Rowing Along

Hubby enrolled Baby in swim lessons recently, an activity that will build her confidence and competence in the water. Who knew that this development would also build my confidence and competence about braiding her hair in protective styles? Here are a few shots of the several cute and functional styles I did for her.

Baby’s swim class is in the morning, and because Hubby has more flexibility with his work schedule, he takes her. They needed to stand up to her playtime, shave time getting ready in the morning and be simple enough for Hubby, to deal with before dressing her and bringing her to nursery school.

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As you know, Baby is biracial. Here are a few notes on keeping up her protective style:

• Before canerowing, I moisturized each section with shea butter, and dabbed it with a tiny amount of EcoStyler gel with olive oil for hold.

• each canerow is about as thick as my index finger, and no thinner than my pinky.

• braids can dry the scalp. Combined with swimming in a chlorine pool and winter’s tendency to leave hair  dry and brittle, and scalps become maddeningly itchy and flaky. I frequently moisturize, especially with an anti-itch scalp oil. I also keep Baby’s fingernails trimmed and filed smooth, so she can’t cause abrasions on her scalp if she scratches too hard.

• She won’t let me put a bonnet on her head at night, so she only sleeps on satin pillowcases.

• After four days max, I take down the braids and co-wash with a herbal formula.

For more pictures, check out the post, “Our First Business Trip”.

 

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Let It Snow!

I officially love snowstorms. Especially ones that halt anything but essential activity within hundreds of miles of its core. Saturday’s wet and out-of-season storm rescued me from attending a neighbor’s Halloween costume party. It’s an annual event, and although it didn’t fill me with any overly introspective apprehensions, the thought of going was a nuisance.

I’ve known my neighbors for seven years, generally think highly of them, and our kids are good friends. I don’t think highly of Halloween, however. It is a pagan holiday, and is as much a part of my Christian identity as Diwali or Hanukkah. Would anyone catch me pressuring Hindus or Jews to sing hymns, build a nativity scene or wax gluttonous and materialistic in the run-up to December 25? Likewise, I’ve always been puzzled when grown people, including Hubby, figure that Halloween festivities are a foregone conclusion, and are curious about why I don’t want to dress my child up in occult, or any other costume for that matter. I’m fascinated with several different turns in the Halloween discussion: their admonitions that my child will force this issue on me, the rather self-defeating argument that celebrating Halloween is not big deal (so why waste time and money on this thing?), and the shocking observation—from educated, middle-aged people—that ‘everyone else does it’. It’s at that point when I start to wonder where I am and how I came to be trapped in a BAD after-school special. Remember those?

And yet, in the interest of not raising a socially awkward child, I compromised. I hunted down a dirndl for her to wear to the festivities at school and in the neighborhood. Ocktoberfest in comparison is a nice, legitimate cultural festival that I can adapt nicely to the season. Even if Hubby’s paternal line hasn’t lived in Germany for 120 years. Even if we don’t speak a lick of German. Dirndls are the cutest cultural outfits ever, so dressing her up in one of them worked out to be a very fine compromise!

After I watched that snow come down, and listened to Hubby report that non-essential travel would be foolish, I texted my regrets to my friend. The storm turned out to be a doozy. It saddled stately oak trees with wet snow while they were in late autumn bloom. The combined weight of the snow and leaves snapped off heavy boughs. Centuries-old trees were uprooted and toppled, like a child’s discarded toys. We lost partial power and all our heat.

I mourn the demise of majestic oaks as much as the next city girl, but the bigger issue here is that snow has also spared me from unwanted social contact more than once. Almost three years ago, on a beatific Saturday in January, another weekend snowstorm prevented a female friend of Hubby’s and her family from visiting us at our new house. For several reasons, that woman did not impress me. When we first became acquainted through Hubby, I found her to be aloof. Snooty people don’t bother me, so long as they keep to their part of the sandbox, and to be fair, people still accuse me of being standoffish. But as time passed, I watched her behave ungraciously on a few occasions. The deal breaker came when Hubby and I were halfway through our engagement, and I found out that she had delivered to him a stream of withering insults about me, beyond the garden-variety mean girl scratches. Modern women furnish their social circles with these oddities called “frenemies.” That useless knick knack will never find its way into my life. It sounds like a huge waste of time and intelligence for women to put on false airs and graces for people they cannot ultimately trust. After witnessing that onslaught of nastiness and other tacky behavior, I rebuffed her elegant parlor pretenses and decided to compartmentalize her. I prayed I wouldn’t have to show her around my three-story Queen Anne. We have not, blessedly, had much contact since.

Snowstorms can be a pain for all of the work and trouble that ensues—the shoveling, salting, power cuts, and depending on atmospheric temperatures, the black ice. But whenever diplomatic relations with female heads of household are on ice, I’ll take the blocked roads, too. I say let it snow.

The Puerto-Rican, Chinese Baby

Perhaps I live in a bubble, readers. The type of sanitized, hermetically sealed environment where no one bats an eye at my mixed-race family. As a matter of fact, women usually coo at my curly-haired, rosy-cheeked daughter, with her impish smile and cherubic build, still a little rounded out by baby chub. Even grown men who could otherwise be disposed to be brusque and surly are known to throw their voices up an octave or two, hand her a lollipop and address her as ‘cutie.’

