I am a new mom, laying on the bed in my one-bedroom apartment in Waikiki, sunlight and traffic sounds streaming in, marveling at my baby’s beautiful hair – the brown curls that strangers stop me in the street to comment on – and thinking about how much I love them. I think a part of the reason I love them is because they come from me. This is not his father’s hair, but my hair. People always say that he looks like a mini version of his father, but I know I am in there too, and sometimes I want to scream at them, “He’s mine, too!” His father’s family attributes everything in him to a relative of theirs. His long, graceful fingers come from a great- uncle somewhere. They claim he will play the piano because of this uncle’s genetic influence, not knowing that I played the piano, and if my son does too, perhaps it will be because of me. Or maybe it will just be his own gift, not linked to any ancestor. In later years, on every post I make about him playing sports, his paternal grandmother will remind the world that “he comes from a long line of athletes on his dad’s side”. Never mind the fact that I take him to the basketball clinics and sporting events, his dad rarely making an appearance. His height is also a direct result of his paternal great-grandfather, of course, with no mention of the fact that all my dad’s brothers are over six feet tall. It is as if I was just a vessel for this perfect product of their genetic gifts.
It’s surprising that he got my hair, because his father is African American, and we expected his hair to be like his dad’s. But he has my hair: dark, curly, Indian hair. The same hair I have chemically altered for most of my adult life. The same hair I have raged against and fought with and forcefully transformed into straight, smooth, silky strands. The same hair I have fried and relaxed and hot-ironed into submission. I also recognize that this hair is my mother’s hair. It is not from my father – the one who everyone says I look just like. It is from my mother, the one who gave me her fierce intelligence and poor eyesight and hot temper. Maybe it is because of our shared temperament that we had such a contentious relationship, and why I was so terrified to have a girl of my own (a wave of relief washed over me when the ultrasound technician told me my baby was a boy). I learned later that she was terrified of driving, just as I am. Her favorite ice cream flavor was Jamoca Almond Fudge. So is mine. She liked to wear obnoxiously bright colors. So do I. Despite the rest of my family’s verdict that I was just like my dad, maybe I was more like her than even I knew.
She didn’t get to see me grow up and notice all the ways I am like her. And she is not here to see me as a mother or to meet her grandson. She wasn’t in the delivery room with me or at the hospital, alongside all my son’s paternal grandparents and great grandparents. She didn’t spend the first month of his life in this apartment with me, making sure I was fed, bathed, and cared for, while teaching me how to feed, bathe, and care for him. But as I see her curly brown hair on my sweet baby’s head, it occurs to me that she still managed to give him a gift, a piece of her. And in him, in this gift, for the first time, I regard this hair as beautiful. Yes, it is harder to brush and detangle and make “nice”, but it has its own wild energy. Just as my mother did. Just as I do. And just as my son will. I cannot imagine my son straightening his hair or trying to tame it as I have mine. In fact, I cannot see anything about him that he should want to change. Yet I have spent so much of my life doing just that to myself. Seeing myself in him, I feel more beautiful than I have ever been.
Nina Daswani is a mother of one, living in Hawaii. She enjoys hiking, going to the beach, and playing with her dozens of cats.