In my memoir "I'm Down," I recollect my childhood growing up with a father who for all purposes thought he was black, raising my very white sister and me in a black neighborhood. My father very much wanted me to belong with African American people the way he did, but I had a bit of a hard time fitting in. Ground zero for a lot of his aspirations for me seemed to be my hair. This is a list of some of my hairdos that I loved until the second I didn't.
1) Six Years Old
The one-sided barrette updo -- this was a simple style to pull off. Dad took an extremely busy barrette usually with things dangling from it: beads, braided ribbon, life-savers. Then he scooped up the right front quadrant of my hair and pinned it to the top of my head, and voila instant Sheila E. This is a hairstyle that I loved until some girls on my street decided they needed to see my barrette without unfastening it first. Not cool.
2) Seven Years Old
This wasn't my dad, but when I was about six I begged the woman who ran our daycare (let's just call her Fat Jehova's Witness Naomi -- because her name was Naomi and she was a fat Jehova's Witness. I'm not being judgmental, she literally couldn't leave the bed without a walker she was so fat. I have nothing against the name Naomi or the people who saw Jehovah do that thing)... anyways, I begged her for corn rows with butterfly beads. I thought I looked amazing until I was at a track meet with some older black girls with the same hairdo. They kept trying to figure out how the beads stayed in my stringy white girl hair and spilled a strand all over the street.
3) Seven Years Old
When my dad sent us to Boys and Girls Club in our neighborhood all the kids marveled that I didn't put any oil in my hair when I pulled it back. So after my dad put my hair back that morning, I smoothed in about a cup of baby oil and showed up for day camp looking like a child version of the girls from the Robert Palmer video, except less glamorous and with a horrible face-sweat problem. My dad had to wash my hair with cascade.
4) Eight Years Old
Three ponytails was more of a church look. I loved it for the simple reason that three is one more than two, meaning I was just plain better than anyone with only two pigtails. At least that's what I thought until I walked into a new all-black Baptist church with my dad and a lady sucked her tooth at me. It gave all new meaning to the words Original Sin. It was as if I'd walked into her world and said, "Hi. Can I borrow ... everything?" To top it off, Dad had my sister and I go up and take communion even though we weren't baptized. Not that he got any argument from me -- by that point in a Baptist service, you're pretty hungry.
"I'm Down" is out in paperback June 8th. www.mishnawolff.com