You turned six this week. By now, I think you know the drill- you wake up, we celebrate, mommy cries a little. There are certain birthdays that will draw more tears, and this was one.
You are two hands now.
There are changes that come with being two hands old. When you were five and someone asked you how old you were, you just held up your little hand, not letting go of mine. But now you have to let go to show that extra finger. And now I wonder, will your hand come back into mine or will you dart off to play with your friends, barely looking back and calling me “Mom” instead of Mommy. (That’s against the rules, by the way. Knock it off). I’ve been through this twice now, I know the drill- six comes with a change that can take your breath away with the beauty and pain. You’ve only been six for about a week and you’ve already called me Mom twice (seriously. Stop that nonsense). You got in trouble for saying your first bad word. (I don’t care what Macklemore says. We don’t say freaking). You reasoned with and won your first argument against your brother. And you did it, I see it coming like a train I can’t stop…you want to cut your hair.
Hair is a big deal to many moms, we document that first haircut like the strands will somehow propel us towards world peace. We fuss and spit style it and bemoan the messiness. The day our child requests a cool haircut is a day we don’t forget. But for me, it means something different. When I saw you for the first time over that ocean and held you as you slept, I ran my hand over your curls and I. was. gone. I used to twirl those tiny curls around my finger and breathe in deep the smell of your toddler head, and you were mine. You came home, and your hair got bigger. I loved it. A few times, your daddy would take you for a trim and I would say “just don’t touch the curls”. I actually got mad, like legit wife mad, when he allowed them to cut it too short one time.
But something ugly happened. A woman approached me in the store one time and looked at you with disdain, then turned to me and said “that baby don’t look black. He look african.”
It wasn’t meant as kind advice. She was angry and trying to be hurtful, and it was. I cried and left the store. Later, I was studying you at the park, and I realized that in some ways, she was right- you didn’t match the other brown boys. You have to understand that as a white mother of a brown boy, I am constantly trying to find a balance between fitting in and standing out, managing my fears with acknowledging real issues. I am more and more aware of my own white privilege. And the bottom line of all of that is that I want to be a good mother to you, and to point you to the One who defines your identity. But here we were, faced with acceptance and integration and emotion, all tied up in your curls. So…we cut your hair.
I immediately hated it. I told your daddy that you looked too old with your short hair. I’d hold you and my hand would drift to your head, searching for those tiny rings and find nothing. You didn’t mind, you liked that you looked more like your bald daddy. I felt a secret sense of pride when that first curl grew out, like someone had returned my baby to me. Over time, you’ve had several hairstyles, but the curls are always my favorite.
But you are two hands old now, and the boys in your class don’t have long hair. It’s not the only difference you’ve noticed. You asked me the other day “my birthfamily was brown too, right?”, like you were trying hard to find a match in our sea of white faces. My heart broke. “Yes baby, they were brown, and just as beautiful as you are.” was my answer. So when I see you staring at the other brown boys, and you reach up to touch your hair, I know it’s coming. Not just the haircut, but it’s one more step, one more finger away from me. It is one more layer to the question of how do I, a white woman, raise this brown boy to understand who he is?
Right about now I imagine readers thinking “geez, it’s not that big of a deal. Love is love. We should all just be colorblind!” I used to think that too. It’s so easy to think that when you are the one with the privilege.
So I acknowledge that this might be the last year that I get to choose for you. Next year you might ask to wear bow ties every day(instead of asking to wear one on the first day so you’d look “handsome”). Next year you might ask for certain shoes or refuse to kiss me in public. If you do, I’ll think about that curly-haired baby and thank Him for that time, and open my hands to release you. I know that you are not really mine to hold. I know you are His.
Turning two hands is a big deal, baby. I pray that your hand slips from mine right into His.