As a little girl I always hated Sunday nights. As the day would get darker and darker I would feel more and more unsettled. Sunday was the night that my mother would shampoo my hair and I hated every moment of it.
As an African American child with typical African American hair my hair would only get washed once a week in order to not dry it out or make it fall all out. That also meant that I had a very thick head of hair that would get easily tangled.
The process would start when my mother would pull out the big black combs that would help release the braids that were in all week. The big teeth of the comb would work through the tangles.
I could hear the snap and pop of my tangled hair loosening and sometimes snapping right out of my head. This was only the beginning.
My mother would fill up the bath and put me in. She would wet my hair and lather my hair. The smell of Johnson’s and Johnson’s no tear shampoo that did cause tears would start to fill up the room. The suds would start to run down my forehead and straight into my eyes.
I could barely hear my mother tell to lean back so she could rinse out my hair. I was always so sacred to lean back for fear that I would drown, so I would out right refuse and than I would start to cry.
My mother had no other choice but to give my hair a little tug in order to encourage me to lean back. She wanted to get this over with as quickly as I did. The process was just as traumatic for me as it was for her. The entire ordeal was repeated one more time.
Two towels would be ready when I got out of the tub. My mother would quickly wrap one towel around my head turban style and the other would go around my shoulders like a cape.
I would run as fast as my little legs could go, fast enough to make the towel around my shoulders fly behind me. With one hand holding the towel on my head in place I would run straight into my room. I would put my nightgown on and report to my mother’s room. The worse was yet to come.
My mother would sit me down between her legs to comb out my huge mop of tangled hair. It did not matter how much it was conditioned or how gently it was shampooed, it would still be a tangled black mass by time it was time to get combed.
The television would be on as a distraction. The channel was tuned to the Muppet Show. I could not enjoy the show entirely because of the pain I was feeling. Next to my mother would be an assembly line; the big black comb, hair grease and matching colored barrettes. The first stroke of the initial comb through was always the worst.
I could feel the approach of the big black comb on my forehead and I would always cringe. The feel of the teeth on my scalp would send chills down my spine. My mother would pull the comb straight back. As she pulled I could hear each hair snap and pop as it was being loosened from its tangle. My eyes would be pulled and tear up.
The pain was hard to take. It was a natural reflex for me to try and get away from what was hurting me. I never learned that pulling away only caused more tension and that would cause more pain. The torture would still be going on even after the Muppet Show went off.
When the comb could run freely through my hair the detangling process was over. Now it was time for the parting of my hair. Parting was not my mother’s strong suit. She would try three to four times to get that perfect straight part and would finally settle with a part that was almost straight. I do not think I had a perfectly straight part for my entire childhood.
Once the part was done my mother would start to put in the barrettes. She used to different kinds. The first kind of barrette was a type of rubber band that had colorful balls on each end which I nicknamed “ballies. The other kind of barrette she used was a kind of clip to secure the ends.
There was a trick to getting the “ballies” wrapped around my ponytail. She had to grab the section of hair that she wanted to secure into a ponytail with one hand while simultaneously wrapping one end of the “ballie” around the ponytail. If she never let go of the hair the ponytail would be virtually perfect. It was a natural instinct to let go of the hair once the first half of the “ballie” was wrapped tight. If the ponytail was let go that it would loosen and had to be started all over. In some cases it would even half to be re-combed.
Neither of us wanted that though so we were both very careful. My mother was careful not to let go and I was careful to be still as humanly possible. Once each side of my hair was safe in ponytails my mother would braid them into tight braids. Each end of the braids was secured with the clip type of barrette that matched the “ballie”.
There was such a relief once my hair was secured into its style. I would not have to worry about getting my hair done for another few days if I was cautious.
I would always look at the finished product in the mirror and I was never fully happy with what I saw. I noticed that the girls in school would have their braids in neat rows going back braided tightly to their head. These were called cornrows.
My hair was extra thick and only and avid braider could manage to get my thick mane into cornrows. My mother unfortunately was not an avid braider. She was part Native American and part African American and growing up her hair was not like your typical African American hair.
Also her grandmother ran a hair dressing salon so she got her hair done every other day by a professional who would give her fancy hairstyles that did not involve braids. She had absolutely no idea how to even begin to cornbraid.
In class I would always find myself staring at the girl who was closest to me with cornrows in their head. I would count them. I would imagine what they would look like on me.
Sometimes the cornbraids would have colorful beads on the end. With the girls every move the beads would click and clank together. It was such a wonderful noise. I wanted my hair done in this hairstyle in the worst possible way. Since my mother could not do it I really had no were else to turn.
One day in gym class a friend offered to braid my hair just like hers into cornbraids. She said she did her own all of the time. I was elated! It took the entire gym class for her to do my hair. It was worth. I could not wait to see how I looked. I was horrified at what I saw.
The rows were uneven, and the braids were lopsided. I had to go through the rest of the day looking a mess! When I got home I knew I was in for it. My mother warned to never let other little girls “play” in my hair, but wit reckless abandon I let someone and than it came out terrible! As soon as my twin brother saw me he laughed hysterically at me.
Not only was he laughing because my hair looked terrible but he knew that I was going to get it because I did not listen to my mother’s warnings. I walked into the house as slow as possible. My head was down in the hope that she would not notice my hair.
As soon as I walked into the house she took one look at me and said” what on earth happened to your head!?” I burst immediately into tears. My mom just chuckled though. She gave me a hug and took by my hand into her room. She got out the big black comb and fixed my hair.