Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Adoptive Mama Stretch Marks

Do you realize how much society programs us about what we "should" look like? If you're into things like The Dove Campaign For Real Beauty or the recent no-Photoshop pledge from Seventeen Magazine or maybe Chris Rock's documentary Good Hair or even something like this movie: Dark Girls or maybe the movie Miss Representation you probably are and this will be me preaching to the choir. If you're not up on any of the above mentioned resources, take a gander at 'em some time and start to really THINK about what the media you're immersed in all day is telling you about what is acceptable about your appearance. And the media for sure has a message for you: signs of aging are unacceptable until they're unavoidable. You must look like you're 20-something until you're 60-something. (Did any of you see comments critical of Hillary Clinton's wrinkles on Facebook posts that praised her for shutting down a sexist line of questioning about what fashion designers she favors? I saw a LOT of that.) Your hair must be straight to be "professional" or "serious". (I'm as thrilled as the next curly girl that curly hair is making so many appearances in commercials, but take a deeper look at the way it's portrayed - always as the flip, fun, crazy thing, and never as the serious, intelligent, professional, respectable thing.) The best hair and skin are blond and tan, respectively. Dark hair and skin are "exotic" and a "curiosity" - good for art - but not exactly acceptable and certainly not for movies or magazine covers. The darker the skin, the less acceptable it is (and this isn't exclusive to American society, worldwide there are caste- and class-based prejudices against the dark skin associated with rural or agrarian-working people.)

So, recently on a website called Chocolate Hair / Vanilla Care for folks who (like me) have adopted transracially and want to do right by our children in their specific hair and skin care needs, there was a mom who started a conversation. Her question was fairly simple, but it sparked a lot of response and discussion. She had a history of wearing blond highlights, and though she had been blond as a child, her hair had darkened starting around 13 and been dark since. She had decided that embracing her natural hair might help her daughter to do the same. This is a big deal for young black girls - take a look around at the black women you know and survey how many of them wear their hair in its natural state. There is a lot of pressure on black women to "be presentable" by either straightening their hair or wearing a weave, or spending a lot of money on elaborate styles. (Did you hear about all the criticism of Gabby Douglas' hair while she was busy winning an Olympic Gold Medal?) This mom had gotten a lot of pushback, from people as intimate as family to people as distant as cashiers looking at her ID in the store. And she was wondering if she really should go back to blond? Was she teaching her daughter something valuable by persisting, or was she just being obstinate about something that didn't matter much?

A lot of people, quite rightly, said that what matters is not so much what you do or don't do with your hair, but that you are happy with it, and confident in yourself. They echoed again and again the sentiment that nobody's opinion of your hair matters but your own, and if you are happy with how you look, then rock on. I took a slightly different tack. I think she should absolutely persist with the dark, natural hair, and here's what I said about why:

I think you are experiencing something valuable right now - society is telling you that blond hair is more appreciated and "better" than your natural beauty. Developing coping strategies from this experience and embracing your own hair's color will help you be a better ally for your daughter when she starts to internalize those same messages that her hair is more acceptable, more sophisticated, more beautiful when it is straight and light-colored and shiny. There is nothing wrong with straight blond hair, but it is certainly not BETTER than curly brown hair!
One of the reasons that transracial adoptive parents are counseled to find adult role models of color for their children is that they need to see people who live under the same pressure they do, modeling appropriate responses to it. It's one thing to say "be proud of your gorgeous curly hair!". It's another thing entirely to demonstrate specific ways in which one may do so. Practical example trumps sermon EVERY. TIME. Further down the thread, several comments turned to adults who color their hair to cover up gray, and whether this was good, bad, or neither. I have thoughts on that, too! And here is what I said about that:
I think the impulse to cover our gray is the same impulse our chocolate children feel to lighten their skin and straighten their hair. It's the societal message that youth is more acceptable and more valuable than age, that straight blond hair is more acceptable and more valuable than curly dark hair, and that thinness is more acceptable and more valuable than curviness. Have you ever noticed how in movies, all the women either look 20 or 80? There are few 40 or 60 year old female roles in movies. You're not allowed to be gray until you look like the excellent Jessica Tandy or Dame Judi Dench.

