Getting Schooled in Haircare

Shopping for ethnic hair care products is a lot like traveling to another country and navigating a menu in a different language. When we first met K, her hair was neatly done with two braids snug against her head traveling to two beautiful "puffs" (think afro pig-tails). The next time she had at least 20 barrettes clanging at the ends of five sections of braids and it looked beautiful. We called Jon's former foster mom (Michele) and her sister to teach us a thing or two during K's first overnight. The two women came over with bags of products and supplies explaining each one to us, showing us how to use it on their own hair while our 7 kids (yes...7) tore around the house like wild animals. They left most of the products with us as a gift. The first time I tried two simple pig-tail puffs in K's hair, I bawled as the hair frizzed and fro'd out and pony tails snapped my fingers. After the third try and two trips to Wal-Mart for products we thought would help, I finally got the rubber bands to stay with minimal flyaways. It looked nothing like her tight piggies she came with, but I threw a headband on her head to make them stay, and it looked fine enough to be out in public. A few visits ago we took the kids swimming at a hotel. We should have just left her braids in, but we thought we needed to wash the hair right away after swimming to prevent it from drying out, so we unsnapped 20some barrettes and popped 15 rubberbands to loosen the braids in hopes they'd be easy to take out after swimming. FAIL. When we got home at 8:30 PM (their bedtime), I tried taking out each wet braid---an hour later, the braids were out and K was falling asleep in the bathtub. I washed her hair haphazardly because she was so tired, and then sent her to bed with a giant, uncombed, wet fro. BAD IDEA. The next morning her hair was a tangled mess. Again, I spent an hour struggling with pig tails that lasted no longer than an hour before I had to redo them. She cried as I combed her hair, and I cried afterwards feeling like a total, incompetent nincompoop.

In the last 48 hours I've scoured the blog Chocolate Hair, Vanilla Care, watched YouTube videos, and read an entire book on how to care for and style African-American hair. I feel more prepared than last time, but still anxious about my own inabilities to make K's hair look great (and not like an uneducated White girl is doing it!). Hair is so important in her culture, and I just want to get it right so she can feel confident (she's already picking up on the differences in our skin colors--more on that later). Based on tips I've received, it's good to have a styling routine. So Saturdays will be our wash and style day...today is Saturday...gulp. As soon as I'm done writing, I'll start the long process of taking out K's cornrows to wash her hair (she's been scratching a lot) and start with a fresh style. Wish me luck.

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