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Battle of the Bows

Battle of the Bows

My daughter tears through the house, wearing a lime green shirt and brown leggings emblazoned with pink and purple flowers. I laugh. Ringlet curls dangle over her eyes. I groan.

Daddy’s in charge today. I’m laid up with a cold.

If I were steering the good-morning ship, Celia’s outfit would match, and her hair would be pulled back in tidy pigtails. But Daddy doesn’t like our girl in pigtails. He frowns on frou-frou. He prefers her beauty in its most natural, and most convenient, state. No ribbons. No bows. No frills.

So today, I say nothing when I see her hair all wild and matted on one side. Daddy has a right to dress his daughter without comment from the peanut gallery. I blow my nose and hope this cold runs its course.

Like many modern dads, Jason plays a more significant role than the dads of our parents’ generation. We don’t split diaper duties down the middle. On the outside, we’re Ward and June Cleaver. But when Jason is home, he’s involved to a degree Ward wouldn’t have dreamed, discussing bowel movements in riveting detail.

He wouldn’t want it any other way. Neither would I, especially when my throat feels like I swallowed a firecracker.

Still … part of me wishes Daddy would defer to me on decisions where I know best, such as Celia’s hair. I listen when he has an opinion about how much sugar she should ingest, but when it comes to my daughter’s locks … Daddy is way out of his territory.

Celia was born with a generous cap of silken hair. At seven months, I started pulling a few sprigs off her forehead with a navy bow. “Come on,” Jason complained. “I like her just the way she is. No bows.”


I reacted in my usual way. I over-explained. There were reasons—serious, complicated reasons—behind my desire to style my daughter’s hair instead of letting it go every which-a-way. 

As an adoptive mom of a daughter with African-American heritage, combing her hair isn’t child’s play. It’s a skill an African-American mom learns as a child and masters over the years. As a white woman, I have a lot to learn.

So Jason says: “Why learn? She looks cute the way she is.”

I want Celia’s hair to look nice. In the black community, taking the time to style your daughter’s hair is a sign that she is well cared for and loved. I want everyone to know my daughter is well cared for and loved.

“Why do you care what they think?”

“I just do.”

When Celia was eight months old, I took her to a black-owned beauty parlor. Pam showed me how to detangle her hair with an adult-sized brush, not those cute baby comb and brush sets you get as gifts. She made a part down the center that looked straight to me, but Pam was not satisfied. She kept redoing the part until it met her standard. Once in pigtails, my baby looked like a little girl, and I thought I might have to cry.

At home, I got comfortable working on Celia’s hair. I set aside some preferred toys for her to play with only during hairdo time. I didn’t like the strong smell of the product Pam sold me, so I experimented until I found Hair Milk by Carol’s Daughter, a company trumpeted by Jada Pinkett-Smith and Mary J. Blige.


Jason seemed to accept that I ignored his views on babies and bows. I agree with him on other points related to girliness. We go easy on the pink, and we don’t foresee any Disney-themed birthday parties.

I wouldn’t want to revert to the old days of fathers leaving all the childrearing decisions to Mom. Dads belong in the decision-making fold, as long as they can be reasonable … and know when to let it go. Even when they might be right.

Yesterday, I labored down to the park with Celia, even though I was still under the weather. Her hair was wild, her outfit was grimy, and her face was caked with crumbs.

“Look at all that hair!” an African-American dad said, as his immaculately coifed daughter approached Celia.

“Oh,” I blushed, my voice small. “I usually style her hair, but today being Sunday, I thought I’d kinda let it go.”

“To tell you the truth,” he said, lowering his voice so his wife wouldn’t hear, “I like it better that way.”

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