I kneel next to the bathtub and gently rinse the soap from your hair. You stick foam numbers to the side of the tub and then splash them off. I empty the conditioner bottle onto your head, because Daddy let you nap with your hair out and it curls and twirls and twists itself up as you sleep. I pick out the little knots and then massage them between my fingers until they slip away. I learned to do your daddy’s hair, too. I made myself learn. I wanted to be able to take care of him. I didn’t want it to be strange that he was Black and I was White–at least not at home. Not in our home.
I am used to the stares from the outside. They come from both sides, actually. Mostly, they don’t last long. Once we become people to them, they understand what we are together. Well-meaning friends used to say “you can’t choose who you love”, but they’re wrong. I chose him. I chose the boy who walked me to class. I chose the boy who was silly and sweet even though he was taught not to be. I chose that creative, and sometimes troubled, soul to be my partner. I chose your daddy, and the day I chose him, was the day I chose you.
Everyone said “mixed babies” are the cutest. “Mixed babies” have the best hair.
Their words drifted around and passed me. “Mixed baby” meant nothing to me as you grew inside my body. I didn’t care. I didn’t care what you were going to look like. I wanted you healthy. I wanted you happy. I wanted you here. “Mixed baby” meant nothing; my baby, meant everything.
When you were born, with your olive skin like mine, and blue eyes from God-knows-where, everyone said Daddy better get his gun.
Blue-eyed Black girls are something to be talked about. Because they’re striking. Because they’re different. Because they are somehow more appropriate for White people to be attracted to, and are a standard of beauty our society encourages Black people to strive for. Exotic, but not too much. Ethnic, but just a little.
In fact, had you been born 200 years ago you could’ve almost “passed”, but the hair gives you away. It still does, today. It’s a second glance in the line at Target. It’s a pause or a pursed lip smile from a passerby. They know. They can see it and I hope that never bothers you. In fact, I hope you’re always proud of every single part of you. You were born of love. Of understanding and acceptance. Please, my darling, live that way.
Race relations are everywhere right now. They’re telling us what we can and cannot say. Angry words and images are trying to separate people. Just know your family, and everyone we surround ourselves with, loves you. You will never be just a color to any of them.
Things are going to get more complicated, and you’re going to notice, because you’re so very smart. You’ll hear words said about your daddy that don’t describe the man you know at all. You’ll see people look at at your momma with a judgment that she doesn’t deserve, and at points in your life you’ll be treated differently because of how you look, too.
I can’t protect you from all those things. Not a girl like you–so bold and adventurous. You’ll have to face these things head on and at some point you’ll have to face these things alone.
I’ll never know what it is to be biracial. I’ll never know what it “feels” like, but I promise to listen. I’ll never know exactly what it means to be a Black woman, but I promise I’ve got one lined up for you to talk to. She’s my favorite person in the world, your God Mother, and I’m only a little scared you’ll like her more than me.
And finally, I promise to always do your hair. I promise to give it the time and attention it deserves, because it is important, and it is yours, and I love that “part” of you just as much as every other.
You are beautiful, my love, and people are going to notice. But it’s not your eyes, or your skin, or even this mass of lovely curls–it’s your heart, and it’s the exact same color as everyone else’s.
The water is getting cold. The comb slips quietly through your hair. We can’t stay here–in this space filled with water, and bubbles, and rubber ducks, and curls. As I dry you off, you hug me. Slippery and slimy, you giggle and squeal. I hold you close and breathe in your clean.
I’ll never know exactly what it is to be you – a girl straddling a line between two cultures. But I promise to try, and for now, for us, that means I’ll do your hair.
I squeeze you just a bit longer, because I want to stay in this moment: just a mother and her daughter, quietly bridging the gap between Black and White.