We were unable to have children. We decided to adopt and prayed for a child. The powers that be saw fit to bless us with five African American children, all biological half-siblings, that currently range in age from 9 to 20 years old. We got the first two when they were six and eight years old, the next one as a two year old, and the last two as infants. We never even thought of the challenges we would face as middle class white Americans with children of African American heritage. The last thirteen years have been a journey of confusion, frustration, bad hairstyles, and a lot of love!
We brought our two oldest children, both girls, home the day after Christmas in 1997. I was 30 years old and totally smitten with our new daughters, aged 6 and 8. We had visited them a few times before they came to live with us permanently, and the fact they were black and we were white didn’t matter to us one iota. We were walking one air! Their foster mother (also black), had painstakingly braided their hair and added little plastic beads that clicked when they swung their heads around. First thing the girls did when we got them home was tell me that their heads hurt from the tight braids, and could I please let them take the braids out? Of course I said yes, and they were so happy. Over the next few days they kept their hair in loose ponytails, or just let it float freely around their heads in puffy clouds. I thought they were beautiful and wanted them to be happy, so hair was not an issue. I provided them with hairbrushes and combs, and they assured me they were using them and their hair looked OK to me. All was well and we were happy.
The trouble started when it was time to enroll them in school and I wanted them to look nice for their first day. I went to the store and bought lots of cute hairbows and barrettes and was so excited about having a “girly day” and fixing their hair for them. Problem was, the girls had not been combing their hair, and the layer underneath was matted so badly it had to be cut off. I was dismayed and horrified. Those beautiful puffy clouds of black curls that I was so fond of had to be cut off and my poor little girls had to start at a new school with shorn locks! It was then that I realized that all the love in the world would not make up for my ignorance when it came to raising black children!
As if my ignorance of black hair care was not bad enough, the girl’s version of the English language really had my head spinning. One day the oldest girl said ; “Momma, can I axe you something?” I told her that “AXING” me would be very painful and I would prefer it if she did not axe me. She started crying and ran into her bedroom. I felt horrible and did my best to console her and explained how important clear and concise speaking was in society. We had similar issues with them asking for “scrimps” (shrimp), and saying “I finna have…” which we finally figured out to mean “I am going to have..”
Over the years, as we adopted the girl’s biological siblings, we have learned a lot and managed to work it all out. Our now 10 year old son is cultivating an afro that would give “Undercover Brother” a run for his money. I have learned to cook turnip greens the way their former foster mother did years ago, and I keep my youngest daughter’s hair (she is 9) in tight braids with little plastic beads that click when she swings her head!