A Little Help From Naptural85

Admittedly, I can be “all thumbs” when it comes to styling hair. That’s one downside to having a girl: You have to deal with the ups and downs of caring for Black and bi-racial hair—for two! Luckily, I can tap into the expertise of beauticians, friends, relatives—and the Internet if the ones I just mentioned are all busy—to bolster my hair-care know how. That brings me to this YouTube channel, which I stumbled across a couple of weeks ago.

Naptural85’s styles are really creative, ranging from sleek and elegant to sweet and adorable. I’ve already used the Bantu knot-out on Baby’s hair, with some terrific results. Big, soft curls that last the whole day, and if I take care of them properly, throughout the week. I have to chuckle when I use the term “Bantu knot,” because when I was growing up, we called them Chiney bumps. It’s just a Jamaican thing. I go with the multi-ethnic term on the blog, but in my house, we still call them Chiney bumps. And if Baby is upstairs kicking up a tantrum, after she calms down and I make my way downstairs, Hubby swivels around in his chair and asks me: “Chiney bumping?”

Here is a picture.

Baby's Bantu Knot Out, Day 2

It’s hard to get good shots of Baby’s hair without her scooting away after a toy or looking straight into the camera. (Hubby still strongly disapproves of putting her face on this page. *Sigh* Even though I’m proud of my little beauty and want to show her off, we have to maintain our daughter’s privacy.)

I’ll post another update on how I actually style Baby’s locks. Hint: Variations on themes and lots of “free & easy” days.


Product Review: Like—Don’t Love—Shea Moisture

Is there an unscented version?

I like this cream for from Shea Moisture, the Baby Head-to-Toe Ointment. I found it while strolling the aisles at Target for Pull-Ups and other Baby supplies for you-know-who.  😉  The cream is very rich, and when you do work it into little elbows, knees, heels and wintry eczema trouble spots, it does keep dry, ashy and scaly skin at bay. Moisture is very important for all skin types in the winter, not just on biracial and African-American kids.

I don’t love it, though, because I think the scent is too strong. Although Baby is all of 37 inches tall, it took more than a small amount to get it into her trouble spots, by the time I was finished applying it, she scent was almost overwhelming. I almost washed some off of her. And believe me, I didn’t slather it on her, either. Just a golden dollar piece sized amount, at the most. Also, even if I wanted to use more, I would be hard pressed. The cream itself is very thick, which is what you would expect from shea butter, and I just managed to wring a modest amount out of the tube as Baby skipped here and tottered there, waiting for me.

I wrote to the company, complimenting them on the product, and asking about an unscented version, but I got no reply. That was at least three weeks ago. Well, I went on their Web site, searching for an unscented alternative, and came up empty.  I did notice, after exploring their Web site, that Shea Moisture loads up almost all of its products with very richly scented exotic ingredients, like myrrh and frankincense. I didn’t do a thorough analysis, but I bet it’s safe to say that each product has no less than three very aromatic, pricey herbal ingredients.

Well, I need to keep Baby’s routine simple, for all of our sakes. She is a busy-body, two-year-old child who can’t sit still (I love it!) I have a demanding full-time job and long commute, and Hubby … he doesn’t care very much about this stuff. If I need to work late and leave Baby’s hair-and-skin care routine to him for the night, it needs to be simple, or it won’t get done. For now, I dilute the Shea Moisture Baby Head-to-Toe Ointment with an unscented baby cream from Aveeno. That combination works well, along with skipping a day or two of the Shea Moisture.

There you have it. I like it. I might try other Shea Moisture products, especially if commit to a strategy for going natural again, or at least texturizing.

A Bad, Bad Start to a Hair Day

When I leave Baby at the local day care center, I do not expect them to style her hair. After what I saw the other day, I am going to insist that they never treat my daughter’s hair like that again. Just take a look at these photos, and you’ll see what I mean.


Which way is straight?


How do I undo this?!

The carnage.

