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Kyle & Owen’s Dreadlocks

Posted by | March 11, 2007 | CONSPICUOUS | No Comments

Kyle & Owen’s Dreadlocks
Locs. Dreds. Dreadlocs. Natural hair.
Nappy Hair. Perfect Hair. Black is beautiful.

Well, I’m finally going to do it. I’m finally going to blog about my boyz’ hair. I have held off on this for a long time for two reasons: 1) for me, this is a supremely personal and intimate topic, and 2) I really hate to take the risk of being perceived as a white mother who thinks she’s all that because she does her kids’ hair herself [or thinks she’s an expert on black hair because she has some experience with two black kids’ heads]. For goodness sake!– Black women (and men!) have been doing black hair forever! And maintaining two kids’ hair by no means makes me an expert! Pleeeaaaase!!! However, I have to say… that since I started this blog in October questions about K & O’s hair have been streaming in non-stop. And when we’re out and about in the world their hair is by far the biggest subject that people approach us about, question us about, and talk with us about. Hair, hair, hair. All hair, all the time. Since we got the boys in January ’05 black hair has become a major (and I do mean MAJOR) part of my life. And doing their hair has become a major (and I do mean MAJOR) part of my identity as a mom to black boys. So, at the risk of exposing my children and myself too much, and at the risk of having some people out there think I’m a white-girl-who-thinks-too-much-of-herself… Here goes.

I am going to put it out there. My primary motivating factor is this: It turns out that quite a number of white folks who have adopted (or are in the process of adopting, or are thinking about adopting) black kids read our blog. Some of these people would like to loc their kids’ hair and need help, support, advice, information. And I want to support those people and their kids. There are lots of resources out there on the web (just type “dreadlocks” into google and start browsing!!!), so by no means take this post as any kind of expert advice. I’m just a white woman who has learned to do dreadlocks! Having given all those caveats… Here we go!

Katie, Dawnz, and all the rest of you who have emailed me, anonymously contacted me, and posted comments about the boys’ hair on our blog… This one’s for you! :)

We had received photos of the boys starting from when they were age two weeks. It was always striking in the photos how — even at age 2 weeks — they already both had very full heads of very nappy hair. I had some experience doing black hair because of the six years we helped care for our special kid-friend in Boston, Maria. And I knew enough about black culture to know how important hair-care is, and how many black people (all over the world!) think that cutting a boy’s hair before he’s one or two is bad luck. I knew that I was going to want to keep Kyle and Owen’s hair long at least until their first birthday. And I knew it was going to be a big undertaking.

When we first got the boys their hair was in bad shape. In their eight months of life their hair hadn’t ever been cut, but hadn’t been well cared for either. It was very dry and brittle. Some of it was breaking off or falling out in places. There were chunks of bald spaces on their scalps. And the back half of Owen’s head was entirely bald. The hair they did have was very long (did I mention, it had never been cut?!?!). Our first job was to revitalize their hair and get it healthy.

In the first year we had the boys, I think we probably tried just about every hair conditioning product out there! (not really, but we tried a lot of them!!) We never really settled on one that we absolutely adored. I started braiding their hair, doing knots on their hair, and doing twists on their hair. I never perfected the art of cornrows. But I had a wonderful student — Jessica Brown — who was a gifted braider! Other than me, she’s the only person outside of Haiti who’s ever braided the boys’ hair. She braided it twice. I absolutely loved how the boys looked with cornrows!

