Monthly Archives: January 2013

Labels

Standard

Several weeks ago, Mike and I watched a special by Soledad O’Brien, one of a series about being Black in America. This one focused specifically on colorism—discrimination based on skin color—within the black community, how black people with lighter skin tones are seen as superior to black people with darker skin tones. The documentary followed two young women of lighter skin tone, one of whom identified as black; the other didn’t identify as black in the beginning, but by the end seemed to have come to embrace that culture.

The whole thing was fascinating—and well worth your time—but a couple things struck me as I watched Soledad interview people to share a story of colorism and identity issues in the black community. One is that Teddy will inevitably have color-related issues to deal with: Not only is he adopted, he’s a black child with white parents. So he will at some point struggle to determine whether he identifies more as a white person or as a black person. And he will likely have people from both communities claim he doesn’t fit with either.

But something one of the two young women said really resonated with me. She is Egyptian and so has a lighter skin tone than people from southern or West Africa. She mentioned that when she’s out and about, doing her daily business, she will get into conversations with strangers who will ask, “What are you?” or “Where are you from?” Because her cultural heritage is not immediately evident, people can’t easily put her into a box and label her. And because they can’t, they find it difficult to move on in the conversation. She said, “It’s like they think they will sleep better at night once they figure me out.”

And she was annoyed by this.

When I’m out with Teddy, people will often exclaim over what an adorable child he is and then immediately follow up with, “Where is he from?” or “Where was he born?” I’ve written before about my struggle with this, and while my mother had the excellent suggestion to answer that our family is from all over (I was born in New York; Mike, Nebraska; and Teddy, Maryland), I have to admit it feels awkward at this point to answer that, since I know they don’t care where I’m  from. And that’s where my own annoyance comes in. I know they don’t care where I’m from. So why do they care where Teddy’s from? Why can’t they simply note how cute Teddy is, make a comment about how fast this time goes and to appreciate every moment of it, and then wish us a good day?

The answer is, they know where I’m from. Between skin color and accent, I’m easily labeled. Teddy doesn’t seem to fit that label. So they have to make sense of that before they can move on.

One comment in an adoption forum suggested inquiring of the questioner, “Why do you ask?” Not sure what this would accomplish, though. I’ve never tried it, but I assume the person asking would say something like, “Oh, just curious.” And where do you go from there? Satisfy their curiosity? Smile brightly and just leave?

The suggestion reminds me, though, that these types of conversations happened all the time when we lived in London, but there was a key difference with those situations: The questions were reciprocated: Everyone wanted to know where everyone else was from. When asked where we were from, we answered and then turned around and asked the same question back. We were all in the same boat of being from somewhere else and comradery was formed as we learned the answers to our questions.

So maybe until I either get comfortable deflecting the question or get over my annoyance with it, I should just answer and repeat it back. After all, it’s DC. Everyone could very well be from somewhere else.

Haircuts: the new father-son activity

Standard

Shortly after Teddy’s first birthday, we finally took him for his first haircut. We’d been advised…multiple times…to wait until he’d turned one before touching those locks with anything sharp. But as we neared that milestone, we wondered when we should, in fact, take Teddy to see a barber. We assumed once he passed the 12-month mark, it would be culturally acceptable to take him any time. But we’d kinda grown to love the loft.  Those three extra inches made him seem even taller than he already was, even if they did accentuate his old-man hairline. But one day, the decision was made for us: We found pieces of cauliflower in his hair…and we’d last had cauliflower two days previous. We decided that if hair is high enough and thick enough to hide food, it’s time for a cut.

So off we went to the barbershop Mike goes to in one of the Senate buildings on Capitol Hill. We thought it would be appropriate for the occasion to have the black barber who’d cut Mike’s hair most recently tackle Teddy’s curls, and he was happy to oblige. And we were pleased to see that this shop was not unused to trimming the hair of littles—the barber brought out a booster seat for the barber’s chair.

HaircutChair

He draped Teddy in the checkered cape…and I waited , eager to see how he would start mowing this mop. To cut Mike’s hair, I know the barber trims with scissors and then shaves the sides. Neither of us had any idea how one would cut Teddy’s little ‘fro. Similar process, turns out. The barber first trimmed a couple inches. I have to admit, I cried when the first lock dropped. (At the time I didn’t realize this was only the “first” part and was fearful we were finished; I didn’t like the interim look at all.) Then he picked Teddy’s hair (we later bought a pick from him), making a sweet, short ‘fro. Then he brought out the electric shaver. Teddy didn’t bat an eye as he is used to the noise it makes from when Mike shaves. And Mike has put the device against Teddy’s face—with guard on, of course—so he’s familiar with something vibrating against his head. He was so still, the barber even commented on his exemplary behavior. Full disclosure: Mike was holding Teddy’s shoulders. But Teddy really didn’t try to squirm. Until, that is, the barber folded Teddy’s ear over to reach all the hairs. Teddy was not a fan. But even then, he just put his arm up in objection and gave me this look like, “Are you really going to allow this, Mom?”

Allow it I did because, well, we couldn’t have any more cauliflower incidents now, could we?

When the barber had finished, he passed the hand mirror to Teddy, who admired himself in the glass. He appeared to enjoy his new short look!

HaircutFinal

We asked the barber how often we should expect to bring Teddy back to maintain his newly shorn curls. The barber said to monitor Teddy’s hair, noting how fast it grew, but a haircut would probably be in order every two or three weeks. Mike’s jaw dropped. He gets his hair trimmed about once every three or four months!

On the way home, we decided that during the next excursion, Mike would pay attention to how the barber brought Teddy’s new length down, so he could replicate the process at home. (He wasn’t really paying attention  to the details this first time as he was trying to enjoy the experience and keep a hand on Teddy.) It’s actually not that expensive each time, but every two or three weeks adds up! Also, while Mike has learned that the barber shop is an important social setting for black men (when you go that often, you make friends!), it’s not crucial at Teddy’s age. For now, Mike and Teddy can use this as a bonding experience at home.

The second haircut was rather anticlimactic. Mike was unimpressed with the barber’s work; in fact, he felt he could do a better job himself. So possibly that second excursion was important to give Mike the confidence he needed to take on haircutting duties.

HomeHaircutTo date, Mike and Teddy have had two such father-son experiences. Mike ordered a special shaver for the new routine. (Evidently, his plastic shaver won’t suffice for such frequent trimming; he had to buy a metal one.) The first time, Mike set up Teddy with his new checkered cape, football happened to be on, and Teddy was so mesmerized, he barely moved a muscle. (Daddy was so proud!) The second time, Wheel of Fortune happened to be on. Well, Teddy LOVES Wheel of Fortune. (He will literally stop what he’s doing when it comes on, run over to the TV, drop to his knees, and clap. He’s adorable. And weirdly consistent about this.) So he was equally enthralled and cooperative. I say “happened” because neither time were we trying to distract him. But we know now to have either Wheel or some sports game on TV while Mike is cutting the curls.

So far, it does indeed appear that Mike will need to bring out the cape and shaver every couple weeks. Teddy’s hair grows fast!

I look back at pictures of Teddy when his hair was longer and marvel that I loved it so much. Because it’s so stinkin’ adorable now!

Snow