I got home late from work the day that this was done, after Baby had already been settled into bed. When I leaned into her crib and ran my hand over her puffs, I asked Hubby who did her hair and why, considering that I sent her to school in a presentable, pretty curly afro. There was no need to do her hair. Hubby is hair clueless, so he just shrugged and figured it saved him the trouble of  having to brush and untangle that night. Say what?!?! The next morning I saw this horror show in the full morning sun. I was hopping mad! My child’s hair was sectioned off in these CRAZY parts and bound up in … rubber bands. And they sent her outside like that!

Who does that?!?  When caring for Black and bi-racial children’s hair, the three key words are moisture, moisture, moisture.  If you’re going to put in ponytail holders, use scrunchies from Goody’s or little mini ones that are soaked in coconut oil or olive oil first. Common, dry rubber bands from Staples or who knows where DO NOT belong in a black baby’s hair.

It took me a few long minutes of trying to get these office supplies out of my daughter’s hair. Finally, I had to cut them out, because the rubber bands and her hair were so entangled. She was getting upset, impatient and I had to really be firm with her to get her to sit still and let me finish the job.

After I signed Baby in at day care the next day (Hubby and I had a couple of of other priorities to discuss with the teacher, so this waited a day), I asked the teacher about it. She explained that Baby and her best pal, a little boy, were roughhousing and she was afraid that the hair pulling would get out of control and that Baby would get hurt. OK, so we identified the good intentions that paved this road to hell. (I’m exaggerating, of course. But look at this mess!!) I explained that the rubber bands were a problem, because they were very dry, made her strands brittle, and caused some breakage when I removed and finally had to cut them out. She immediately apologized and said she would try to avoid that. So then I felt bad for wanting to read the woman her rights. Melanie is a young woman, about 23, sweet as pie and always is so warm and nurturing to Baby. How could I be mean when she apologized over and over?

When I was young, my mother, aunts, friends of my mother and other guardian women types would always tell me not to let other people touch my hair. My mother wasn’t super rigid about that, and neither am I. If the teacher had “good hands” and could fashion pretty cornrows or other things, I might not mind. But this? And from a Latina, who should know something about curly styles?  Oh no. As a compromise, I said I would leave scrunchies in Baby’s cubby hole or her bag so that if the ever get possessed with the same idea (I didn’t use those words), at least the equipment will be gentle on her hair. Maybe I’ll leave a multi-purpose comb in there too, and a hint: could you at least part it straight? Sigh.

As for Hubby, I obviously have some more training to do to get him through the basics of brushing and untangling at night!

Update: A Dangerous Truth Concealed

If you’re a New Yorker, or just like talking current affairs in Black communities, you know that Live Always pulled down a massive billboard in New York City’s SoHo section. It offended hordes of pro-choice, progressive people who thought it was wrong to put Black women on blast like that.

Although I don’t think Black women should be publicly hammered, I think this whole controversy says more about our inability to have a much-needed talk about Black women’s reproductive health. We have far too many abortions, as I stated before. The reasons could stem from economics or social isolation. Whatever the reasons are, we need to show women how to effectively deal with them, instead of telling women that it’s OK to destroy the pregnancy.

Abortions could have lasting effects, like scar tissue on the uterine wall that hinders future fertilized eggs from attaching. A cervix that starts to dilate prematurely during a later pregnancy.
Isn’t it better for a woman to delay a pregnancy (abstinence or birth control is up to the woman), or considet adoption than undergo a procedure with so many awful consequences? I think so.

Most of all, New Yorkers really surprised me with their shrill reactionary response to this. Apparently, they’re not ready to talk about it, either. One of these broadcast stories interviewed a guy, of all people, about this. Considering that loads of women abort because their relationship to a boyfriend or husband is shaky, I thought his pro-choice stance was ultimately self-serving.

I support women’s rights in all forms, but when we are talking about such extreme measures for manageable issues, it makes me pause.

