Articles By Amy Ford

curly haired daughter

The versatility of curls!

I prayed my whole life for curly hair. You see, I was born with my mother’s long, straight hair with not a single wave in sight. For years, I spent hundreds of dollars on perms every few months, trying in vain to make my hair do what it was never intended to do. I finally gave up the quest sometime after college and accepted the truth of my baby-fine, straight hair.

And then God answered my unanswered prayers for curly hair by blessing me with 3 beautiful daughters, all of whom have gorgeous curly hair. Ah, beautiful curls, how I love thee! Let me count the ways! I can do anything with the curls that crown the heads of my daughters. For years, I have reveled in the curls, using products like Miss Jessie’s Baby Buttercreme and Miss Jessie’s Curly Pudding to accentuate the curls. These two products smell good enough to eat and make the curls spring to life when I put their hair in puff balls or leave natural.

But sometimes, a change is nice. And while I've always yearned for curls, my daughters have always wanted a change, too—straight hair, for a change.

Recently, we visited the salon for quick trims and I watched our Beauty Master a.k.a. Renee Harris of HCS Salon in Austin use a hair dryer, instead of a flat iron, to straighten the curls. I was absolutely amazed! Their hair was soft and straight without a hint of a wave. How was this possible? Renee explained the trick was to protect the hair from the heat and to use a flat brush. Well, I took careful notes, watching her like a hawk, and then replicated the process at home.

Keep in mind Renee has been doing this for 30+ years. I, on the other hand, am just beginning, so it took several sessions to perfect the process, but I have to say I look like a pro, wielding that flat brush in one hand and a smoking hot hair dryer in the other. Renee suggested I pick up a jar of a new product she was loving called Oil Sheen in a Jar made by Lisa Akbari Hair Nutrition System to protect the curls from the heat of the dryer. The product is a beautiful honey color and thick like Vaseline with a wonderful smell. It literary coats the hair, giving it a fabulous shine and luster. I love this stuff! And I love what I can do with it.

I have such versatility with my children’s hair. Their hair can be curly or straight, long or short, up or down. My girls are every woman! And through them, I am finally blessed with the hair I always wanted.

Sitting by a Lake

Have you heard the news? Santa Claus is coming to town, or so my children tell me daily. Our tree is trimmed, the gifts are wrapped, and the grandparents have booked their flights. In addition to the holiday parties and end-of-year festivities, my children are having a fabulous time selecting outfits to wear to each event. We have a beautiful collection of long sleeve shirts featuring Christmas trees, Santa Claus and reindeer. And, finally, we have the Christmas church dresses which demand Holiday Hair.

Holiday Hair is fancy hair. Holiday Hair refers to the styles I put off the rest of the year because they are too time-consuming or too complicated to do on a Tuesday. This is the season when the piper must be paid. For Madison, I will spend hours on Christmas Eve with the flat iron to create what she calls Pocahontas Hair. She loves the feel of long, straight hair hanging down her back. Her hair is so beautiful and there is so much of it! Without a doubt, she will ask me to pull the top portion back into a beautiful clip and my oldest miracle will go through the night feeling like a princess.

McKenzie recently discovered the power of the flat iron, too. While Madison has known this power for many years, I tried it out on McKenzie for the first time last month and now she is hooked. She feels grown up and beautiful with straight hair. Ironically, I have paid thousands of dollars over the years to make my hair curl, and God blesses me with three miracles covered in curls! I had planned to create dozens of two-strand twists in her hair for the holidays, but the request for the flat iron has already been made. In my opinion, two-strand twists make the greatest hairstyle no matter the length or grade of curl. You can’t go wrong with twists, but twists are for Tuesdays or other regular days.

Christmas is a magical time and the magic is not reserved for the Christmas tree alone. The magic spills over into traditions like dressing up for special celebrations and feeling beautiful in the midst of twinkling lights. With special dresses of red, green, black, and silver, holiday hair is a necessity to complete the transformation from typical Tuesday to holiday magic. Whatever you choose to do with your crown and glory for the holidays, may the wonderment of the season be alive in your heart and on your head. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from my family to yours.

Did you know I spent 16 years in the travel business?

I sure did. I spent 16 years as a professional travel agent, traveling the world and making people’s dreams come true. It was a wonderful career and I enjoyed most every minute until the writing on the wall said it was time to do something else. The birth of my third daughter, Morgan, helped me understand that change is good and it was now time to make a change.

