Friday, April 20, 2012


One of the pieces of our adoption that has been different this time around is that we are adopting GIRLS, which means I have a new adventure in learning how to ‘do’ their hair. With Justice up to this point we have just kept it short. About once a month we take him to the barber shop in Des Moines for a fresh cut and ‘line up’. Justice is content to mix up the designs etched into his hair, and get paint every once in a while. All the barbers (who are older black men) always comment on how much they LOVE his hair color, and I know that it really helps to give him confidence that it is cool to be black and have red hair! Anyways, at this point Justice’s hair is pretty low maintenance and his cuts are only $15 plus a tip.

However, things are going to be much, much, much different with our girls’ hair, and honestly, at the beginning of our current adoption journey this invoked FEAR in my heart. We are around a lot of Africans on the weekends at basketball tournaments, so I have seen the tremendous amount of creativity, style and work that goes into their hair (not only the women and girls but the boys and men too). In fact, for the past 6 months I have been studying hair at these tournaments (forget the basketball games)! I’ve taken note on the different ways to part the hair into sections, admired the endless styles of puffs & braids & twists, figured out the difference between natural hair & extensions & wigs, noticed who has relaxed their hair and who hasn’t, pondered how on earth they get the beads on the ends of the hair to stay, and also come across a few styles that I just can’t figure out how they were put in. (Let me tell you, the bleachers give a prime perspective for studying hair!). In being around the African families that Jake has in his Kingdom Hoops program it’s been easy to see how much pride they take in caring for and styling their hair. It is definitely a very important part of their culture, and I understand why. They cannot just roll out of bed, pull a brush through their hair, leave it ‘down’, and call it good to go like I can with mine. Because of the texture and curl of their hair, it requires so much more care, attention, and maintenance. My wake-up call to this came when we had C-baby staying with us last summer. She didn't come with any hair products so on morning 1 I tried putting in some of Jayla's spray gel for curls on her hair and it just looked awful. I could not get the frizz under control and it wasn't even close to looking pretty. Soon her dad came around and grabbed our Johnson's baby (skin) LOTION and smothered her hair in it. All her curls turned smooth and under control and her 'free' style looked perfect. That's when I discovered that this was no ordinary hair care! In knowing all of this, I was starting to get all stressed out thinking of the pressure I will have of making sure that I maintain this aspect of our Ghana girls’ identity. I just don’t want their new momma to let them down!

At our homestudy appointment last fall our case worker mentioned this momma [who lives about 15 minutes from us] who had adopted from Haiti and had learned how to style her daughter’s hair - and was really good at it! I remember thinking how awesome that was, but I thought surely I could never do that! Around December of last year I had decided in my mind that I would just need to find a hair salon in Des Moines that could do styles for African girl’s hair. I had heard it was extremely expensive to go this route, but I really didn’t think there was any other choice since I didn’t grow up in this culture knowing how to do this hair type, and I honestly figured it would be too difficult to learn. Seriously, I never even learned to do the ‘normal’ girl hair things in high school. I never french braided anyone’s hair (except for Barbies when I was little), I never learned how to create prom or homecoming updo’s, heck, I had never even curled anyone else’s hair with a curling iron other than my own! So even the basic ‘white girl hair’ styles were not even in my tool box! Therefore, deciding on the salon option was my way of bringing in some control to the situation and coming up with a plan so that my heart would be less anxious.

Then, something happened. Right after Christmas a new adoptive momma from my church started posting pictures on facebook of styles that she had begun trying on her African daughter’s hair. Here is one of the first styles that she did….

Every couple of weeks she was posting new styles – so here was another momma in my path that was learning to do her daughter’s hair herself! No salon! The wheels in my mind started turning and I thought okay, maybe she can teach me! When I commented on one of the photos and that I needed some hair lessons, she led me to this website: She said she had learned everything off of the video tutorials and step by step instructions on the website over the past weeks.

So, I started cruising around the website and noticed that there was an entire section for ‘beginners’ just like me! In just 5 minutes of skimming and scanning I learned all sorts of things that I never knew – like one style actually stays in the hair for an average of 4 weeks, and at night they wear sleep caps so that the styles don’t get ruined during tossing and turning on the pillow, and usually only conditioner is used to wash the hair in between styles – not shampoo! I made a mental note that I needed to carve out time to study this website, take notes, and try to sort through all the information over the next few months. But in the mean time, I needed to do something about this giant FEAR I had of even attempting to think that I could do this myself [really it was a fear of failure – I am one of ‘those’ people who usually don’t try something if there is a high percentage that I could fail at it!]. So I scheduled a hair session with this momma and her daughter. For this session I watched as momma Stephanie put yarn extensions in her daughter, Nora’s, hair. I learned that this is a great style for little girls who are patiently waiting for their short fro’s to grow out – but who really want long hair in the mean time! Even if you will never get the opportunity to style ‘kinky-curly’ hair, you HAVE to watch this video tutorial below! Seriously, this is just the neatest thing! Yarn extensions are actually just that – a package of yarn that you buy at Walmart:

Then you literally section off the hair piece by piece and integrate the yarn into the natural strands of hair. I am telling you, when you see the finished style in person you would never know it was yarn – it just blends right in. Check this video out (it won’t let me embed the video on here so you have to click on the you tube link)!

How cool is that?!?! Here is a finished picture of the yarn extensions all in…

And click here for the link to the step by step tutorial all written out with pictures.