A Dangerous Truth

Confronting a squeamish truthLike most Black women everywhere across the country, this story had me engrossed in the morning newspaper. An advocacy group called Life Always hung a three-story billboard on the side of a building in SoHo, New York City. It screams: “The most dangerous place for an African-American is in the womb.”  Unfortunately for us, this billboard does the job and tells the truth. We can squabble about what the real leading causes of mortality are among African-Americans. But facts—incontrovertible facts—push an uncomfortable truth right into our faces. Black women in this country have some of the highest abortion rates compared with women from other racial and ethnic groups. Take a look at some of these numbers from the Guttmacher Institute.

Eighteen percent of U.S. women obtaining abortions are teenagers; those aged 15-17 obtain 6% of all abortions, teens aged 18-19 obtain 11%, and teens under age 15 obtain 0.4%.

Women in their twenties account for more than half of all abortions; women aged 20–24 obtain 33% of all abortions, and women aged 25-29 obtain 24%.

Thirty percent of abortions occur to non-Hispanic black women, 36% to non-Hispanic white women, 25% to Hispanic women and 9% to women of other races.

Thirty-seven percent of women obtaining abortions identify as Protestant and 28% as Catholic.

Women who have never married and are not cohabiting account for 45% of all abortions.

About 61% of abortions are obtained by women who have one or more children.

Forty-two percent of women obtaining abortions have incomes below 100% of the federal poverty level ($10,830 for a single woman with no children).

Twenty-seven percent of women obtaining abortions have incomes between 100-199% of the federal poverty level.*

The reasons women give for having an abortion underscore their understanding of the responsibilities of parenthood and family life. Three-fourths of women cite concern for or responsibility to other individuals; three-fourths say they cannot afford a child; three-fourths say that having a baby would interfere with work, school or the ability to care for dependents; and half say they do not want to be a single parent or are having problems with their husband or partner.

It says we are often unprepared for motherhood, or for an additional child, for one reason or another. If we took the time to get to the root cause of high abortion rates among Black women, then all of the peripheral comments that inevitably froth up at a time like this—about a woman’s choice, and how Christian groups should not force their opinions on others—will fall away. As they should. The real issue here is not whether a Christian group is crossing the line of decency and respect by publicly pointing out statistics. It should be: Why are so many Black women aborting their children? Where are the Black fathers and support systems to help her carry that responsibility? Are the support systems being strained beyond their capacity? Shouldn’t more Black women wait until they are educated and self-sufficient before getting pregnant?

I respect all sorts of family units. It is not my style to condemn anyone for not getting the ring, wedding, house and babies in that order with one man only until they die. Inevitably, well-meaning men and women on the street, bloggers, or whoever will say that no group should try to override a woman’s right to choose. My counter argument is this: Blacks are annihilating themselves with these rates of abortion.  If women want to be really empowered, wouldn’t it be better to try to make better choices about their lives leading up to the positive pregnancy test? Choose responsible, stand-up men as partners. Choose to avoid pregnancy for as long as it takes to get a degree, a comfortable apartment and money saved. After that, the way a woman chooses to structure her family unit is between her, the man and her Creator.

One last thing: African-Americans are not the first to have their abortion secrets aired publicly like that. India and China have had longstanding practices of discarding baby girls through infanticide and abortions, mainly due to cultural preferences for boys and population control. This has been discussed at length in documentaries, national newspapers, magazines and even dramatized on television. As societies, they had to talk about their ugly truths, and will be doing so for generations to come. Would it be so bad if Blacks shone a light on our own issues and cleaned house a bit?

You’ve probably seen the offending billboard by now. If not, here is a link: Metro – Uproar over abortion billboard.

Fertile Ground

She let me style it this morning.

Oh boy, dear readers. Look at this mane of hair! This morning I managed—just barely—to style Baby’s hair in a way that shows off her adorable face, and I did it without provoking an all-out battle. How does it look?

I can only show the top, because her dad is uneasy about her images being on the Internet. I think this shot shows just how lush and ample her new head of hair is, and how much work is ahead of me!

I tried and tried to get a 3/4 view shot from the back that would show off the twists (nicely done, if I might add), but which would conceal her face. I got one, but for whatever reason my computer keeps rotating the image. One would have to do neck contortions to see the photo, and I don’t think it’s worth it.