Personally, I rock some silver streaks - definitely more since I brought my babies home! They're like my adoptive mother stretch marks!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Profound Motherhood Moments #2

I have these things I write on Facebook, my Profound Motherhood Moments. I just hit #50, so I'm rounding up the last 25 and sharing them here. If you're not a Mother, you may still find these apply to your relationship with your kids (as a dad) or your pets. Here is the first list

  1. A baby who will fight a kleenex like it's a zombie velociraptor intent on eating her brains slowly and painfully will then turn around and blissfully wipe boogers on your shirt.
  2. After spontaneous sloppy baby kisses are planted on your cheek, you would do well to check in a mirror, lest ye enter the doctor's office with a blob of boogers stuck to your face.
  3. Babies totally don't "get" Daylight Savings Time. Spring forward and fall back are ignored by the diaper set.
  4. To use my powers for good or evil? I forestalled the temper tantrum with a game of peekaboo 5 times (good) and then I let it happen and recorded it (evil). Watch this space for a video link
  5. A stay-at-home-mom on vacation is just a stay-at-condo-mom, BUT your afternoon walk to the park is a walk on the beach, and your spouse makes lunch! It's a good life!
  6. That cool jazz riff I'm singing as I putter around? Came from a Leap Frog music toy. My baby's stuff is officially hipper than I am.
  7. (From Rose) We survived the first year and we're still sane. Except I just ate a half-chewed banana discarded by the baby. (imagine Animal from the Muppets here) AAAAAAAAAAGGGGHHHH
  8. You may prefer to eat the nicer loose oranges over the bulk-in-a-bag ones, but you will also be cleaning up after someone who thinks nothing of dripping orange juice from both elbows and her chin simultaneously
  9. Do not feed cabbage to a person who lacks molars
  10. From now on, when I use the phrase, "it's better than a poke in the eye with a fork," I will be speaking from personal experience. Toddler with fork-1, Momma's cornea-0.
  11. I will continue to maintain that glitter is the herpes of the craft world. As evidence, my son spent about 5 hours at the glitter-festooned residence of his girl cousins today, and when I changed his diaper, there was a fleck of glitter on his man business, glinting brilliantly at me. Once you have a glitter outbreak, you'll be fighting them the rest of your life.
  12. What is it about newborns and 21-year olds that makes them think "party at my crib til dawn!" is a good idea?
  13. You never know how fast you can get from the front to the back seat of your car until you spend a moment trying to figure out how many labrador retrievers are attempting to share a car seat with your newborn.
  14. I frequently mock the guitar solos in classic rock, mimicking them in a nasal nee-nee-neer voice. Zoe is in the back seat, copying me, using her foot as an air mic. I am totally winning!
  15. No matter how beloved my eldest child is, she may *NOT* bogart the bacon. There are some table manners she is expected to learn, even at this age.
  16. Growing bicuspids is a pain in the face, but it opens up your world to some delicious foods. Today, pistachios!!!
  17. that very first social smile absolutely melts your heart
  18. On the plus side, my hair is long enough to trail in a pile of spit up on my shoulder. On the minus side, my hair trailed in a pile of spit up on my shoulder.
  19. The optimal nursing position for a baby with a toddler sibling is anything that places baby's head closer to the arm of the couch than to the sibling's pointy flailing elbows and knees. If you have to switch ends of the couch when the baby switches sides, it's worth it.
  20. Wine packed for road trip is wedged between stacks of diapers and padded with burp rags. Victory!
  21. Decide ahead of time how big a puddle of spilled milk will make you cry and put less than that in the toddler's cup.
  22. it's okay to get in the fridge and raid yesterday's sippy cup for milk to cream your coffee if the toddler has a cold and can't drink the milk anyway.
  23. (courtesy of Rose) Motherhood is really meant to teach you the cornucopia of things you can do one-handed while tending a kid with the other.
  24. Things that are just as endearing the second time around - discovery of the feet, learning how to work the pacifier/thumb (they go cross-eyed!), grabbing you by the hair and pulling you in for a big, sloppy, wet chomp on the nose.
  25. If they're gonna call them milestones, they should be a minimum of a quarter mile apart. Guess who found his feet and cut a tooth all in the same week?