Back in the 1950’s one ethnic group seemed to follow another in the neighborhood of my youth. The ethnicity of the teachers in my grade school once dominated, but they were slowly moving out as those of mine moved in.
I had long black hair that was my mother’s pride and joy. She brushed it every morning, sometimes pinning it up in braids over my head, sometimes letting it go free.
That day in school, my hair swished and swirled around me as I ran and laughed and played during recess. It must have looked a mess because seconds after the bell rang and we were seated at our desks the principal walked in.
Suddenly it turned very quiet and I became aware that the principal was making a face – a “yuck” face, with her teeth bared and her tongue sticking out. To my horror I slowly realized that she was pointing at me. “Look at that … just look at that” she growled, “Isn’t that disgusting”. My vision seemed to darken into a small peephole as I succumbed to the fact that she was talking about me.
She turned and huffed away to the sanctuary of her office, eager perhaps to leave my offensive presence?
No one moved, and then, I hear another voice – that of my teacher’s. She beckons me to her desk with her warm beautiful smile. I stand before her. She touches my hair, tenderly, treating my dark, twisted strands as if they were Rapunzel’s golden locks. “You have such beautiful hair”.
In that same second grade there was another girl. She was stupid, I thought. Mousy. Thirty years later I learned that this same teacher once held mousy on her lap, so she could cry and cry and cry. I didn’t know mousy’s mom was into drugs. I never knew that when mousy got older she did drugs too, but not for long. She moved on to become a devoted wife and mother.
I am an adoptive mom, and our first son was placed in our arms by a mother who knew in her heart that she was not ready to raise him. Before we left the hospital where he was born, her mother, (our son’s birth grandmother) reached out her arms and touched us. “I don’t want my daughter to see me crying like this, she pleaded. “Please”, she begged, “don’t forget my daughter”. Our friendship continued to grow and we moved forward in a loving, easy, open adoption.
The adoption of our second son is closed. His birth parents, thought it best to not keep in contact. He tries to enjoy the visits of our other son’s birth mom. The sun dances and the breezes blow warm as we all laugh, and talk, and play. I know however, that at some point after she leaves, maybe a week later, or a month later, or perhaps when he is having a particularly bad day, I will need to beckon him onto my lap, where he will cry and cry and cry and I will place my hands onto his soft curly hair, and touch… lovingly, gently and oh so tenderly.