Although Baby has a beautiful head of hair, she wasn’t blessed with a mother who can pull off creative, intricate hair styles. Just enough to be presentable and neat. My strengths are reading children’s books in animated ways, coming up with cultural activities and devising art projects. Every now and then, though, the mood will hit and we’ll come up with something cute and neat. And I’ll share what I can without making her Dad irate with me!  😉

Black Like Mom

Making headlines on race and identity.

Ever notice that no matter how much cream or milk is added to coffee, we still call it coffee?  That’s probably why famous people of Black and mixed racial backgrounds often identify themselves as Black—with a little something extra. It’s a very simple, direct and efficient point of view to take in life.

It’s almost a non event, unless you are a Halle Berry, who is at the center of another media feeding frenzy. She appears on the cover of Ebony magazine’s March issue, in which she discusses her daughter’s racial identity, among other things. Here are a couple of quotes you’ll see splashed unkindly on the Web for the next few weeks. These come from The Daily News:

“I feel like she’s black,” the actress told the magazine. “I’m black and I’m her mother, and I believe in the one-drop theory,” Berry said, referencing the 20th-century law that classified anyone as black if they had any African ancestry. The “Frankie and Alice” star, who like her daughter is mixed-race, admitted to Ebony that Nahla will one day “have to decide” for herself how she wants to be labeled. “If you’re of multiple races, you have a different challenge, a unique challenge of embracing all of who you are but still finding a way to identify yourself, and I think that’s often hard for us to do,” she said.

It’s great that Ms. Berry has a direct definition of who her daughter is, while giving her child room to describe her identity in her own way. Berry not the first mother—Black, White or biracial—to do so. In fact, the actress once gave an interview, to a magazine, I think, where she described the grounding that her mother gave her. Her mom sat her down in front of  a mirror one day and explained that although she comes from a White mother, the world sees her as Black. And off you go!

I just updated a post about Paula Patton’s interview in the May 2010 issue of Ebony magazine, wherein she a similar “big talk” from her White mother, but from the perspective of the child, not the mom. You have to hand it to these White women who FULLY committed themselves to raising Black women who are absolutely clear about who they are. In Ms. Berry’s case, she is blessing her own child with that certainty. I haven’t come across any interviews where Ms. Patton addresses that for her son, but I assume he’ll be well-adjusted like his mom.

My those cheeks are Thicke!

Baby is going to get a similar education about her racial identity, but I’m taking a different approach than the Berrys and Pattons. My daughter will be taught that she is Black and bi-racial. With a lot of emphasis on Black first. In fact, when Baby was about four or five months old, I was holding her and chatting with a friend of mine. During a quiet pause, my friend looked at Baby, smiled meaningfully and said: “You a sister.”

And she’s right. Baby is a sister, with a little something extra, of course. She is a complete Daddy’s girl, so she won’t be willing to ignore her White background. She sees more of the White grandparents than my parents (totally their fault), so what’s she supposed to do? Just ignore her German last name and the cute overbite she gets from her White grandmother? She’ll also come of age in a society that has made a lot of room for blended racial identities and experiences. The federal government allows her to check more than one box on the Census if she likes, and I’m sure that she’ll have a lot of mixed-race playmates. These are all positive changes in society, and I hope kids like Nahla, and Baby enjoy all the best benefits from them.

But Is It Manageable?

After Easter, a fresh start.

Believe me readers, I meant no harm when I cut Baby’s hair last year. The idea was to even out the length and start afresh, after the front and sides had thinned out dramatically.

Now I have a feeling that Raven Locks and I are on the cusp of trauma, drama and melodrama on her journey with her hair. Since last Easter, my daughter has grown an afro so thick and black, that I can’t even see her scalp anymore. Now I have to employ several tactics if I want to get through a washing or styling session sans the all-out chase around our house—French Connection style—ending in a wrestling match, with her limbs swinging everywhere! I lay out some toys and books while detangling and combing, or put a dab of product into Baby’s chubby palm and let her rub it into her hair herself. Sometimes, I set her up to brush her teeth—she now has about 16—while I stand behind her and gently comb or brush the coils into smooth shiny loops.