For the last couple of years, I have done a little of this and little of that. I have worked in a call center for a hotel chain, served as the director of sales in a hotel, and helped out wherever I can to make a few dollars. Last November, I put on my big girl panties and got serious about finishing my book and organizing our local support group, Parenting Across Color. In one year, I have incorporated the organization, completed the process of becoming a non-profit with tax exempt status from the IRS, completed and now launched the book. Wow. I feel tired just remembering it all. And I wonder, what is next for me?

Ursula Dudley-Oglesby

Ursula Dudley-Oglesby

I am passionate about the cause of African-American children in the foster system, since all 3 of mine came from the system. I feel called to help these kids in any way I can, whether through workshops on being a trans-racial family or identifying needs that are not being met. For instance, what is the one thing a white family will never have on hand when a black child is placed in their home temporarily or permanently? Oil. White people simply do not have a need for oil, or grease, for their heads and will not have an extra bottle under the bathroom sink for the child who arrived in the middle of the night.

For a long time, I have wanted to create a care kit for African-American youth in the foster system. This kit would include the necessary items for proper hair care and would accompany any child being placed in the foster system. I shared this idea with a friend in the Department of Family and Protective Services and then bing, bang, boom—I am sitting across the table from Ursula Dudley-Oglesby, President of Dudley’s Hair Care and Cosmetics, talking about the hair care kits. I found an ally in Ursula, who recognized the immediate hair needs of black youth who have come from homes where they were abused and/or neglected and who may be living in a new home where their hair is not understood.

I have every finger and toe crossed that Dudley’s and the state of Texas will quickly work out a deal to meet the needs of these kiddos, any of one whom could easily have been mine. I am a firm believer that when we look good, we feel good and when we feel good, we do good. Let’s see what happens when we make some children feel good.

I’ve learned a lot over the years about combing black hair. It all started when I picked Madison up from day care when she was about 3 months old and, much to my surprise, she had a head full of pony tails. They were the tiniest pony tails I had ever seen! I was amazed her teacher was able to do it. That was the week I started spending time with the teacher after the other kids went home to learn how to manage what she correctly predicted was going to be an incredible mane of hair on Madison’s head. Since then I have learned how to create a dozen or more styles in addition to the daily rituals of maintenance. Whenever I can, I pass along these lessons to other parents through workshops, webinars and quick tips in the grocery store. However, I am not a perfect parent and there are days when I do not practice what I preach.

Yesterday was one of those days. My mother is visiting from Savannah and, at the last minute, we decided to visit a new church on Sunday morning. The church is enormous, a landmark in our suburb of Austin. I have been drawn to the stained-glass window for years. It did briefly cross my mind as we dressed for church that I had not done McKenzie’s hair yet. Madison’s hair looked great, but McKenzie’s was definitely in need of attention. I decided our spiritual well-being was more important than the hair and off we went to worship.

Stained Glass Window

The church was gorgeous and the window I have loved for years from the outside was even more breathtaking on the inside. We sat towards the back of the church in case one of the children made it necessary for a quick exit. From this vantage point, I had a great view of the congregation. I scanned the crowd for families like mine and found none. In a sea of white, I saw only one black face and she was headed towards us. A very attractive, older black woman sat directly behind my family and struck up a lighthearted, friendly conversation with my mother.

The service was nice. I enjoyed the music and especially the personality of the minister. Maybe there would be more black people in one of the other services. All in all, it was a very positive experience. We decided to slip out a few minutes early to avoid the rush on the parking lot. I was walking away with the children when the older lady sitting behind us caught my mother’s arm to ask if we needed help with the children’s hair. Busted.

This sweet, concerned woman sitting behind us had focused only on McKenzie’s hair, totally disregarding the fierce style on Madison’s head. I was horrified! And embarrassed! I didn’t follow my own advice, and I left the house without proper hair. My mother smiled sweetly and listened to all she had to say before patting her hand and saying good-bye with quick message of thanks. It just goes to show we never stop learning.

I’ve shared with you a time or two some of the many tricks I use to have my daughters sit still long enough to comb their hair. Popcorn for Pony Tails has to be the most popular method with my youngest daughter, Morgan. My two older daughters insist on a movie or any show on the Disney Channel while I comb their hair. Regardless of the method, there is a certain amount of negotiation that takes place in my home around hair. It is a give and take.

