How to Braid Blond Hair

Living in Detroit

I wrote the following as a guest post for another blog several months ago. It was never published there, so I wanted to share it here instead.

Before our kids came to live with us, they were raised by a wonderful foster family. At the time, my daughter had very long hair and her foster sister would spend hours braiding it. I don’t mean one long braid in the back. I mean many, many small braids all over her head. I’m ashamed to say it made me a little uncomfortable. It didn’t seem right with blond hair.

The kids would spend the night with us every weekend and every weekend I would take out the braids with the explanation that she needed to wash her hair. I knew I was ruining her foster sister’s hard work and I felt bad about it – but only a little.

That was in 2009. In 2012, my daughter started second grade in Detroit Public Schools. And many of her classmates wear their hair in braids and beads. This time, I wasn’t intimidated; possibly because I felt more secure in my role as her mother, more confident in our attachment as a family. So when she asked for braids, we went for it.

Our first stop was at a beauty supply shop. I felt a little embarrassed because I had no idea what to buy. I’ve always been good at self-deprecation, and this time I used it to my full advantage. Thankfully, the cashier was completely understanding and very helpful. She showed us all of our options and gave us recommendations. We left with two containers of beads (pink and purple of course) and a box of black rubber bands.


When my daughter went to school with her hair beaded and braided the next day, her friend’s mom said happily, “she finally got the braids! She’s been talking about that for a while.”

I don’t have the patience to braid her whole hair; I usually do between 8 and 20 braids at a time. My biggest challenge has been the threader. Even after our neighbor showed us how to use it, I still haven’t been able to get it right.

My daughter’s biggest challenge is the texture of her hair. Stray pieces stick out through the rubber bands and the braids get messy very quickly because her hair is so smooth. She’s probably one of only a handful of blond-haired girls who’s wished for coarser hair.

We’ve received many positive comments at her school about the braids and beads. In fact, we receive positive comments almost everywhere, even in church, where these kinds of braids are rare.

What I’m curious about is how long the hairstyle will remain cute. I assume that by the time she’s a teenager, people won’t be as accepting. Perhaps it’s cute now because she’s a child and can be “forgiven” for “not knowing better.”

When I was in junior high in the 1990s, we had a derogatory term for someone who accepted styles like this. Typically we used it for boys who wore their pants low. I don’t think anyone will call my daughter names when she’s older, but I’m certain that people are still not completely comfortable with unexpected styles like her.

I started thinking a lot about this again when I came across an article titled, “White Women With Black Hairstyles Redefine Corporate America” that appeared in the Huffington Post. For me, the title is misleading. Unfortunately, white women really aren’t redefining corporate American by wearing black hairstyles. Instead, the article is really about an artist who photographed a number of white women wearing suits and “black” hairstyles.

“Yet the most compelling aspect of the photos is not necessarily the physical discrepancy between a white woman and her black hair, but all of the complex histories, assumptions, silences and transformations that make such a discrepancy so apparent to the viewer,” the author wrote.

Right now, I’m living with a white girl and her “black” hair, but I have a long way to go before I understand all of the complexities and assumptions that may confront her as she gets older.

The Unrealized Dream

Living in Detroit

Thanks to their teachers, both of my kids are familiar with Martin Luther King Jr, what he worked for, and the things he said. A few days ago, BE told us that Dr. King’s dream had come true based on this part of his “I Have a Dream” speech:

“… little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.”

BE reasoned that because she held hands with one of her friends at school, that the dream has been realized.

J and I explained this is an important step, but that we’re not there yet. J pointed out some evidence of the problem that she could relate to. It’s a fact that in her current school, there are very not many caucasians. And, in her previous school, there were even fewer African Americans. I know J and I would both like to see an end to the voluntary segregation that we’ve put upon ourselves. And, I’d love for the kids to have this same vision – and to be part of the solution.

Diversity in Detroit

Living in Detroit

I won’t pretend that Detroit Public Schools (DPS) are diverse, although they’re just about as diverse as most of the suburban schools. It seems to me that there is a general, unspoken agreement about which of the two is better, but that’s a complicated topic for another post (if I’m ever brave enough to tackle it).

I was recently talking to an acquaintance, and it was clear that he assumed that BE and BC are the only two of their kind (or any kind other than African American) in their school. I explained that yes, the largest population in their school is African American. But, there is also a sizable Bengali population, as well as Asians, Hispanics, and Caucasians. The DPS Web site says this about its student population: “We also serve more than 7,100 students, speaking 44 different languages in schools throughout the district, to learn the English Language and American Culture while mastering core subject areas.”

I certainly would like to see more diversity in Detroit schools, but at this point, I’m also happy that my kids are experiencing more diversity than they likely would in surrounding cities. And, I won’t automatically assume that their minority position is altogether negative. In addition, I’ve come to appreciate the importance of socioeconomic diversity, which is present in their school, and is just as important as racial diversity. I’m planning a separate post on socioeconomic diversity in the near future.

For the Caucasian readers: have you ever found yourself in a “minority” position. If so, what was your experience?


A Story of Her Own


BE is only peripherally aware of this blog. She knows the name of it, and she knows that I write about being an adoptive mother and about living in Detroit. At her request, I read her one of my recent posts. She wanted to know why I refer to her and BC by their initials. I tried to explain that being part of this family is her story too. That when she’s old enough, she can tell her story in her own way. And it will be her choice to attach her name to it.

A few days later, she showed me a piece of paper where she had written “her story.” It was just a few sentences long and she told me she wanted to “put it on the computer.” When I reminded her that my blog is available for anyone to read, she changed her mind. I assured her that I didn’t mind and that she could always share a story in the future if she wanted to.