I only remember two occasions when people’s assumptions and off-color remarks about Baby’s looks had offended me. The most pungent offense, as it was, came from teenage girls. They were classmates of Little Sister’s, who were probably being their usual high-spirited selves when they looked at the latest picture of Baby that Little Sister had brought to school and declared: “It’s the Puerto-Rican, Chinese baby.”   I wanted to box their ears for that, because it seemed to impertinent, at least through Little Sister’s retelling.  When I thought about it, though, she did look vaguely Asian with her fatty, droopy eyelids and round face. Her mop of curly hair and light-mocha complexion lend themselves to a Puerto Rican look. OK, so the cheeky teenage girls got a pass.

But readers, I was straight up offended by what I read in The New York Times, from its October 12, 2011 edition. It’s about how a mixed-race family in New Jersey deals with its multi-racial makeup.  The nerve of that twit in the story’s opening! I won’t drop too many spoilers, but if a ninny questions me aggressively about how such a light-skinned child like mine could descend from a woman like me, with such a dark complexion, she will get a dose of something! Doesn’t she know anything about mixed kids?

One has to exercise patience with strangers when they fail to use discretion. Like the woman congregant I met at a church cookout. This was, still is, Aunt Mary’s church and I went there to see her and my cousins (as a bonus, I packed a plate of some wicked jerk chicken for Hubby). I showed up with Baby on my hip and at the time her eyelids were still a bit droopy. She still looked a touch Asian. When the woman saw us, she looked at the light-skinned, black-haired, round-faced child in my arms and blurted out: “She Chinese?!”

“Uh, no, ” I forced a cheerful grin, then told her that Baby’ father was white, not Chinese. I could tell that she didn’t mean any harm, wasn’t trying to be rude or aggressive, like that woman in the Times article. She quickly moved on to the real business at hand, which was cooing and playing with Baby just like all the other women who come under my daughter’s spell. In any case, she was almost as light as Baby. You want to tell me that she doesn’t have a white ancestor somewhere in her family tree? Wouldn’t it be a touch crazy for her to come at me about where such a light-skinned child came from? Thought so.

It sounds like the mixed couple in that story encounter a lot of foolishness from strangers, and I feel for them. People in the Northeast, especially, can come across as aggressive, callous and disdainful of others’ feelings in their drive to find something out or make a point. That’s the way over-achievers and big-city types can be at times, and you’ll run into plenty of people who make you think they should be under close supervision, with drugs, by a clinical psychologist. Add racial dynamics to the mix, and run-ins can be emotionally explosive.

Still, the people in that article are a family, not a side-show exhibit. They should be able to enjoy the beaches, parks and run errands without any hassles from undisciplined people and their unguarded remarks. Hopefully, people will learn to give them the respect and courtesy they deserve, as they learn the basics of how  genes and melanin are passed from a black mom to a biracial child.

Our First Business Trip

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I have always seen myself as a working mother. Always. Not once in all my childhood did I ever imagine becoming one of those women lucky enough to leave the hassles and demands of a job behind, so I could focus on the hassles and demands of raising kids and running a household.

For me, this weekend took on a whole new working-mother dynamic, after I took a train up to Boston to attend a financial services conference. I’ll return early in the week, and the trip isn’t arduous. It amounts to a day and a half, all told. But that’s two mornings and two evenings when Hubby will be a single parent, effectively. He can manage meal, bath and play times well, but he’ll have his hands full trying to maintain the pixie-cute styling that I give Baby when I dress her and style her hair. I decided to minimize the guesswork by laying out her clothes for the two mornings I’ll be gone and labeling each outfit ‘Monday’ or ‘Tuesday’. They will do whatever floats their boat, I’m sure, but at least I did my part to make it easier on them.

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And then there is Baby’s hair. She started swim lessons a couple of weeks ago, and readers, I realized just how completely reckless and plain clueless other people can be with Black children’s hair. As if the incident with the office supplies wasn’t enough, we ran into another mishap after her first swim lesson. I trusted Hubby to change Baby after her swim lesson, spray her hair, brush it back and put in a simple headband or ponytail for the rest of the day. It didn’t work out. Somehow, her hair ended in THE BIGGEST afro I’ve ever seen on a child her size. Oh, don’t get it wrong: She loved it and rocked it. But when it came to taming that puff, I wished Hubby (and at least one of her teachers, all female) had taken more care.

This time I decided to canerow (you full-fledged Americans say ‘cornrow’) her hair as her protective style for several days. I did not have the time to put all of Baby’s hair in canerows. She did not have the patience to sit still for that process, either. So I just braided the top and sides, and styled the back with a chiny bump-out (or Bantu knot-out). I just pray Hubby follows my instructions on doing a conditioning rinse for Baby after her lesson, and I hope he can twist and secure Baby’s hair into chiny bumps the way I showed him.

So for two days I will be listening to sessions, conducting interviews and writing and emailing stories. It will be like riding a bicycle, because I’ve done all of that before. This time, though, I’ll be pedaling along on a tandem model with a kiddie sidecar. 

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