I don’t think I am alone on this one. I used to think I was the only mother in the world who bribes her children. My mother assures me this method of parenting has been around since the dawn of time so I don’t feel too guilty any more. I seem to always start the hair process with statements like this:

“Morgan, if you let Mommy comb your hair, you can watch Barney.”
“Morgan, if you sit back down in the chair, you can have some popcorn.”
“Morgan, if you let Mommy finish this side of your head, you can have a sucker.”


Don't feel too bad about bribing your kids to sit still.

Of course, Morgan is only 2, and I realize younger children require more “coaxing” than older children. So I pray for the day when Morgan willingly allows me to comb her hair the way her older sisters do now. We don’t call her the Morganator for nothing!

I was recently reminded of the ways I negotiated hair time with Madison when she was younger. The deal I made with her was she could do my hair once I finished her hair. It worked like a charm every time! On a recent lazy Saturday morning, Maddie asked if she could do my hair since I hadn’t readied myself for the day yet. I said, "Sure!"

So I sat on the living room floor for close to an hour while 3 of the cutest miniature stylists performed acts of beauty on my head. They never seem to grow frustrated with the silky nature of my hair or how pony tail holders always fall out of my hair. They never seem to mind how straight my hair is. My children had so much fun making me “more beautiful” and I found myself incredibly relaxed as they loved my hair. I was so relaxed that I almost fell asleep sitting straight up! I promptly snapped to attention when McKenzie explained, “Look! It's changing color!” I pay a lot of money to maintain this color! At least I didn’t hear, “Hand me the scissors!” Thank you for small mercies!

At last count, I was rocking 12 pony tails, 15 clips, and at least a dozen squirts of every liquid product I own. It was a great day and I felt incredibly loved. The art of negotiation over hair made way for a morning of bonding with my favorite girls. I wouldn’t trade the experience for the world! And just so you know, no one was hurt in the snapping of this photo of “Queen Crazy Hair.”

I just discovered an incredible website that I have to share with you! I mean I literally just found it a few moments ago! Why haven’t I heard about this website before? Are you ready? It is called Happy Girl Hair and you have to check it out! Maintained by the white mother of two little girls adopted from Ethiopia, Happy Girl Hair is a parent’s dream site with product recommendations, video demonstrations of hair styles, Q&A, and so much more. Truly, I am inspired. I want to meet this lady. I want to meet her for lunch TODAY. Unfortunately, or more like fortunately for her, I have no idea where she is in this world and she more than likely already has plans for lunch today.

Happy Girls Hair Homepage

Check the Happy Girl Hair Website out!

Learning to properly care for my children's hair has been an adventure. I learned the basics with my oldest daughter, Madison, and mastered a number of styles for her hair. Much to my surprise, very little of this information applied to daughter #2, McKenzie. The learning process started all over again. Madison has long, lose curls that are soft. McKenzie has tight, coarse curls that need constant moisture. When daughter #3 came along, I immediately recognized her curls were more like McKenzie’s than Madison’s and would require similar attention. Did I mention Morgan is ridiculously strong? She has proven to be the most challenging to keep seated while I comb her hair. My living room turns into a 3-ring circus when I style Morgan’s hair. I feel certain some of you can relate.

My girls are growing up before my eyes and this includes their hair. I am doing cartwheels this morning reading Happy Girl Hair because I need inspiration! I think I might be in a hair rut with my girls. I need new ideas and to watch demonstrations on new styles. As you may remember, McKenzie graduated from puff balls to twists when she started kindergarten in August. Her hair has come such a long way since the day she came home to us at 17 months old. While it still isn’t long enough to do some of the styles I use in Madison’s hair, I am itching for new ideas. Happy Girl Hair has given me so much to think about and my wheels are turning!

I regularly tell my girls how much fun I have styling their hair. You see, my hair will never do much more than what you see in the picture to the right. I either have volume or I don’t. That is it. With my children’s hair I have a creative freedom that is empowering to all of us. I love their curls! I love the challenge of mastering a new style! And I love to be inspired. Check out Happy Girl Hair. I am willing to bet you will be inspired too.

Brown Babies Pink Parents

My new book, "Brown Babies Pink Parents", is officially six weeks old and I am thoroughly enjoying the feedback pouring into my inbox, especially about the chapter on hair. Every adoptive mother has a story to tell about learning to comb their daughter’s hair. Some are tremendously funny and others aren’t so much. The most frequently asked question I receive as the white mother of African American daughters has to be about the hair and I am so proud to say, “I did it!” It wasn’t easy to learn how to care for my children’s hair and my mission is now to pass along those hair lessons to other mothers. If nothing else, I want to say, “Don’t be afraid! Give it a try and then practice. You can do it!”
For this purpose, I have created the Ten Commandments of Black Hair Care for White Parents, as found in Chapter 8 of "Brown Babies Pink Parents."

