Since we first brought Teddy home—since we first announced we might be adopting a child of a different race, really—we have given our black friends permission to offer unsolicited advice concerning how we might better care for him. Pretty much any advice would be unsolicited because we simply don’t know what to ask. I suppose any parent welcomes advice from others further along the parenting journey, but such advice usually follows the venting of a particular problem, be it behavioral or hygienic. We have had that experience, of course. When little black dots appeared on Teddy’s feet, we frantically texted one friend a picture, convinced Teddy had been eaten alive by mosquitos—although he didn’t seem to be bothered. However our friend explained the bumps were friction points, likely from sandal straps rubbing against active feet. On black skin, they show up black, while they’d manifest red on our white skin. (Teddy’s super-cute sandals are now used only when we know Teddy will be restricted to his stroller for the duration of an outing.)
But we also welcome our friends to point out any problem they see or foresee that we are completely ignorant of. For instance, we’ve already been advised to use special lotion to keep Teddy’s skin moisturized, since black skin dries out faster than white skin. We’ve also been advised—by friends and strangers—not to cut Teddy’s hair prior to his first birthday. (Seriously: I was walking off the escalator and a young black guy fell in step with me and said, “You’re not planning to cut his hair before he turns 1, are you?” I assured him I was not.) No one knows why this is so important, aside from cultural tradition.
So knowing to keep the sacred locks intact for at least a few more months, we thought we were good to go where Teddy’s curls were concerned. We were wrong. We had been warned to wash his hair only once a week so as not to deplete it of its natural oils and dry it out, and we were obediently complying with that directive. But I have to admit I was worried that his hair seemed a bit…crunchy. We take him swimming quite a bit, so I wondered if maybe the chlorine was leaching out those oils. (I don’t always wash his hair after he splashes about, because, you know, I’m trying to avoid drying his hair out ….)
Anyway, I decided not to worry about this … until a black friend came to visit. She squealed and fawned over Teddy, as she always does, and we strolled over to the park behind our house so we could show off Teddy’s love of water and walking. We were lounging at one of the tables in the park when my friend started playing with Teddy’s hair. She got that look on her face, the one that tells me she’s wondering how to enlighten me about something.
“His hair’s a bit … umm … dry,” she observed.
Oh no! Called out! I may have said we welcome unsolicited advice, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have to swallow the teensiest bit of pride in order to follow up on such statements.
“What should we do?” Mike asked
She assured us we could restore silky softness to Teddy’s hair in no time. But a trip to the drugstore was in order. So off we trooped to the CVS that’s 20 paces from the park. My friend led us right to the tiny section of hair care products designed for minority hair and picked up two different bottles of moisturizer guaranteed to make Teddy’s hair a pleasure to play with. She pressed the lid of one, squeezed a dollop in her hand, and rubbed it into Teddy’s ‘fro right there. Wow, we thought, it’s so bad she has to do something about it immediately!
But we bit our tongues and simply listened to her inform us about the differences between the lotions. Noticing our deer-in-the-headlights look, she picked one for us and handed it over. Mike took issue with it because it’s a pink bottle. “Pink” is in fact part of the brand name. But my friend waved away his objections. Good thing because by the next day, we could already tell a difference in Teddy’s curls.
Evidently we’re supposed to massage Teddy’s head with this stuff daily: a hard habit for us to develop since neither of us uses hair product regularly. But we’re doing our best. We hope the next time a black friend ruffles Teddy’s hair, he or she says nothing at all—and doesn’t get that look.