Molly got a haircut today. Molly's hair is a subject unto itself. It's a source of admiration, but also, strangely, controversy. Because her hair isn't typical for Ethiopian kids. It's not what most people would think of as "African" or "African American" hair. Ironically, her hair most resembles Emma's at the same age: big fat ringlets, fine and soft and wispy as cotton candy. I can't oil it because it turns into a grease slick. She can't really wear the braids she wants like her friends, or like Keyana in I Love My Hair, which is one of her favorite books. But on the other hand, most days I can throw barrettes in it (which she loves) or put it in a ponytail (which she hates), which makes it easy for me, and for her. I'm in awe of my friends who create beautiful, intricate braids and hairstyles for their little girls. Molly's hair doesn't lend itself to that, and I think that's probably ok because I don't think I have the styling chops to pull that off. Certainly can't do anything with my own hair.
But no matter what, this hair thing is fraught with peril, isn't it? Because hair is bound up in our culture--certainly in African and African American culture, and in European American culture too--"good hair," "difficult hair," "bad hair days." In my family, we've got Jew hair, thick and crazy and wavy, grows like crazy, doesn't respond to blowdryers or product, takes heavy-duty artillery to straighten, gets increasingly wiry and difficult as we grow older. Molly's hair is none of that. It's magical. It's soft as spun silk. Her ringlets are like a fairy princess's. But somehow, I don't think that's going to let her off the hook.
At the salon today, the stylist and I discussed Molly's hair. I was talking about how hard it is when it gets tangled up (that spun sugar turns into mats--fast) because we have to be so careful with the product we put in. Anything heavy or oily turns her head into an oil slick. Many of the products for African American hair don't work at all on her. Well, the stylist said, she doesn't really have African American hair. Her hair is "more like ours." It's "nicer," she said. And so it goes. I flinched, inwardly, and said nothing. Should I have stopped her there? Of course. Should I have told the stylist--with her flimsy stick-straight blonde hair--that of course it wasn't "nicer" than more typical AA hair, just different. And of course her hair is just as African as "typical" AA hair. It's not "white" hair, either--whatever the hell that means anyway. My hair is nothing like the salonista's, either. What did she even mean, "more like ours"? But I said none of that. In fact, I didn't say much at all. Just agreed that yeah, it wasn't typical. And then we left.
So is this what Molly will be saddled with? People telling her how "lucky" she is because her hair is atypical for an African American child? The backhanded compliment that will make her feel crappy--at the same time an outsider and denigrating the other kids she knows? What kind of message is that sending? And what about the message that she doesn't really have "black" hair, either? Will Molly have to defend her hair for not being "black" enough? Will she feel like she can't be proud of her hair, as gorgeous as it is, because it's different? Cuz as far as I know, if Molly's African American, her hair is, too. How bad am I for not calling the stylist out on her thoughtlessness, her casual racism? How crappy a mom does that make me?
Every day, I tell Molly how beautiful she is. I know it's retrograde of me. I know I'm not supposed to do this, as the mother of a girl especially. So I also tell her how smart and kind she is. But the thing is, she is beautiful. Really, really beautiful. And so is her hair. And, as retrograde as it is, I feel like it's important that she never forget that. No matter what messages she's getting.
Here's where I get to get sappy and maudlin. Three years ago today we met this amazing little person for the first time. I am in constant awe of her, of her bright spirit, her joyous self, her funny, quick mind, her beauty, her kindness, of the amazing little person she is. And I stand in wonder of the process and series of events that brought us to her. When you have a biological child, there's this weird combination of random events that goes to create this child, and of course, the one you birth is the one you get. But adoption feels so much more, and less, random in its way. Because this little person was on the planet before we ever knew about her. And she has another family that loves her halfway around the world. And yet, it doesn't seem possible that we could be without her in our lives. And the idea that she could have left her home in Ethiopia and gone to live with someone else is inconceivable. If you believe in meant to be, she was meant to be. She is always and forever part of her first family. And she is, and was, always and forever meant to be ours.
Three years ago, this little person entered our lives. I can't imagine our family without her. We are so very very lucky.
July 7, 2007, the first day we met Molly Fanaye
With one of her nannies on the day of the official ceremony when she came home with us.
Back with us at the guest house in Ethiopia.
And here is the girl she is today.
So today is about Princess Molly Fanaye. Her silly, goofy, effervescent, beautiful, sweet, brilliant, luminescent self. About how she gives the best hugs and kisses in the whole world. About the way she completed our family in the most perfect way imaginable. And it's about her first family, and her birth mother who, even though I don't pray, I still pray for every day. I hope she knows the gift she gave us.