11 January 2011

Hot Topic: "I Hate Your Hair"

Little did I know when starting Boo in preschool this year, how much of an educational experience it really would be. Not so much for her, however, but for me. There are many adjustments that need to made when adopting a child, especially transracially. And we've dealt with more than our fair share of family drama on the subject.  So it seems plain strange to me that I would have been so unprepared for similar issues arising from her first venture out into "the world" without me, not the least of which was the topic of her hair.

Boo just turned three this last December. She started preschool a wee bit early (although not the youngest in her class), and has been doing rather well. We experienced no separation anxiety, nothing but excitement about not only going to school, but about mama not being at school with Boo. Talk about feeling useless.

Since Boo had done such an excellent job adjusting to school, it obviously surprised me when I picked her up one day sullen and withdrawn. When I asked her why she said, "R said he hates my hair. He doesn't want me to come to his house to play because he hates my hair."

In slow-motion in my head I flashed through a wide range of emotions, trying as best as I could to refrain from passing any judgment or letting Boo see that I was rather upset. I started immediately trying to rationalize what I had just heard. I mean after all, she's only three and who knows whether or not that really happened. Or if that's how it happened. So when we got home I started asking questions.

Her answers were consistent and revolved around the same to initial statements. R used the word "hate" to describe her hair, and because he "hated" her hair, she was not going to be invited to his house to play.

I continued by asking her if she wanted to go to his house to play. She said, "no," matter-of-factly. Then I asked if it made her sad that he didn't like her hair. She said "no." I asked if she wanted to change her hair so that R would like it more. She said, "no way!" It took several weeks of casually mentioning the issue to uncover how she really felt about what had happened and why she was so upset by it: It was the first time that she had heard someone tell her something other than how beautiful they thought her hair was. And she was having a hard time dealing with that.

See, in our house we have always made a big deal about how beautiful Boo's hair is and, as a result, she has a very strong, positive association with her hair as part of her self-identity. She really believes that she is beautiful and that her hair, as a representation of herself, is also beautiful. So for someone to tell her otherwise was just not something she could comprehend. At three years old, I'm not certain that she has, or will in the near future, be able to arrive at a conscious understanding that someone can not like her hair and yet still like her. But she has no ill-feelings towards R, nor does she have any ill-feelings towards her hair resulting from R's comments. Clearly she has managed to reconcile her feelings in a way that has allowed her to move on.

I should also mention that R is a very sweet little boy and that his mom, upon learning of the incident, explained that R sort of "hates" everything right now. I totally understand. Boo finds everything "disgusting," as well. I'm sure she's casually dropped that word at school, perhaps on several occasions, having no clue as to the damage that calling some child's hair/clothes/glasses/etc. "disgusting" can do.

It's been a few months since this incident, but Boo still refers her classmate as, "R, the boy who hates my hair." Sometimes she'll add "so I can't go to his house to play," sometimes she doesn't. Even though she refers to him as such, it is not with sadness or disdain, it is merely a statement of fact. She's not hurt by his opinion; "the boy who hates my hair" is simply a qualifier in her head that better helps her describe to us (her parents) who R is, nothing more. Because in her mind, she couldn't care any less about whether or not R really hates her hair. And so neither do we.