Today, my son had his second haircut since coming to America. In case you’re keeping score, that’s 7 months living with us and 2 trips to the barber.
As a white mom of a black son, I am definitely learning a lot about caring for our little fella’s skin and hair. I’ve asked friends and scoured the internet for advice. I’ve mostly tried to keep him moisturized and comfortable. I’ve done pretty well with the skin part but the hair is tricky. I’m not even familiar with all that goes along with Caucasian curly hair, so I’ve had a steep learning curve. I’ll just say that remembering to keep his hair picked out and adequately oiled hasn’t been my strength.
Luckily, I have a friend who suggested I take my son to her brother’s barber shop. Even with this trusted friend’s recommendation, I felt a bit nervous. Anytime I have to go somewhere outside of my comfort zone, I feel a certain amount of apprehension. In this case, I didn’t fear for my safety. My main worry was that I would be told I wasn’t doing a good job taking care of my boy. I was afraid I would be standing in a room full of unsympathetic men who would judge my parenting skills and see that I was lacking. I was afraid they would question my ability to care for a little boy who looks different than me. I was afraid that they might tell me that if I can’t get this right then I will most definitely fail when it comes to guiding him through the big things like what he should do during random traffic stops.
During the 15-minute drive to the barber shop, I thought about a white friend’s experience at Walmart just after she had adopted her African American daughters. An older black woman was looking at my friend and eventually approached her. My friend told the story this way: “The woman said, ‘You know, you need grace.’ I said, ‘Yes, ma’am. That’s right. We all need grace.’ The woman shook her head, exasperated and said, ‘No. Grease. Grease. Those girls need grease in their hair.’” That was the kind of helpfulness I was anticipating.
When I entered the barber shop, I was greeted by the same man who had cut my son’s hair back in May. He and the barber in the chair next to him both remembered us and greeted us warmly. The news was playing on the television as my son climbed into the barber chair. As it was Election Day, the two major party candidates were filmed voting for themselves at their respective polling stations. We all watched and shook our heads simultaneously.
As the barber spread an apron across my son and gently snapped it at the back, I showed him a picture on my phone illustrating what we had in mind for my son’s haircut. The barber started to pick out my son’s hair and I watched my son wince each time he slid the teeth into those tight curls. I knew I had failed him. I knew I hadn’t prepared him for this haircut. Tears started to roll down my son’s cheeks.
The barber stopped and offered him a sucker. He gave him a toy from his counter to hold and he told him to squeeze the toy when it hurt. He kindly explained what he was doing and why. Then he sprayed oil in my son’s hair and got back to work. He picked and shaved and brushed him off. This sweet man worked until our son had a haircut he was proud of. The barber in the chair next to him gave me a half-gone bottle of hair product to use when I pick it out so that it will be easier and less painful for everyone. The owner of the shop—my friend’s brother—approached us as we left to make sure I had a pick. They made it so easy to ask questions. All of the men were beyond helpful and spoke to me without any trace of judgment.
On the ride home from the barber shop, I thought of a time after my twin daughters were born. I was frantic. One of my girls didn’t nurse well and she wasn’t putting on weight. I didn’t know what to do. My husband had to talk me down from taking her to Kroger to weigh her on a produce scale.
Those feelings of inadequacy came rolling back. Feelings that you’re not doing right by your kids, like you’re responsible for these little human beings but you actually have no idea what you’re doing. Then I remembered my friend’s story and I thought of the misunderstanding with the woman at Walmart. Unbeknownst to her, the woman essentially summed up parenting in a sentence: You know, you need grace.
Amen. Give it and receive it.