My great fear in being a foster parent?
It was not that a child would harm our things, though we both talked about it and prepared ourselves for the likely possibility. It was not that a child would run away. I worked in a boys’ home; it happened, and I learned that it does not need to be a great drama. It was not that a child would harm us or him or herself. I have learned to de-escalate situations, to know when things are growing out of control and when to call in other resources. These fears were allayed early on as we quickly realized the children in foster care are most often the victims, they are hurting, and they aren’t angry at us; most often they are really scared.
My great fear in being a foster parent?
It is trivial and miniscule, but it is my own fear. I know my strengths, and I certainly know my own weaknesses. And I know that I am not so good at doing hair. I have spent a lifetime of feeling frustrated with my own hair. And in those same years, I have never been the kind of girl who ever did anyone else’s hair. Sure, when I babysat I would have to brush a little girl’s hair, but it was never something I either loved to do or was any good at. My great fear has been being the one responsible for doing a little black girl’s hair.
When Jahmela climbed the steps to meet me, she was perhaps one of the cutest little girls I have ever laid eyes on. Her creamy brown skin looked smooth and toasty, her apple cheeks literally glowed, and even in her uncertainty, her little lashes blinked expectantly over deep brown eyes.
As Diane, the investigator, pulled her hood off, I felt my own fear beginning to well up; there was a head of hair that needed lots of loving and help. As Jahmela hopped around from room to room, I studied her hair, how it had been done, trying to think of what I might do to help her feel confidant and pretty.
That night before bed, began our journey together. Jahmela found her “grease” as she called it – and began pumping it on to her hair, making it greasy and slick. I got a dollop of pink lotion and began rubbing it through the curly locks. And then, as unsure as I was, I got the brush and began to carefully pull it through her hair. By the time she lay down for bed, I had French braided her hair into a pretty, if not slightly lopsided success.
Each morning getting her dressed always meant that, around the corner, I would need to face my insecurities again. I would lotion and tug and work her hair into a place that was both pretty and functional. I found that each day I was having more success. The first day I sent her off, she came back with three braids, an entirely different hair do, than the ponytail I had sent her to school with. But on Wednesday, I sent her off with sweet pigtails, and she came back with them, only slightly higher on her head. By day three she was returning to me with the same hairstyle she went in with, I knew I was getting better; she knew I was getting better. Some days she could not get enough of herself in the mirror her hairwas looking so cute.
I was overcoming my fear! I was deep conditioning, I was greasing, I was lotioning, I was doing her hair!
And then the day before we were saying good-bye to Jahmela I came face to face with her mother. And my own fear-conquering went out the window.
Her mother’s first words to me?
“This child is filthy; her hair looks terrible. I don’t know what you are doing, but we treat this girl like princess, and she looks like a mess.”
Jahmela’s eyes looked up at me betrayed. It was as if she was saying, “Why did you do this to me?”
And as my own insecurities flooded over me, as I wanted to somehow defend myself, the inside of my heart melted. I literally felt as if I was collapsing on the inside. I floundered through those moments. Somehow trying to affirm, somehow trying to reassure, somehow trying to encourage. Those moments in the lobby of the Department of Children and Families were painful for everyone standing around that precious child. I reminded myself that it really isn’t about the hair.
I sat in the back seat of the Element with a broken little girl, holding her tiny hand as she sat in her car seat. Her eyes were swollen, there were tears welling in them, but she was so determined not to cry. That night as we went to do her hair, she was super sensitive.
“Let me do it, like this!” She pulled and tugged at her curls, trying to straighten them so that no curl would pop out.
“That looks beautiful,” I assured her, “You are so pretty . . . all the time.”
And as I pulled the brush through her hair, the tears welled up in my eyes. Really it isn’t about how her hair was done, really it was about getting to do her hair.
Jahmela’s mother has been the most difficult parent that Andrew and I have encountered. But I now see that that tough and angry exterior is because she is melting on the inside. She wants to be the one to do Jahmela’s hair.
I want her to be the one to do Jahmela’s hair too.