We had been prepared for many of foster care’s challenges: abused children, uncooperative birth parents, and poor hygiene.
But, no one ever mentioned HAIR.
A few years ago, I vaguely remember a friend of mine took in an African-American child for a short time. She was stressing about how to care for his hair and skin. I thought she exaggerated. I mean, how hard could it be?
Let’s just say God has a sense of humor and decided to answer that question for me in the practical realm. The learning curve can be steep. Those who’ve been there and understand give me that knowing, sympathetic look whenever I mention something about getting the girls’ hair done.
We all know hair is NOT created equal.
Thick, thin, straight, wispy, wavy, curly, or kinky. When our girls arrived I became acquainted with the kinky version, but both their heads of hair were very distinct. Let’s just say I’m on a dual learning curve.
When our older foster daughter arrived, I was told I had to do something about her hair right away. The multitude of frayed braids covering her head had been in too long and not properly cared for. Nor washed for at least two months.
First, I consulted an African-American foster mom. She gave me reassurance that I would be OK. She let me know that this was a cross-cultural issue that she’d also experienced when the first blonde came into her home. She cracked me up with the story of how she bought the wrong products, didn’t wash her hair often enough and had no clue how to style that very different kind of hair.
My second consult was with a dear caucasian friend, who adopted an African American daughter. She volunteered her whole Saturday morning to help me. Yes, it took a whole morning to undo that doo. She came armed with two baskets of products she used at various stages of hair care. During our hours of unbraiding, she talked me through various options. The myriad possibilities catapulted me back to being in calculus class, and my brain promptly shut down.
I knew I was out of my league, so I took her to the salon for a trim and style. The hairdresser just shook her head at me and tisk-tisked. How was I supposed to know all of the tangles had to come out before washing and conditioning? The conditioner was supposed to be my friend. No More Tangles was a fraud!
So began our HAIR adventures. I’ve learned a lot in 10 months. And I’ve learned my limitations. I’ve also learned that HAIR is costly in time and money. HAIR goes on our calendar weeks in advance. There’s a lot of advanced strategizing involved in conquering HAIR.
We’ve been through a few hair stylists. I confess. I’ve played the “foster care card” and asked for special discounts. It’s sort of worked, but never goes beyond two appointments. I could never balance my schedule with their schedules.
Then we met our Hair Angel. An African-American friend of our foster daughter shared her stylist with us. And now our Hair Angel comes every 4-6 weeks and stays all morning or afternoon to transform our girls’ HAIR.
We could not live without her. She’s become like family. She’s affordable, kind, and oh so sweet to our girls. And the funny thing I realized is that most of her clients are African American families. I’m not the only one who needs the Hair Angel.
But, before she comes, we must prepare. Old doos must be undooed.
Then the hair must be detangled, then washed, then conditioned, then detangled again, then loosely braided before going to bed. Then lather, rinse, repeat with child number two! This unbraiding can take two to three hours per child.
Luckily, I have a partner in crime. My daughter, Olivia, is adept at braiding and unbraiding.
From now on, if you ask if I’m available on the weekend and I respond, “It’s a HAIR weekend,” you’ll know what I mean. And I am expecting a very sympathetic look.
In between visits from the Hair Angel, I’ve had to develop some basic skills. According to her, I’m training the girls’ hair well. I really want to believe her. My specialty with the nine-year-old is puffs. I can make really cute puffs.
I can make two puffs. I can make three puffs. I’ve even been known to make four puffs. Such talent!
So why am I writing this HAIR post? First of all, I think most people who have never had to care for African-American hair are clueless like me. We think, “How hard can it be?” Now I know!
And secondly, it’s for those who find themselves in my same shoes with unfamiliar hair to care for. It’s best to have a sense of humor and keep asking for help until you figure it out.
Hopefully, God will also bless you with your own Hair Angel.