  1. Thou shalt not wash your child’s hair every day.
  2. Thou shalt not treat your child’s hair as your do your own.
  3. Thou shalt apply oil to your child’s scalp daily.
  4. Thou shalt comb hair on a regular basis despite tears, screams, and tantrums.
  5. Thou shalt commit yourself to learning the art of hair maintenance.
  6. Thou shalt seek professional help from a licensed stylist when in doubt.
  7. Thou shalt practice, practice, practice.
  8. Thou shalt avoid sandboxes.
  9. Though shalt not take every piece of advice offered to you regarding hair and skin.
  10. Though shalt not let younger children style their own hair.

I can’t imagine how you could go wrong if you follow these simple guidelines. The rest is gravy! Specific styles can be learned. The important thing is to open yourself to the experience of learning a new skill. I have a creative freedom with my children’s hair that I will never know with my own. When I was a little girl, there were 3 hair styles available to me —one pony tail, two pony tails, or French braids, which I now know originated in Africa, not France. Not so for my girls! My children’s hair can be shaped and sculpted into a multitude of styles, making me feel like a hair artist. Yes, learning a new skill can be intimidating, but only as long as you allow yourself to be intimidated. Isn’t your baby love worth it?

transracial adoption

Amy's beautiful daughters are ready for school.

Happy Back to School Season! My kids started school last week and I am loving life again. It became obvious to me over the summer how important alone time is for mothers. By the last week of summer, the anthem playing in my head was Carol Burnett’s version of Little Girls from the movie Annie:

“Little girls
Little girls
Everywhere I turn I can see them
Little girls
Little girls”

Two significant things happened in my home during that last week of summer, besides having Carol Burnett stuck in my head. My sweet McKenzie, age 5, started kindergarten! All of my children attended a private, Christian preschool at a historically black church and they wore uniforms to school every day from the age of 2. McKenzie was tickled pink to be able to wear real clothes to “big girl school” and it was during the time of assembling outfits for the first week of school that she broke the news to me. It went something like this:

“Yes, McKenzie”
“I am a big girl now and I am going to kindergarten in a few days.”
“Yes, I know.”
“Well, big girls don’t wear puff balls. It’s time to get some twists.”
“Well, okay then.”

So off we went to the bathtub to wash, condition and twist her hair in the same way I have done for with my older daughter. Unfortunately, (or fortunately), McKenzie’s hair is different from Madison’s hair and I found it difficult to keep the two strand twists from puffing up and eventually untwisting. The situation clearly called for a professional.

So off we went to the Jae Undreas Salon to see Mr. Jesse, who twisted this child’s hair over the course of two hours into the beautiful creation you see here in this back-to-school picture. Jesse worked with me to explain the best way to keep the twists from puffing up was to moisturize from the root to the tip of each small section. Well, two weeks later and the twists are still gorgeous and McKenzie is still strutting her stuff, feeling beautiful and oh so grown up minus the puff balls. Sending her off to kindergarten wasn’t nearly as difficult after seeing her confidence level sky rocket with her crown of beauty.

The other giant event in my life that took place the same week as kindergarten was the birth of my book, "Brown Babies Pink Parents." After two years of writing and growing and living, my book debuted on Sunday, August 22, to 100 members of the adoption community of Austin in a beautiful ballroom of an Austin hotel. The day was magical for me. My parents flew in from Savannah, my mother’s two sisters came from Maryland and California, friends from Dallas and Atlanta came to town, and I was able to share my stories and lessons of transracial parenting with the world. I will never forget the day or the feeling of being exactly where God intended me to be. I am thankful beyond measure to be the mother of these three little girls, despite the Carol Burnett song in my head, and to have the opportunity to share my experiences with the world.

I had the unique experience this week of being a fly on the wall during a Hair-A-Thon that was organized by Parenting Across Color, and I want to share with you further evidence of the power of hair. Before we plunge into the actual event, let me give you some background.

First of all, white mothers adopting black children do not receive a visit from the Hair Fairy with gifts of combs, clips, oil, and advice. Foster mothers do not make the visitation list either. We are left to fend for ourselves and suffer the judgment of others until we master the hair of our children. I am so fortunate to have had some wonderful teachers along the way who were patient, loving, and respectful as I learned the art of combing hair. I recognize not everyone is so lucky.