Sitting in on a hair session with Stephanie and Nora was honestly the first step that God used in giving me the courage to feel like, “ok, I can do this!”….not because it looked easy, but just getting to watch another mom who had figured this out and could be a support system and teacher for me really took my fear down a notch.

After my first hair session I had thought I would start studying the website and trying to memorize the different how to’s. But then I wised up and decided instead to print off the posts….and now I have a big ‘ol binder with step-by-step instructions for some different styles right at my fingertips. So far I have only looked into the beginner styles. The website has some pretty fancy and creative styles that are definitely for more advanced learners. But here is maybe the best part – like I said above, I had never learned to french braid. Every time I have tried to do even a simple french braid on Jayla’s hair I haven’t been able to get it tight enough, and it’s not worth leaving in. But on the website I came across a technique called a flat rope twist. It has a similar look as a corn row (mini french braid), however you are only dealing with two strands of hair instead of three. In my opinion, ANYONE could do these! Earlier this week I watched the video tutorial which I have posted below. Then I grabbed Jayla’s life-size princess doll with a head full of fake hair and tried it out, and I could do it! HOO-RAH! I also realized that it was an entirely different ball-game from just watching to actually doing. I wanted to get some more practice in and get the technique etched in my brain. With a bribe of Dairy Queen ice cream and some movie time, I found a willing subject!

(Yes, I am sitting on a chair on our bed. Our bedroom has no floor space and the living room was taken.)

I set out to somewhat copy this diagonal parting pattern:

And here is a video tutorial of the flat rope twist which is the technique that I used for each row:

Honestly, I started off thinking that I was only going to be able to practice a few rows on Jayla, because I wasn’t sure how she would deal with the pulling/twisting of her hair since she isn’t used to it. But, surprisingly she sat still and cooperated quite easily for me! After the first few rows I decided to keep going and see if she would sit long enough for me to do the whole style – and she did! It took us about 2.5 hours (with a lunch break in the middle), a few tears on the tiny rows next to her ears, and a couple of runs around the house to stretch our legs and then we were done – just in time for nap time!

Some definite room for improvement, but not too shabby for my first go-round! With each row I got better and better, and taught myself little tips along the way:

-Wetting the sections of hair with a spray bottle first made it much easier to work with because it gave the hair some grip and kept the twists tighter

-I needed to tightly secure down the other parts of hair that I wasn’t working with at the moment, otherwise little pieces would get integrated into the rows and my parts would get all messed up

-I needed to map out the diagonal part lines better beforehand. I sort of eyeballed the pattern that I wanted because I didn't think she was going to sit there long enough for me to do the whole style anyways. The parts didn’t turn out quite as crisp as it could have if I would have taken more time to map it out using clips at the beginning. I also had wanted to do skinnier sections/rows which could have been planned better during the parting.

-I need to grow out my pinky nail! It definitely would have come in handy as a sort of straight edged comb when adding the hair as I went down the row.

Even though I have a long ways to go, getting to practice this gave me some much-needed confidence, and seeing the finished product actually made me EXCITED to get started on this new hair adventure! I know executing these styles will be much different with the tight, curly texture of our Ghana girl’s hair, but if I can at least train my hands and mind on the styling techniques now, then I think I will be less overwhelmed and stressed about it when they are actually here! I am already less anxious knowing that I have a plan and an idea of what caring for their hair will entail!

I feel like this whole hair thing is another way in which God is showing me that He will EQUIP me IN EVERY WAY for the BIG things and even the LITTLE things so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, I may abound in every good work (2 Corinthians 9:8).


RACHEL said...

One must have product: the Tangle Teaser brush. I'm not sure how a price of plastic can cut detangling time in half, but it is amazing!

Barb said...

Great job! Looks like fun. If I end up with my own little precious girl from Ghana in the future I will need help with the hair too!

Steph said...

Janel, you have very eloquently put into words the fear that many "vanilla" mommas have about doing "chocolate" hair! I was terrified at first but it has gotten so much easier and it is actually a time that both Nora and I look forward to now (and Lily has jumped in and asked for similar styles so we are trying to "share the hair" sometimes too!). I think you'll find that it is actually easier to do African hair in these styles because of the curl - the parts hold without having to be clipped aside (but that still helps), and when you get to the end you don't have to worry about the whole thing unraveling because the curls hold the hairstyle in place. It depends on how tight their curls are and every person's hair is different, but you'll learn as you start to play around. Most importantly, I have found it to be a very important bonding time for us...which we desperately needed! I really struggled to bond with the kids when they arrived and learning all this hair stuff - obsessing over it, really - provided a way for me to bond with Nora. It's hard to explain and I'm not entirely sure why, but it did.

Thanks for this post! It will be encouraging to many newly adoptive mommas, I am sure! :) And you did a great job on Jayla's hair! If you can do hers, you can definitely do curly hair! :)


Farmgirl Chaos said...

I loved Jayla's hair at D6! She seemed proud of it. So hopefully she'll let you keep practicing on her until your other girls come home. :)

Mindy said...

I have said many times to myself, especially after Audrey's show choir hair fiasco this year, that I could never adopt a little brown girl because of the hair thing. And then Steph's pics come out and I'm all like "Of course I know God is bigger than hair, but..." and then I had no more excuses. Way to go!!

Shonya said...

:) There's tons of info online. God equips those He calls! I've even been having fun with my son's hair. Glad you have so many resources close to you!

A couple other resources you might like include keepmecurly and her youtube channel katelynylyn and