My Viva is 8 years old. She is bigger than she has ever been, but she is still, in the scheme of things, a little girl. She often shows such maturity and a sensibility beyond her years that I forget she is still quite small yet.
This weekend, after I took her box braids out on Saturday, she wore her hair “wild” on Sunday. At first she was rocking a Macy Gray-style ‘fro, but then she styled her hair so it fell across her forehead. “I want to have rock star hair!” she said. I noticed her hair could use a trim and some conditioning (she’s been swimming a lot this summer and her hair is drier than usual), but no harm hanging around the house or going to Target like that. However, on Sunday evening, which is usually Hair Night, she told me in no uncertain terms that she wanted to wear her hair “out” to camp the next day.
“Ooooh,” said Sweet Dub. “I don’t know about that.”
“Honey, tomorrow is a swim day,” I said. “Do you really want to go with your hair out? It might not look the way you want it to when you come out of the pool.”
“I don’t care,” said Viva.
“Kids might make fun of you if you wear your hair wild,” Sweet Dub said.
“I don’t care,” said Viva. “I like my hair. It’s cool.”
After a bit more discussion, we agreed that she should wear her hair how she wants. I have been a big cheerleader for natural hair over Viva’s lifetime, so evidently it somehow soaked in. She very rarely wears an Afro; her preference is for two-strand twists so she can shake her head and feel her hair swing around. I was pleased she stood her ground, but a little apprehensive. After we concluded our conversation, I said to Sweet Dub privately, “I have a feeling I’ll be doing hair tomorrow night.”
The next day, I dampened Viva’s hair, put some moisturizing crème on it and sent her off to camp. When Ceeya and I went to pick her up at the end of the day, she was standing off to the side of the gym, by herself. She gathered her things and as we were walking out, she said, “Mom, I had a horrible day,” and then she started crying.
Kids made fun of her hair all day. She cried as we walked home, and she continued crying as we sat with her dad and talked about it. Not only did a variety of kids (most of whom were bigger than she is, since this camp admits kids age 7 and up) make fun of her hair throughout the day, but one of her closest friends told her that her hair looked ugly. (This is a kid who usually is at our house after camp literally 4-5 days per week. She is the daughter of a single mom, one of Sweet Dub’s best friends from high school who works until 6 in Santa Monica and can’t pick her up on time. We consider this child family, one of Viva’s “play cousins.” She eats dinner with us several nights a week, we are her emergency contact for the camp, etc. I could not believe that in this instance she would not have Viva’s back. Yes, I am still furious at this 7-year-old child. It is not rational. Let me back off this tangent before I really get going.)
We all cuddled in a pile on the couch, Viva’s beautiful eyes shiny with tears as she let all the stored-up heartache of the day spill forth.
“This is not your problem, this is their problem. It says more about them than it says about you. Your hair is beautiful and you can wear it how you want,” I said.
“You don’t have to do what everyone else does,” Sweet Dub said. “You can be different. It’s people like you who change the world. Who cares what they think?”
“You crying? Why Coco* is crying?” Ceeya said, patting her sister’s leg.
(What is really infuriating to me is that the vast majority of the kids in the camp are also black. “The same flipping hair grows out of their heads!” I said to Sweet Dub later in my Mama Bear rage. “They don’t even know what their own friggin’ natural texture looks like!”)
After she dried her tears and blew her nose, Viva said, “I’m going to wear my hair like this for the rest of the week. Because I LIKE IT.”
She is badass. I wish I had that confidence at 8. And I’m proud of her.
* Coco is her nickname for Viva. This in itself is a long story.