So Parenting Across Color sponsored a Hair-A-Thon in conjunction with the Department of Family and Protective Services. I persuaded a salon owner to donate the use of her space on a day when the shop is normally closed. After dozens and dozens of phone calls, eight stylists were assembled to donate their time and talent to the children of color in foster care. We had the Casey Family Foundation donate several hundred dollars to create goody bags for each child that included ponytail holders, brushes, combs, clips, and toys! even donated samples of Mixed Chicks and wide-toothed combs. We were set!

This past Sunday, 42 children of color in foster care, ranging in age from 1 to 17, passed through the HCS Salon in Austin, TX. Every parent received a quick lesson on basic grooming. Every child left with a goody bag. Every child left with a fabulous head of hair. Every child left feeling beautiful. Everyone left with hope and I know this for sure because of the smiles on their faces.

I held the hand of a 17-year-old young lady with a foul mouth and a horrible attitude. She was absolutely gorgeous, but everything about her screamed, “I hate the world!” She chose a Rhianna-like hair style and covered her face with her hands when the first chunk of hair came off. I asked her if she wanted to hold my hand for support. She looked at me and sarcastically said, “Seriously?” I said, “Seriously.” We held hands throughout the cut and I was stunned at the transformation. She cried. Another young lady shared with me her plans to attend court the following day with a new dress and a new hair style. She hoped the judge would see how well she was taking care of herself and let her go home. This time I cried.

The experience of the Hair-A-Thon was emotional, powerful, exciting, and moving. Everyone involved from the volunteers to the stylists to the parents were blown away by the process. From little girls with puff balls and braids to big girls with dramatic cuts and styles, these children were given hope and healing at the hands of strangers. Never underestimate the power of the hair.

Dear Sandra Bullock,

Sandra Bullock

Congratulations and best wishes going forward, Sandra!

Congratulations on your new addition! Louis is just adorable and I am so happy for you! I remember the day the news broke and I practically did a cartwheel across my living room upon hearing the news you adopted a child domestically. I said out loud to an empty house “Wouldn’t that be great if he was black!” And then a few seconds later, the People magazine cover flashed across the screen to which I shouted, “YES!”

You don’t know me, but we could know each other given how much we have in common. We both live in Austin and we are both mothers to beautiful brown babies. I have been a foster parent in Austin for eight years and have transracially adopted three African American daughters. What I have learned over the years parenting a child of a different race could fill the state of Texas and I would like to share some hard-learned lessons with you.

  1. Not all advice is good advice. I am sure you already receive unsolicited advice from every direction. I once had a grandmotherly type woman in Wal-Mart tell me I should put Crisco in my daughter’s hair to care for the scalp. I may be white, but I’m not stupid. Seek out trusted allies to show you the cultural ropes and decipher the pearls of wisdom from the rabbit droppings.
  2. Accept early on that love is not enough to raise a child of a different race. It takes a lot of work. Read books, seek out community resources, utilize the internet, open your mind and your home to new ideas, new people, and new customs. Get comfortable outside of your comfort zone in order to bridge the divide between your home and your son’s cultural origins.
  3. Don’t feel guilty for not being a strong, black woman to show your son how to be black in America. Your guilt will not serve him well. Accept that you don’t have the necessary life skills to teach him the cultural lessons he must learn in order to have a positive racial identity and then commit yourself to doing whatever is necessary to connect Louis with the right role models.
  4. Your skin and hair is not the same as Louis. Don’t bathe him every day, and find a barber soon. And for Lord’s sake, do NOT cut his hair before his first birthday. While it may be an old wive’s tale about cutting a boy’s hair before he turns one, I do not advocate stirring the pot without prompting. Interview barbers to find someone who is willing to work with children and who makes Louis feel comfortable. The barber shop is a cultural rite of passage for boys. Embrace the experience.
  5. Celebrate the likenesses and acknowledge the differences. Fortunately, Louis won’t recognize color for a few more years, so take this time to prepare yourself for the challenges ahead. There are some great Yahoo groups and Facebook pages dedicated to transracial families like ours.

More than anything, love Louis. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for choosing the path less traveled and giving a public face to families like mine. And, of course, if you’re ever in town and want to swap more stories, call me. I am always available for you, Sandy!

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