I'm talking about my son's hair here.
(Okay, perhaps hell is too strong a word... but what a pain in the ass it is to manage.)
During the winter months I can get away with washing it only once a week, but now that this kid is running every place, kicking soccer balls, playing tag, and basically sweating his way around the neighbourhood, it requires more frequent washing.
I especially notice it when he comes over to hug me, with his head right under my nose. It's not exactly rank, but it certainly doesn't smell like shampoo. But he's a boy, after all - they rarely smell like roses by this age anyway.
The hell of it is the hair-washing mush be done during the final stage of the day, and the hour is usually around 8 PM. We've done the homework. I've made the dinner (perhaps the first of two) and now I must kneel on a folded towel next to the bathtub to lather up this massive 'fro, rinse with the hand-held shower head, and then begin to work two huge handfuls of conditioner into his hair. Like, close to half a cup's worth. This will take close to an hour.
Yes, an hour. On my knees, I said. (I know. I could weep for my own self right now, and you should feel tres sad for me.)
The shampoo part is okay - we use the lather to make long white beards, or to make giant horns on the top of his head. Or mohawks, which are always excellent.
During this very long and drawn out time, we have various conversations. When he was younger, I used to ask him to sing me songs from school. As he became more reluctant, I would begin singing something, screwing the words up on purpose, and he'd start laughing and correct me... eventually, he'd sing the whole thing in his soft little boy voice, and I dared not even breathe, as not to make him lose his place. The songs in French were always my favourites.
As I work in the slippery conditioner through the matted up tiny ringlettes, he'd wince and squint his eyes as I'd pull - of course, I never want to hurt him, but all those little knots are impossible to bypass. If I cut out every one of them, he wouldn't have any hair left.
Now we tend to have conversations about school-related things... we talk about what kinds of things happened on the playground, or about how his math test went. Sometimes we conjugate verbs. I test him on his spelling. And his timetables.
The other day he said, "There's something in the news, I think, about some guy? Some guy who I think cut up a person? And I think he mailed some of the pieces somewhere?"
I don't like to lie to my kids, but honestly, there are days when I just don't have the strength in my weary bones to get into such details. Especially not at 9 PM. Sleep is suppose to follow this activity...
"Um, whaaaat? I don't know, I'll have to check the news... I didn't hear anything about whatever that is... um... so! Popsicle, darling?! Here, have a cookie..."
Deflection still totally works, yo.
I play music on the iPad for him... whatever he wants. Anything to help pass the time. He asks me if we're nearly done. I say, no, not nearly. He asks if we're halfway done... not quite. We've got about 40 minutes to go, I figure.
And we chat. And he winces. And he yawns... I yawn too. I need to stretch, but I really can't take a break - it's hard to get back into it once I've stopped, so we just power through. Chit-chat. Negotiate stuff. Breathe together. Be together.
By the time we're all done, his head is heavy with conditioner, and full of fat little ringlettes. And I looooooove rinsing it out - it's so bloody satisfying.
We've discussed cutting it, and he really doesn't want to. Though, he does look pretty cute without any hair, what I wonder is how he'll manage to take care of this hair on his own? I didn't have brothers, and I don't have many black friends... black-hair textures range in kinkiness from one person to another, so I'm not sure advice from a friend would help much anyway.
Maybe he's just destined to spend some time in his mama's chair every week, getting his hair did. Kinda like a weekly blow-out appointment, or something? Is that what other black males have to do? Is this one of their plights in life?!
God only knows how many countless hours black women spend in hair salons working their 'do's... chemically straightening the kink out of their locks... hours upon hours upon hours...
I fell out of that trap a few years ago once I started cutting my hair this low, and I have never looked back. (That's a whole 'nother story for another time, my friends...)
I suppose though it is back-breaking for me, there are worse things than getting to spend a bit of time with Oliver, even if it's not a favourite activity for either of us. He's a lovely boy - it's nice to have his full attention this way. A captive audience, as it were.
And when he's all towelled off, grinning in the mirror at his wet, bouncing curls, he is pleased. He's happy about the way he looks, and that's all I really want. He doesn't want to cut it, so I will endure the hell of it all, just for him. It's part of the job, I reckon.
And, I believe it's worth it.
What do you do for your kids that you wish you didn't have to?