Months ago, I thought I could resume putting in ponytail holders. Not so. She’s at the age where she knows how to remove them, and she has taken to putting them into her mouth. I suppose I really will have to wait until she is three years old to safely use them in her hair again without them posing a potential choking hazard. But waiting just delays the inevitable. At some point, I’ll have to figure out a way to manage her mane as it gets longer. And fuller.

It's almost as warm as a winter hat!

The upshot to all of this is that I didn’t have to do much to Baby’s hair while it grew back, and I expect future maintenance to be fairly easy. I used products from Curly Q specifically the Curlie Cutie Cleansing Cream, Coconut Dream Conditioner, Moist Curls Moisturizer and Curly Q Custard. I started with the sample kit and loved them all so much that I ordered all the full-sized components. At nights, I kept her hair moist and largely tangle-free with a light shea butter moisturizer cream from Cantu. I still maintain that routine these days, brushing or coming a dime-size amount into her hair before reading her a story and settling her into bed.

As I listen at her door as she drifts off, I know it’s just the calm before the storm in the morning when I’ll have to brush her hair again.

Pancakes, Paintings and Puppets

Last weekend, while the rest of the country took the national holiday to sleep late, go shopping, watch television, catch up on household chores or administrative tasks (or maybe even work a little), I had charge of Baby. Like banks, brokerage houses and most government functions, her nursery school was closed in observance of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday. Running after a two-year-old is one thing, but designing activities to keep her developing mind entertained and interested is another, especially because Hubby and I do not subscribe to cable television. I started the day by letting her help me mix pancake batter for breakfast, and by the time her mid-day nap rolled around, we had completed two art projects, one puzzle and played cheerful interactive children’s songs.

The day’s exertions wore me out a little, but that’s a good thing. That morning, as I drummed up ideas for the day’s activities, happy memories of art projects from my schooldays came flooding back. Baby liked putting together the paper bag puppet—with my guiding hand, of course! I also hope she had fun seeing different colors come about by mixing primary and secondary ones for her finger painting. It was worth the effort, and if I was tired, it was my own fault. I was running on six hours’ sleep from the night before (bad habit), and hadn’t had any coffee during the day. By the time late afternoon rolled around, I was off making dinner and I think Little Sister watched about 30 minutes of a Dora the Explorer adventure with Baby.

Hubby and I decided years ago to forego watching cable television, mainly to simplify our busy lives already filled with work, travel and our bi-state relationship. Over the years, broadcast television dropped off as well, because of the sham agreement between the FTC and cable carriers to convert all analog television channels to digital. We just didn’t want to pay an extra fee for a form of entertainment that doesn’t mean much to us. If we must watch something from network TV, we try to catch it for free online, Hubby will wait for it to come out through Netflix,  or buy I’ll try to buy the episode from iTunes or someplace else. It’s all for the best. We can’t possible sit still to watch much television, with the demands of a young family. Sometimes, though, we do betray our fraying connection to popular culture. For instance, Hubby is among the tiny minority of men in America who don’t watch ESPN or Sportsline, and I am one of the few black women in America who hasn’t seen a single, solitary episode of Myles of Style.

I’ll have to rectify that situation via iTunes, if possible. There were rumors that the show had been canceled. I hope not! I’ve seen magazine photo spreads of Kim Myles’ creative work, and I’ve been floored.

As for Little Sister and Baby, we think they will be one of the few young people to never be enthralled by video games. Although I do think it is important for kids to be current with their times and to be media wise, too, sometimes Hubby just shakes his head at the whole idea of video games. He thinks they do very little good, even as a form of entertainment. In the end, we really do want to encourage Little Sister and Baby to have the sorts of minds that stimulate their world, rather than be over stimulated by it.

