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A Good Hair Day - Christina Getachew

I stood by the sink and let the tap water run to get warm while watching my daughter slowly unravel her two thick braids. Her eyes were cast down and shoulders slumped. Sullen had become synonymous with 7th grade. Was she sleepy or sad? I wondered but didn’t ask for fear it was something that I couldn’t fix and still manage our departure in the next 15 minutes. This was the morning we would make it to the Blair Street Pier to watch the sunrise before school drop off.


My mind sought comfort remembering a conversation I had with her two years earlier. “Mom! One of the teachers at school today told Anslee to stop touching my hair.”


“Really?”


“Yeah!” with satisfaction. “When we were walking back from recess, she saw her pulling my curls a lot, going ‘BOING! BOING!’ She pulled her aside in the hallway and explained to her how it’s not polite.”


“Wow, that was kind of her. Which teacher was this?”


“She’s the lady, who stands in the hallway every morning outside of the classroom next to ours.”


I was a frequent volunteer in my daughter’s 5th grade classroom. I’d exchange greetings with this teacher from the classroom next to hers. Her eyes were gentle, framed by soft smile lines that revealed a habit of sharing and warmth. And now I knew that her eyes were watchful over my daughters.


As I ran my hands through the coiled segments of her undone braids, I could feel they were still a little damp from her shower last night. A long, hot shower might have helped to wash away the residual stress and grime left by the hands of her middle school classmates. Lately, some boys in the hallways during passing time thought it was funny to throw grains of rice in her hair. I asked if she wanted a ponytail, high bun, or loose and down. “Down,” she said.


I gently guided her head under the faucet while glancing at the clock that read 6:52am. We had eight minutes, and that’s all the time it would take. A little water, towel drying, and some leave-in conditioner were all part of the deliberate effort to keep the hair care simple. Simple, in defiant response to repeated suggestions from her friends that she should straighten her hair. Simple like self-love and appreciation of her thick, coily, gorgeous curls. Simple, so she would learn to move with ease and confidence and take up space in the hallways she walks, the classrooms she occupies, and at the tables in boardrooms she may one day lead.


“It’s almost 7am, Ladies. Grab your coats and backpacks. Let's get to the car.”


I pulled into the parking lot at the pier, with a minute to spare. I could see the horizon in the distance and the way the sun had begun spraying a sparkling layer of gold light on the cirrostratus clouds above. A snowplow had cleared the asphalt leaving a five-foot mound that covered the walkway to the pier and obscured our view of the lake. Before leaving the house, I pulled my snow pants up over my flannel pjs and slipped my bare feet into snow boots. Standing at the water’s edge is the best way to experience the sunrise. I was dressed to make my way to a front row seat. While the girls opted to stay in the warm car, I hopped out and quickly clambered up the snow embankment stepping only where there were boot prints. When I reached the top of the snow mound, there were no more prints to follow, just a shimmering, smooth blanket of snow daring me to take a chance that the depth of the drift wasn’t above my head. I stayed put.


I could see a photographer out on the frozen lake who had already set up a tripod. While I stood watching the sunrise, trying to breathe in all the joy in the kaleidoscope of warm colors, I couldn’t shake the envy I had for the photographer out on the ice. He, most likely, didn’t have a morning routine like mine fraught with emotions and focused on providing armor for his daughters to face another day of othering. He didn’t arrive here carrying the burden of uselessness I tried to bury that morning in the breakfast I’d prepared for them. Two plates with fluffy scrambled eggs, buttered toast, and fresh berries. And lunches I’d packed, planned well ahead, with a thermos of warm homemade soup, apple slices with just enough lemon juice to keep them from browning, and scratch-made chocolate chip cookies carefully wrapped in wax paper with extras to share with friends. All these things I’d done before sunrise with the hope that they would provide my daughters comfort throughout their day. But the extra care given to help get them ready could not change what they might encounter. That morning I wanted to do something to ground them. I wanted them to be empowered by knowing that we get to live where the sun rises over Lake Huron. We get to be here to witness this.


Even on mornings when I arrived to watch the sunrise alone, my vision would be blurred by the morning routine. I always took pictures with my phone hoping to capture more than my eyes could see. The photographer out on the ice with his tripod probably didn’t have to listen to his anxious, twelve-year-old daughters complaining about him already having too many pictures of sunrises. I envied him for that too; except that when he was done, he missed out on the conversation we had for the rest of the ride to school that morning.


“It’s the golden hour, mom.”


“The colors of the sunrise make you feel warm inside.”

 

Christina Getachew is non-fiction writer, community organizer, nature photographer, and a Sunday brunch enthusiast. She lives in Kalamazoo, Michigan with her husband of 22 years, and beagle named, Chubbs. This essay is from a collection she has written about experiences during the years when she and her family called Alpena, Michigan home. She’s has essays published in Great Lakes Review and Quibble.Lit.

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