I can see in other ways that she’s trying to make sense of her own story. I’m looking forward to seeing how it evolves over the coming years.

It’s Fun to Stay at the Boll Family YMCA

Living in Detroit

The Boll Family YMCA in Downtown Detroit is beautiful. BE participates in Girls on the Run there and both kids attend the Y’s school break camps. BE was really nervous when I first signed her up for winter break camp. It took a while, but now she really loves going. BC enjoys it as well. All the caregivers do a great job, and have been very helpful. Both kids will be there again this summer, and I know they’ll have a great time. It’s another great resources for those of us raising kids in Detroit.

Statue outside the Boll Family YMCA

Statue outside the Boll Family YMCA

Wayne State Weekend School of Music

Living in Detroit

A lot of people are surprised to find out about all the great resources for kids in Detroit. One of my new favorites in the Wayne State University Weekend School of Music. It’s one of those “hidden gems,” and I only found out about it thanks to an old coworker whose own children had attended.

I signed up both BE and BC in January and their session just ended (they’ll start a new one in June – sessions correspond to college semesters). BE took piano and BC took drum. The classes are held as group lessons and meet almost every Saturday. At first I wasn’t sure how the group format would work, but my kids have learned so much and the teachers are great at keeping the kids’ attention.

During a recent class, BE’s teacher took them to see a grand piano and gave them a lesson about how a piano works – it was one of BE’s favorite lessons. Oh, and I can’t forget, the lessons are very affordable!


BE’s tour of the inside of a grand piano

Girls (on the Run) Just Wanna Have Fun

Living in Detroit

Meet the newest poster girl for Girls on the Run:

girls on the run

BE at her first day of Girls on the Run

What’s Girls on the Run, you ask? It’s a program for young girls focused on physical activity and character development.  Throughout the “season,” the girls train in teams for a 5K while completing self-esteem. building activities. I’ve been dying for BE to be old enough to participate for years, and finally this year, she could.

At first, she wasn’t excited about it, and agreed to join only when I bought her a running skirt (perfect for girly girls like her). Well, the season ends next weekend, and she ended up loving every minute of it. She says she wants to go to Girls on the Run every day (not just the two days per week that they meet) and she’s already asked to sign up for the fall. Her coach told me that they should make her the official poster girl because she’s so enthusiastic.

If you have a young daughter, please check it out, it’s a wonderful program. BE runs at the Boll Family YMCA in Downtown Detroit, which is a great facility and will be the subject of its own future post.

An Afternoon at Belle Isle

Living in Detroit

Since we moved to Detroit, we’re fortunate to live just a few minutes from Belle Isle. With some money, the park could be really beautiful, but even with out it, Belle Isle is a great place to visit. On Sunday, we had 50 degree weather here in southeast Michigan, which is a real heat wave for us. We took the kids to Belle Isle for the afternoon, and lots of other families had the same idea.

We started out at “Kids Row,” a very large, relatively new play structure. The kids also rode their scooter and trike before we headed to the conservatory. The building itself it worth seeing, and we all enjoyed the collection of plants and flowers housed there. We still haven’t been to the newly opened aquarium, but I really want to make it there this year.

I can’t wait for more consistently warm weather, so we can spend more time at Belle Isle.

At the Belle Isle playground

At the Belle Isle playground


At the conservatory

We love Eastern Market

Living in Detroit

I love shopping at Eastern Market because there are so many fresh, local products to choose from, even in the winter. My kids love it because there’s so much to see and do.

BC and I were there last Saturday and he had a great time trying all the samples, waving to people, pushing the cart, and eating popcorn. But his favorite part (this goes for BE too) is “the xylophone guy.” There are many musicians at Eastern Market, but “xylophone guy”  is their favorite, because he lets them play his xylophone. Of course, BC was very excited as soon as he saw his friend on Saturday. And, he gave a great “concert!”


Detroit: A Biography

Living in Detroit

I’m always interested in the history of movements, places, and institutions, so after we moved to Detroit, I really wanted to learn more about the city. I grew up in the suburbs and had a very limited understanding of Detroit, as I think many suburban Detroiters do. So, I picked up “Detroit: A Biography” by journalist Scott Martelle.

One topic I was most interested in was race relations within the city. By reading the book, I learned that race relations and riots in Detroit are nearly as old as the city itself. It seems obvious now, but I hadn’t realized that the issue was very present and very contentious long before the infamous 1967 riots (or “rebellion” as Martelle explained that some Detroiters call it).

Many of us might like to think that race is no longer an issue in Detroit (or anywhere else), but it clearly is. Martelle cites one study with surprising results. In a chapter dedicated to land covenants (documents that forbid the sales of homes to African Americans), Martelle discusses a study by the University of Michigan and the Institute for Social Research that was completed in 2004. Martelle wrote:

“Three-quarters of the whites said they’d move into a neighborhood in which blacks accounted for less than 20 percent of the residents, but only half would move into a neighborhood if the black proportion rose to one-third. If a neighborhood was more than half black, less than a third of whites said they would be likely to move in. Blacks, though, were most likely to move into a neighborhood that was evenly split, and less likely to move into predominately white or predominately black neighborhoods. So, in broad terms, black home owners were seeking new neighborhoods in which there was a racial balance. But once that balance was achieved, the neighborhoods became less attractive to whites, who one can presume, then began moving out.”

This study was done only nine years ago, and it’s sad to think these attitudes still prevail.

Another highlight of the book, was Martelle’s interviews with individual Detroiters. His conversations with them demonstrated how diverse the Detroit experience can be. If you’re interested in Detroit, please check out “Detroit: A Biography.”