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My Hot Rollers, My Daughter, Myself

Since seventh grade, I have indulged in the great Southern women’s ritual of forcing my hair to do things it doesn’t want to do. In Jackson, Mississippi, the trend was an uptight version of Farrah Fawcett’s feathered style. Sadly, every morning, after an hour of trying to force the feathers, I pulled my limp locks back with barrettes in disgust.

Over the years, I held out hope that I could achieve “the look.” In the 80s, I did OK with Big Hair; in the 90s, my attempt at Jennifer Aniston’s flip was disastrous. Recently, I bossed my hair into the stick-straight style, until humidity invariably undid my effort. When my daughter came along, in 2006, I had less time, so I let my hair do its own thing. My hair seems happier, and so am I.

But now I have a daughter to consider. Her hair is a field of ever-changing wonderment. I’m always coming across undiscovered curls. Some are tight, others are wavy. Curls grow in every direction and still manage to form perfect ringlets.

When I adopted a child of African heritage, I was told that I must learn to style her hair properly. I’m trying. I bought hair products. I grilled other moms of biracial children. I took a class at a local children’s hair salon for parents like me, who find themselves running their fingers through hair that is nothing like their own.

I expected to feel a rush of satisfaction the first time I bossed Celia’s hair into four organized pigtails. But the tidy, symmetrical style didn’t fit my child’s free-spirited personality. And I wondered why I was torturing us both.

The idea of black women grimacing at Celia’s hair and thinking me unworthy as a mother doesn’t scare me anymore. No one has ever uttered a critical word to me about my decision to adopt a child of another race. Instead, women roll down their car windows and shout, “She’s beautiful! Try Baby Love! You can get it at Walmart!”

I don’t want my daughter to grow up thinking her hair has to be fixed. I spent too many years fretting over my own hair. Still, I’m hesitant to surrender to a natural style for her. For now, I’ll wait until my daughter is old enough to tell me what she wants. Until then, we’ll go untamed together. We are, after all, mother and daughter.

PATTI GHEZZI is an adoptive mom and freelance writer, who worked for 13 years as a journalist for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. A longer version of this article appeared at

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