Articles By Amy Ford

I remember when Madison, 7, was an infant and I was learning to comb her hair. Like most babies, her head was covered in soft, wavy curls that gave me the false hope it would stay this way forever. Of course, the curl grew tighter and developed a texture with which I was unfamiliar. Madison had so much hair that I had little choice but to learn how to do it. I used to have my partner, Kim, hold her while I parted and combed, creating a headful of little pony tails. We then moved to the high chair where I could confine her movement while still having access to her entire head. When she became a toddler, we learned to turn on a movie and I would sit on the floor with Maddie in my lap. Sometimes I had to leg wrestle her to make her sit still, but you do what you have to in the name of good hair.

Fast forward to 2010 and I am faced with another squirmy, tender-headed, defiant two-year-old who does not like to have her hair combed. I tried the high chair and that didn't work. I tried having someone hold her and that didn't work. I tried leg wrestling and that didn't work. I tried having her watch me comb the hair of her sisters and that didn’t work. How was I going to comb this child's hair?


Is popcorn a magic elixir for hair-combing peace?

It’s not like I could not comb her hair. That isn’t an option in my house. I have listened to so many other white mothers of black children tell me they will not force their daughters to have their hair combed. I completely understand that it seems like cruel and unusual punishment to white parents to make their children submit to the process of combing and parting and styling, but it is absolutely necessary. My children will have this hair for the rest of their lives and this is what it takes to maintain their beautiful curls. Like it or not, it has to be combed. Trust me when I say there is nothing more embarrassing than leaving the house with your daughter’s hair unkempt and you have to face the shame and ridicule of every person of color in your community. I don’t want to call any more attention our little family than necessary. So, back to my two year old. I need a new trick. What would it take to get her to sit still while I create a handful of puff balls?

POPCORN! The magic word is popcorn! Morgan will sit for as long as it takes to comb her hair so long as we feed her popcorn, which is much better than the dark chocolate M&M's we initially tried in a pinch. The peace has returned to the valley of my home on Sunday nights. There is no more screaming, whining, or struggling. And Morgan does just fine, too.

So for all you pink parents out there looking for the secret to styling your child's hair, look no further than your pantry and give ole Orville Redenbacher a try!

Visiting this chair regularly

I was 10 years old when my mother started taking me to the salon for a perm. You see, I have limp, lifeless hair that needs a lot of help, so every few months I would endure the chemicals, the smell, and the ugly phase of the white girl perm in hopes of making my baby-fine hair wavy. At the same time, I also remember watching Solid Gold with my parents and asking Mom how Gladys Knight’s hair was able to move back and forth with such ease as she sang. I had never seen a black person’s hair move with such freedom. Mother’s answer was a perm.

Wow! I was in awe of the process for many years as I watched my black classmates in Hattiesburg, Miss., perm their hair regularly. Eventually, I stopped perming my hair, and they did, too. I was blown away when my hair stylist used a giant round brush to shape my hair without chemicals or a vat of product. I jumped out of the chair and shouted, “Why have I been paying all this money to perm my hair for all these years when you could make it look like this with a brush and a hair dryer!” I was liberated! No more sinus-altering chemicals, no more waiting 2 days to wash my hair, no more ugly phase! I was free!

A similar phenomenon was taking place in the black salons at the same time. Increasing numbers of women of color were choosing to maintain natural hair styles, which meant no chemical treatments. I think the shift in hair care has a lot to do with self-acceptance and the perceived image of beauty. I mean, after all, why did black women apply chemicals to their hair in the first place? To make it appear more like that of white women. Perhaps as women embrace who they are on the inside, we crown our bodies with acceptance and love in the way we treat our hair.

As the mother of three African-American daughters, I am the first to admit it would be tremendously easier to perm their hair, making it straighter and more manageable. On average, I spend five hours a week on hair (not my own). Hair is a big deal at my house and, yet, I have chosen not to chemically alter my children’s hair for my own convenience and comfort. Why?

  1. There are locks on my kitchen cabinets that contain poisonous chemicals. I make a conscious effort for my children to avoid placing chemicals on or in their bodies and that extends to their hair. It didn’t make sense to the mother in me to put my babies in a position where they might be burned or scarred. After watching Chris Rock’s documentary called "Good Hair," I feel even better about that decision.
  2. Perms are expensive and require regular upkeep. Remember the part in Steele Magnolias when Dolly Parton says she doesn’t trust people who do their own hair? Well, I don’t either. I believe in the power of the salon and if we’re doing something potentially dangerous, we’re doing it with professionals and that costs more money than I care to spend at this stage in the game.
  3. I love their curls! I spent so many years trying to make my hair something it isn’t and now my babies have what my hair doesn’t—curl. I love their hair because it is so much of who they are. I want them to always be true to who they are. I tell them they are perfect just the way God made them. I certainly don’t want them to be any more “white” than they already are having white parents.

It is a deeply personal decision whether or not to perm your child’s hair and I am in no way saying my way is right. I just wanted to share with you why I feel the way I do and I would love you to do the same for me. Tell me what you think! To perm or not to perm—that is the question.

Welcome to my blog! I hope you will stop by often and regularly to follow the amusing drama of one white lady combing the hair of three little girls on a regular basis. I am the lucky mother of a trio of brown beauties, each of whom has her own special character and curl. Learning to comb hair is the parenting skill I am most proud of because it wasn’t easy to learn. As a matter of fact, I would love to find a way to incorporate it into my resume!

I relied on the kindness of both strangers and friends alike to learn the artful skill of caring for my children’s hair. It didn’t come easily and took a tremendous amount of practice, but it was worth every minute. I love it when black mothers ask me, “Who did her hair?” and I can honestly answer, “I did!” These are shining moments for any transracial family. I have a creative freedom in styling my children’s hair that I find thrilling. I often tell my girls, “Look at Mommy’s hair. This is all I can ever do with it, but I can do a million different things with your hair.”

My hair story began in 2003 when I became a mother for the first time. I was sitting behind my desk in the office where I worked as a travel agent when I received the call our baby was on her way. My partner and I had recently completed the lengthy process of becoming foster parents in hopes of adopting a child. When the call came and I was told, almost as an afterthought, that the baby was black, my immediate thought was “What will I do with her hair?” Fortunately, she was only 6 months old and had very little hair. Hair is huge when you talk about black hair! I had a lot to learn.

I have parented a dozen children over the years as a foster parent and am now the forever mother to Madison, McKenzie, and Morgan. What I have learned about raising children of a different race could fill the state of Texas. It would have been great to have another mom or a girlfriend share some secrets with me about what works and what doesn’t, but I didn’t have that luxury. Instead, I made my fair share of mistakes, talked to almost anyone who could teach me something, and read every book I could find on black hair and culture. This is the reason I wrote the book "Brown Babies Pink Parents"— to help other families like mine. (The book will be published in August; look for more information in this blog soon.)

So here I am with you, sharing the stories of my family and answering any questions I can. I am not a professional hair stylist and I don’t claim to be any kind of expert. I am simply a mother in the trenches of parenthood. On a weekly basis, I create an assembly line of hair in my living room where I comb, oil, and style hair that has been washed and conditioned by my partner, Kim. Sometimes “Salon de Mommy” is like trying to choreograph cats. At other times, you would swear my living room was a scene out of "Beauty Shop." There is usually popcorn involved, possibly a Disney movie, and countless pony tails, puff balls and twists.

I am thrilled to have this opportunity to share some thoughts with you. I hope I can make you laugh, give you some new ideas, pass on some lessons, and maybe even open an eye or two. More importantly, I hope to remind every reader they are not alone in whatever hair scenario you call your own.

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