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by Muyoka Mwarabu
Today I failed as a mother. Today, I failed to protect my daughter. Today I was at OMSI and a woman sitting next to me said, “It must be hard to brush her hair,” and then followed it up by saying, “It must be hard to brush your hair.” I wanted to wrap my two-year-old baby in a blanket and extract the lady’s words from my baby’s ears. At the sandbox station I had hovered over her, my hands like a visor in front of her face, protecting her from carelessly tossed sand. I didn’t realize that at the flubber play table, I needed to cup her ears to protect her from thoughtless remarks.
When this woman looked at my daughter, she saw her different hair. When I looked at the kids, I noticed other things. Like the girl who didn’t cut the flubber, but rolled and squished it. I forgot that my daughter was one of the only black children in the room and stood out more. That I stood out more. Had this lady ever been asked about a feature of her whiteness? Like, was it possible to French braid hair that was so thin? Would she think my question was out of place, odd, inappropriate? I wish my daughter could play at the flubber table and be seen as a unique individual. Did the lady notice how my daughter had been sitting at this table for 30 minutes, meticulous cutting square pieces? I wish she had remarked on my child’s unusual patience.
Today was one step closer to the day I am fearing. The day when I am not there. She will be six, she will be playing on the playground, and a child will say he doesn’t have to play with her because she is a n*****. She will step back in silence and question her own value. I know that day is coming because I remember it from my own childhood.
I think my daughter understands the color brown but I don’t think she notices skin color as much as she notices nail polish. It’s there, but it’s easily forgotten and not really relevant. It confuses me to be in a world that diminishes her value when I know she is so precious.
When I was pregnant with her, I knew I had had a miscarriage and went to the hospital for confirmation. I found out that I had been pregnant with twins and one was still alive. After grieving the loss of one child, I received an amazing blessing in the birth of my daughter. I love combing her hair because it identifies me as a mom and her as my baby.
As we leave OMSI, my daughter is looking all directions but forward and almost runs into another mother leaving the museum. The mom gently touches my daughter’s head and steps to the side to avoid a collision. She smiles at my daughter with the familiarity of a mom knowing two-year-olds all too well.
I have to remember her. She saw my daughter. I have to see the kids my daughter will go to school with as unique people, and not make group judgments about how they will treat her. As a mom, it is not my job to shelter my daughter from the world she is in. It is my job to whisper in her ear as I brush her hair, “Thank you for giving me the privilege of taking care of your beautiful hair.” My daughter will leave my house every day cloaked in and armed with self-love. When one day a woman walks up to her on the street and observes how tough it must be to brush her hair, she will say, “Yep. And doesn’t it look fabulous?” and keep on walking.
Muyoka was born and raised in Portland and currently lives here with her husband and daughter.