The last few days we've been working on locs. Vacation is a good time to get them tightened up and washed. Everyone will go back to school tomorrow with great hair. One of my daughters has had locs since about six months after she came to live with us. The other has had them for nearly two years less. The older locs are shorter because the hair was shorter when they were begun, but the locs are more mature and uniform. They are on the thinner side, and very tubular. We started out with neat parts and lines, but the natural way of her head has caused them to migrate where they will, so like me, her natural part is cocked off to one side of center. Her younger sister's locs are longer, but still retain the shape of the microbraids which began them. They are slowly disappearing, but you can find them still. Her hair is also looser and finer than her sister's hair, which means it locks more slowly and creates lots of messy fuzz that I must work into the locs each time I tighten them.
I was working at this the other day, and thinking how long it had been since I had worked on her sister's locs. This younger daughter never does anything with her hair unless I prompt her to do so. When I say that it's time to work on hair, she sits down submissively, with much sighing and complaints of a "numb butt". But she never initiates caring for her locs on her own. In contrast, her older sister has wanted to learn how to wash and tighten her own locs from the day I put them in. She was like a house afire, begging and pestering me to teach her to do every single bit of their care. I was kind of learning as I went, so I made her wait until I felt they were well established. Then I watched over her as she took on their care, making sure she wasn't doing any damage. In an instant, she was proficient enough to take over.
At first blush, I put this off to her typical teen desire to be independent. What teen really wants mom to have to do their hair? I would occasionally offer help, but she would politely turn me down. For long hours she would sit perched on a stool in front of the mirror, working away. She would sigh, and complain of tired arms and shoulders, but still she would keep on. Sometimes she would pay her sister to do the hard-to-reach section in the very back, but only if she had a little extra cash. Most times she would do her whole head alone. Even when her sister trashed her locs last year, and she was intensely grateful for the hours I spent saving them, I could still feel her impatience over having to sit as I carefully restored each damaged loc.
As I stood laboring over her sister's head, it came to me in a moment of quiet clarity. She wasn't displaying independence...she was displaying fear. I believe she has loved her locs from the day one, but she was also afraid. What if I leave this place, and the next place doesn't "do" locs? How would I keep them if no one knows how to care for them? I've seen the pictures and heard the stories. Foster care is a black girl's hair crap shoot. Sometimes you get lucky and they take great care of your hair. Sometimes you end up looking like Don King.
As if on cue, she appeared by my elbow. For a moment she stood watching me twist the strands of her sister's hair. "You know Mom," she said, "I really, really like my locs. I like my hair the best like this. I always want to have locs, and grow them really long." With this she tossed her head back and forth.
I smiled and said, "I know."