As a little girl, I cut my mother’s hair once…when she was sleeping. Not much, just a little trim, but not really having a conception of time, I imagine that I thought it would grow back right away. Needless to say, that experiment was not appreciated so I turned my attention to my next, unsuspecting victim: my father. At the time, my father had a very large afro. If I said I would grease his scalp, he would pretty much let me do what I wanted with his hair. While he was watching the game or something on television, I would grease his scalp and then braid his whole head of hair in tiny braids, put colorful barrettes on each end, then dress up my dolls and do their hair to match. That could take the better half of an afternoon or evening (it was a slow graduation from two-strand twisting to three-strand braiding). My father is also a pretty chill person (and pretty funny) so if he needed to go outside for something, he would go out, just like that, with a head full of barrettes— take out the trash, help the elderly couple down the street, go to the co’ner sto’, you name it. I would often be by his side, excited for everyone to see my creation. And I was always very encouraged by my audience who told me to keep doing that to my father’s hair because he was lookin realllll good; it never once occurred to me that them folks was teasing. My father once took his license photo like that after I agreed to tone down some of the barrettes; it was just too time-consuming to undo all of the braids and pick out his afro. Let me tell you, that license picture got a whole lot of views, it was like the 1970s version of going viral. Again, I assumed it was my hairdressing talent that was so intriguing. I smile when I think about it: all of these people who made sure to never squash who I was. I remember it as a community that always found humor and celebration in the everyday. Though my father was haunted by the many demons that squashed the fullness of working-class/working-poor black men who had just come home from the army in the 70s, I always remember my father as a comrade in my aesthetic creations and I took full advantage of it.
Every August, my father scraped together his money, took me back-to-school shopping, and pretty much let me run through Montgomery Ward and get whatever I wanted. It was a dream come true. Sometimes I could spend $50; in a really good fiscal year, it was $75. My parents were divorced and not communicating with one another which, to my delight, meant that my mother could not interfere with my choices. When you shop with my mother, it’s all about practicality (since this could very well be the only time in the year when we bought new clothes.) For my mother, it’s all about: how long will it last, can it be let out when you grow more, what else does it match, is it comfortable, how do you wash it, can you wear it on a gym day, can you wear it when it gets cold out…. all that ol’ mundane stuff. My father did not talk that way; he did not think he really knew what kind of clothes little girls wore so I took the opportunity to educate him myself. On one occasion, that meant a very shiny, blue jacket with pants to match, covered in sequin-and-sparkle-speckled roller skates with tassels for buttons. It was F-A-B-U-L-O-U-S and ON SALE! Score! My mother, on the other hand, was furious. You can’t wear that to school… and… blah, blah, blah. If I had been allowed, I would have worn that joint EVERYday. To top it all off, this outfit matched my roller skates AND the pom poms on the toe!!!! I mean, really, what more could you ask for?
Every August, like my teacher-colleagues everywhere, I turn my attention to back-to-school, no longer as a student but as a teacher. It’s all about syllabi, projects, and classroom assignments now. When you walk into Staples these days, you just know who the teachers are and if you look at the supplies in their hands, baskets, or carts, you can tell which grades they teach too. This August, I am remembering rituals at this time of new beginnings. I am excited for the new classes I will teach, my new train/subway/commute route, my new colleagues, and all the new students who will walk through my classroom doors. My collection of children’s books, many of which are oversized, fit on the floor-to-ceiling shelves in my new office. I have 6 feet of leftover space for new books or other collectibles (or transfers from home shelves teeming over) and a big comfortable chair. I even found out that the modular shelving system comes with extra shelves when I need them (space like this a real rarity in New York City). For me, this is all just F-A-B-U-L-O-U-S! Another score!
In the past years, August would hit and it would just feel like doomsday: “the cotton is ready to be picked” is what I would OFTEN say….and I meant it too! But this year, I get to savor the rituals, the excitement, and the newness in the air. As a little girl, I marked all of that with a little bling. Inspired by the adults from my childhood, I am re-realizing that new beginnings and the everyday should, indeed, be celebrated.