The Other M-Word

Traveling about the North Jersey/New York polyglot is not for the faint of heart, whether one is driving or using mass transit. I consider myself pretty thick-skinned about human foibles that unfold during rush hour, but something I heard on the train the other day impacted me like a slap in the face. A couple of friends were catching up after apparently not seeing each other in a while. Both seemed like well-educated professionals. The man was white and married, but his wife was not on the train with him. Judging by his comments about his wife, there is a good chance she was of Caribbean descent. Thanks to my marriage, I’ve almost developed a canine ear for giveaway phrases, like the ones he was using: “patois” and “dialect” and “sometimes can’t understand her aunts” and “all her cousins.” Come on, now! I think it is a safe bet that his in-laws are from one island or another.

The woman was clearly of Indian descent, with shoulder-length jet-back hair, a bejeweled bindi dot and a kameez top over jeans, instead of the more traditional salwar-kameez combination. Her mannerisms almost came across like a performance, with affected patrician inflections and the bawdy laughter at flat, nerdy jokes. I suppose that’s why their conversation pulled my attention away from my reading that morning.

The two were catching up about their children, and it became clear that the husband had a baby daughter. The woman asked: “Is she at daycare, or do you have a nanny for her—some warm kindly island mama?”

Did she really just say that? What was that supposed to mean? Obviously, it was no big deal to her, because she made a smooth transition into the next comment. She even threw in a remark about his daughter being his “little Barack Obama.” Apparently, her friendship and familiarity with the man bred contempt for his wife’s cultural background. Her remark trivialized the experiences and hardships, of an entire class of domestic workers. That educated-sounding woman overlooked the obvious: The family hiring the nanny might project some cozy gauzy image of a “mama” onto her, because she is caring for young children in a home setting. But don’t forget that these Caribbean nannies often have their own kids. The house is a job site, and the family is an employer. This is a business arrangement in a dog-eat-dog world, where she is trying to support herself and probably sent remittances back to her own children in her native country—on tiny wages. Some of these nannies work for women who spend more money decorating their childrens’ rooms than they do on their annual salaries. For generations, black Caribbean and American women have toiled away, rearing the children of upper middle class women, some who worked and others who did not. They are not rotund cartoons from an antebellum picture book whose greatest calling in life is to run after other people’s broods for less money per year than one of the family cars. I doubt any of these workers would go along with a woman in a more privileged position making verbal sport of her situation. Painting her like some mammy. EcoSoul, a guest blogger at The Intersection|Madness & Reality, wonderfully articulated these sentiments, and more,  in this post last year.

Let’s assume that the male passenger and his wife actually preferred to hire a Caribbean nanny, as a way for the wife to anchor her child in her heritage. Certainly there is nothing wrong with them doing that. Nor would there be any particular shame for the nanny to work under those conditions, assuming they pay and treat her well. But I don’t get why women like the one on the train can’t find less pugnacious ways of expressing themselves. Certainly I don’t talk about any domestic workers that way, especially because my mother and aunts held those types of jobs. Their experiences are not ancient history or playthings for the upper middle class. The feelings and the memories are still fresh. It doesn’t matter if they happened years ago. Does that silly woman know just how far into American culture her friend’s wife is steeped? What if she speaks patois among family and friends after work? Cooks the food and still vacations on her native island sometimes? To others, it might seem like a joke, a light slip of the tongue, but I wonder if this woman would be just as candid were she at a dinner party at the wife’s house, and the aunts and cousins were present.

I made my way out of the station and onto Broadway, into the sunshine of another clear and mild fall day. Downtown Manhattan, with its historic churches, cobblestone streets and the New York Stock Exchange, looks majestic on days like that. Lots of Caribbean nannies were well into their workdays already, pushing their charges along in high-end strollers that glided along the sidewalks and park paths. Those women are majestic, too. When they do their jobs well, it gives their employers the peace of mind to function well as bankers, attorneys, real estate developers or whatever kind of Manhattan titan they happen to be.

It struck me that the Indian woman never asked her friend about his wife, and when he volunteered information about his wife, she deftly ignored it and changed the subject. To take such an interest in a child while overlooking the mother is weird to me. I don’t think it means she is racist. At the very least, she is careless, silly and out of touch with people who walk a different path in life her. I’m sure that makes dinner parties at the wife’s house interesting places to be, for all of them.