I’m trying to add photos of her latest hairstyle, which she’s had for about the last week. I didn’t do it on hair that was wet from a fresh wash but just undid a previous style and worked with that. Lee’s favorite style is bantu knots and they do indeed look adorable, but Mara’s a star at sliding her little finger in and undoing the knot even faster than I can make them. I prefer the look of twists to braids, but again they’re easy for her to fidget apart whether they’re large or small, have a snap at the end or none.
So this time I braided her hair and put beads and heart-shaped snaps on the ends. She loves being able to whip her hair back and forth and hear the clacking beads. She’s taken a few of the snaps out but is patient about having them put back and doesn’t seem to have actually ripped her hair by doing this, which is one reason I prefer snaps to rubber bands.
The drawback — and I’m sure this is partly because I’m not the world’s best braider — is that even with braids she can tease out little pieces of hair. She likes to have her finger in her hair while falling asleep and I’m sure over time she has done some damage that way. She certainly has gotten hair loose from the various styles I’ve put in. However, she has so many little broken bits of hair that they’ve come out of the parts and braids on their own because they’re just not long enough to be held. So after a week of braids, even well-cared for braids, we’re at an unacceptable level of fuzziness. There are tiny coils all over her long-hair areas that are as short as her short areas:
So here’s the dilemma. Shampooing is still extremely difficult for Mara and she’s not a fan of sitting still for hair time, though once she gets the inclination she can be quite well-behaved. If these different lengths are going to mean I need to wash and re-braid weekly, that’s going to be something of a difficulty. However, I asked today whether we could get permission to cut her hair.
Basically, I’d like to give my baby a Big Chop. As her hair gets a little longer, I’d like to make it all one length so it can grow out in a healthy and consistent way. But that would mean that for a while we’d have a three-year-old with hair too short to braid or twist. (I’d probably style it in coils, mostly, perhaps with something like the Nu Dred tool and wouldn’t just leave it loose, but I’d be able to moisturize in a much more hands-on way.) This would also be a three-year-old who has two moms and who likes to wear jeans, a t-shirt, and a hoodie. I don’t think she’d have a hard time believing she’s cute with short hair and we don’t mind if she prefers clothes from the boys’ department, but I’m just putting this out there because I might be setting her up to get some bigoted responses.
I guess what I’m saying is that I’d like some reassurance that being the white mom of a little girl with short hair wouldn’t have people assuming I don’t respect or know to care for her care to a greater extent than being the white mom of a little girl with some long hair and some very short hair that’s hard to keep styled. Lee refuses to care or weigh in much and says this is my thing, which is really unhelpful to me. She doesn’t mind when Mara’s hair looks messy and says it’s fine for a little girl, that little girls don’t need cute, tidy styles and that no one cares. She may not care, but I do. And she’s not opposed to the short style idea.
And it’s not all about me, I swear! At some point, we’re going to have to even out Mara’s hair just so we get rid of all the broken ends. It’s just a question of whether we do it when the short parts are two inches long and the long parts are, say, six stretched or when the short parts are six inches and the long parts are ten, meaning a few more years of this awkward multi-length thing. I’d really like to cut Mara’s hair and she was excited about the looks on the Nu Dred website. I’m pretty well set on that plan because I think this would be the best for her hair health. But I’d like to hear what others think, too.