Lessons are learned everyday, sometimes from the simplest of acts. Years ago, I went on a vacation with my daughter where she decided to cornrow her hair. Sixty-two braids. I know because I sat patiently for over three hours while each one was made. On our holiday cruise all the kids were running around with a variety of corn rows. She was just like everybody else, cute and adorable.
But, in the Florida airport, side glances and lingering looks became more apparent. A few comments even caught our attention on the plane. By the time we reached Dallas, they became more overt and obvious. A cute little girl in cornrows was just too different to be ignored. As we entered the final plane heading home she was obviously concerned and self conscious about her once loved hairdo. As we discussed her worries, it prompted her to say,
“Mommy, I don’t know if I want to keep my braids when I get home. I’m afraid people will laugh at me.”
I was crushed by her agony. Suddenly all the joy and beauty she had felt when looking in the mirror was rapidly evaporating. I held her close and told her she had three choices.
1. She could keep her braids, feel embarrassed and uncomfortable and go to school believing no one would appreciate them. Like all self-fulfilling prophecies, she probably would be laughed at.
2. She could decide to take them out and just not deal with the issue. If she didn’t expose herself to their reaction, then she couldn’t be hurt.
3. Or she could choose to wear the braids because she liked them. Because they made her feel wonderful; understanding that exhibiting individual style is what makes us unique and special. She could walk into school proud and confident of her new look. In that case, I had no doubt parents would be calling wondering where they could get their kids hair corn-rowed too!
It was entirely her decision. I explained how I felt these were the choices she would be making all her life. This was just the beginning. At some point any one of them might feel like the best path to follow. But, believing in your heart what feels right to you, and you alone, is all that matters.
She thought long and hard on the last three hour flight home. I could see the wheels turning and the difficulty she was having in choosing, the closer we got to Tucson. When we were about to land she looked at me. Then she closed her eyes and swung her head back and forth hearing all the beads clicking. A smile spread on her face as the music grew. When she opened her eyes she was glowing.
“I’m going to keep them forever!”
With that, we retrieved our luggage and departed the plane. She still got a tremendous amount of looks, as well as comments under people’s breath. But she beamed, seemingly unfazed. She was happy, nothing else mattered.
After three long weeks, she was forced to take the braids out when they hurt too much performing gymnastic stunts.
A lesson learned at five years of age, that most of us do not learn our entire lives- peer pressure is all around us. Sometimes we may bow to it, other times not to expose ourselves to it. But most times we need to decide what is the best course of action for us regardless of what anybody else thinks.