I gather the girls for their daily bath. Slipping the hair band off their silky tresses, I use my fingers to detangle. I brush it out until it shines and cascades in a golden waterfall on their back. Kay tosses her hair around and bends over backward until she can feel it touch her waist.
“I have long, nice hair Amma” she says. I nod as I work through Cee’s hair. The texture is fine and flawless. Her face is radiant, her eyes are specked with brown and they shine with all the love a child can hold. I kiss her forehead before turning her around and pulling her hair into a ponytail.
Six years ago, when Kay and Cee came to me as months old babies, the golden fuzz on their head represented everything that was at odds with my existence. My hair was thick, frizzy, black and coarse. Each strand dense, the curls formed a halo around my head at the first sign of moisture. Somewhere before adoption entered the realm of my thoughts, I had dreamed of a baby girl. A child who would take after me for thick luscious hair and after her dad for full pouty lips. That dream died a silent death before new dreams kept me awake.
As I bathed them in the early days, the twins clutched my knees and stood as I washed the suds off their bodies. Bath time has always been one of reflection for me. It also has been a time for bonding. As babies, they splashed water. As pre-k kids, we would go through the “How was your day? Was class fun? Tell me what you did today?” routine. The answers would be random but it was time for connecting and staying connected. As I wrapped each twin in a fuzzy towel and lay them on the crib to moisturize and dress them, I would run my fingers through their head, the blonde strands feeling limp and alien against my brown fingers.
Late at night, I would sometimes google “Does Blonde hair turn dark as kids age?” The answers varied but none of them reassured me. I would sigh, turn to other interesting topics and leave those thoughts tucked behind other pressing things.
As they turned one and as custom demanded it, we went as a family to the temple to snip a part of the hair and shave the rest of it. As their locks fell off their head and onto the floor, I remembered to pick locks to save and add to my keepsake box. I wondered if the new hair that grew out would be thicker, fuller and brown perhaps.
The years passed by and my fascination with their hair lessened. I learned to like it. I learned the hard way that braiding silky straight hair was not to be easily attempted. I learned to keep their hair short and off their face.
Then a dead dream flared to life. A baby girl was born to us with a head full of curly black hair and her father’s full lips. Sometimes, as I watched the three girls clamber all over their daddy’s lap, two golden heads with one black one, it feels right. Perfect I would think to myself. I wondered if they would each envy what the other had. Lali wanting her sisters’ golden tresses and the twins coveting her curly, thick locks.
The twins turned five and vocal about how they wanted to wear their hair. “Long” proclaimed Cee. Kay agreed. We bargained and settled for a trim every few months. Somewhere in the months between five years and six, I fell in love with their hair. The headlong, I-cannot-believe-I-once-found-it-strange kind of love. The kind of love that creeps up on you slowly and insinuates itself in every pore of your existence.
Each Sunday as I blow dried, brushed and styled their hair after an extended bath time, I lingered. I lingered realizing these days of hair care would soon come to an end. There will come a day when they will want to wash and dry and style it themselves. I hold on to these everyday mothering moments tightly knowing they are slipping ever so slowly from my hands.
As I look back on my evolving relationship with my children’s hair, I realize it stands for a lot more. When we set out on the path to building our family through adoption, we wanted our child to look like us. Black hair, brown eyes we said in unison to the agency worker who filled our intake paperwork. A chance conversation with my father in law had me reconsidering why I wanted to adopt. I called the agency to let them know we were open to all races. After seven months and many roadblocks, we had a week to prepare before we became parents to twins. Twin white children.
As I scrambled to get the paperwork ready, I also read and researched transracial adoption. The dominant voice seemed to advice being color blind. “As if born to you” was the refrain I heard most. I wanted to believe in it. I was schooled to ignore the differences, not celebrate them. Somewhere between reading and actually living the adopted life, I realized I was wrong. I aught to be celebrating these differences not shoving them to the side. What I had initially interpreted to mean being color blind today means being color aware. It means being open about the differences that bind us. It means talking about it and by extension keeping our children’s birth heritage and culture alive in our home. It means a wreath at our door and Christmas tree up after Thanksgiving. It means cross country visits to their birth place and ongoing contact with their other family. It means embracing not othering.
“Amma, can you braid my hair like Elsa?” Kay asks. I smile and comply, the wispy strands slipping and escaping from my grip. I give up on one braid down the back and instead work tiny ones along her forehead and into a loose one behind her back. “Do I look pretty?” she looks at me earnestly. Cupping her face into my hands, I tell her and mean it. “Very!”