I’d re-do the boys’ hair every 2-6 weeks. In between “styles” we’d leave the hair out and the boys had the cutest little afros you ever did see! But their hair is super kinky, super nappy, super tight. It matts up instantly. If we left it out, it would be napped up within a couple hours. So I kept it braided up or twisted up almost always. Everybody’s favorite “look” was when I’d do the boys’ hair in twists. The boys just looked so cute in them! And I loved the “carefree” and “loose” look of them on the boys. Their first birthday came and went. And I could not even bear to think about cutting their hair. But the boys were getting older and more active and sitting still for hours on end every couple weeks was starting to get real old real fast. So, I started thinking seriously about dreadlocks.
Locs are a big deal. They are permanent. Once you do it, the only way to take them out is to shave the head. Locs involve a lot of work and maintenance. It is a huge commitment. But I loved the idea of dreds for so many reasons. My biggest hesitation was that there are people who think you should not do locs on kids since it is making a permanent decision about their identity for them. I struggled with it and thought about it and talked with a lot of people about it. In the end, my logic went something like this… I want my boys to have natural hair, but I don’t want to shave it; I want my boys to embrace their ‘black is beautiful roots’ (so to speak) and be proud of their gorgeous nappy black hair, but I don’t want to make their life miserable for many hours every couple weeks just for the sake of “beauty”; I love the look of locs… and I love what they can represent (such as pride, embracing blackness, confident identity)… and while yes, of course my boys are too young to make this choice for themselves, as parents we all make all sorts of decisions for our children all the time that reflect our own values/politics/identities. We put our own ‘stuff’ on our kids all the time. It is unavoidable. And, I figured that down the road, if the boys decided to, they can shave their heads and have short hair. Once I started to get really serious about the idea of potentially locking their hair I talked a lot about it with one of my best friends from college, Roxann, who has gorgeous tremendously long locs. She strongly supported me and thought I should go for it. That was just exactly the support I needed. And I decided we were going to loc up the boyz’ hair. It is one of the best parenting decisions we could have made.
Here are the top ten questions I receive, and my answers to them:
1) Who does their hair?
Their mama does!
2) How long have they had locs? / How old were they when they started with locs?
We started Kyle and Owen’s dreadlocks on January 7, 2006. They were exactly 20 months old.
3) Who started their locs? Do you have a loctician?
I started their locs. We’ve never used a loctician.
4) How did you start their locs?
This is a big project and you need to do a lot of research on this! It would take me a long time to try to explain and/or “teach” someone how to do locs. There are lots and lots of different techniques that people use. But basically, we started with twists and just kept twisting. I started with a free-form look (not perfectly spaced, not all the same size, not too tiny twists) because Kyle and Owen are real “boys’ boys” and we did not want the look of their locs to be too “formal” or too “feminine” looking.
5) How do you maintain their locs?
To maintain dreadlocs you have to keep twisting and re-twisting them. About a month or two after starting their locs, I convinced Braydon to help me and taught him to re-twist. :) Yes! My husband is awesome! He may be the only white dad in America who maintains his twin toddler black boyz’ locs! :) For the first year we re-twised every week or two. In January of this year, after a full year, we started to go a bit longer- we’re now re-twisting every 3-4 weeks or so. Re-twisting locks (for us, at least) involves washing the hair, and then while it is still wet, using a pomade or wax or moisturizer of some sort and twisting up the hair to the scalp with it. Then we use hair pins to hold the twists tight. Once the whole head is re-twisted we use a hair dryer to dry the hair. Then take the clips out. Ta-da! Hair done! From start-to-finish this process (not including the bath) takes about 45-60 minutes per child. Braydon and I do it together — always on a Sunday night. We each take a kid (we trade off each time because I do a better job of re-twisting, so I rotate between each kid each time). We sit on the floor and the boys eat and watch videos while we re-twist. It has become a major family bonding time for us. We have all four come to actually really like this time together “doing hair.”
6) How do you get them to sit still while you do their hair?
Videos, food, lollipops, whatever it takes!!!!!!!! But the truth is that they’ve been having their hair done forever, so they don’t know any different. And they are really pretty good about it!
7) What hair products do you use for their locs? (note: see “P.S.” at the bottom of this post)
I started their dreadlocks with Murray’s 100% Pure Australian Beeswax (note: see *** at bottom of post re: beeswax), and then we re-twisted every week or two with that for the first year. Beginning this past January (a full year after the start of their dreds) we began using BB Maximum Strength Super Gro Conditioner with Vitamin E to re-twist. In addition, every day we put Motions At Home Oil Sheen & Conditioning Hair Spray (the boys’ favorite – they love it because it is a big bright yellow aerosol can and they love the spraying!!), or Kemi-Oyl (my favorite because it is an incredibly incredibly awesome product; I consider it to be “liquid gold”!) in their hair.
8) What other products do you use for their hair and skin?
I have tried tons and tons of products! Seriously, so many!!!! Here I am listing my absolute tried-and-true favorites…
Pre-Locs: Originally, before we started the dreds our goal was to get their hair as healthy as possible. Our favorite rinse out conditioner (in bath, after shampoo) was Dark and Lovely Beautiful Beginnings Conditioner. The best leave-in-conditioner I found for them was Pink Oil Moisturizer Hair Lotion. An airline attendant told me about it once on a plane – she said it was all that she used and all she ever used on her own daughter and it is “the best!” I tried it and instantly fell in love with it (after trying just about every other oil moisturizer out there!!!) We used Pink daily when their hair was “out” (i.e., in a ‘fro). For doing twists (before we started the dreds) my favorite product was Organic Root Stimulator Natural Hair Care Lock & Twist Gel Pre-Mixed Creme Formula. Our absolute favorite product was Just For Me Foaming Braid Release — it worked miracles in helping us with the huge project of taking their braids out!!!
Bath: Kyle and Owen love the bath. In addition to lots of bubble bath liquid (of course!!), to their bath water we add either Ginseng Miracle Wonder 8 Oil or Booth’s Shea Butter Cream Bath. We’re not picky about soaps and use whatever is around.
Shampoo: Absolute best of the best (in my opinion!!!) — Creme of Nature Professional Detangling & Conditioning Shampoo Extra Body Formula. This is all we use now. We are currently washing their hair about once per week.
Skin: Aquaphor Original Ointment on their faces and hands every single night; Queen Helene Cocoa Butter Cream or Queen Helene Cocoa Butter Lotion or Proclaim Cocoa & Shea Butter Lotion all over their bodies every couple of days.
Other: We are dedicated with serious humidifiers in the boys’ rooms that run every night.
9) Where do you buy all of these products?
I buy these at either Sally Beauty Supply, Eckerd Drugstore, or our regular grocery store pharmacy section. In all of these places they have pretty good “black hair and skin care products” sections (at least where we live).
10) How did you learn to do all this? Why did you decide to do locs? Do you have any regrets?
I learned from reading everything I could get my hands on (the internet was super helpful), and talking to everybody I possibly could. I learned that once you start talking openly with black people about black hair and black hair products you can talk for hours and hours and hours about it. I decided to do locs because I didn’t want to cut their hair and I like what dreadlocks represent. I don’t have any regrets. It was really hard last summer because we have a swimming pool and the boys were in it everyday — the chlorine is just HORRIBLE for their hair. That, plus the constant swimming, made keeping up with their locs an incredibly difficult challenge. There were times this past summer that their hair looked so bad that I was embarrassed for people to see it! But the flip side is that they had a great summer swimming in the pool! I seriously considered cutting it then, but we got through that, and I’m hoping that this summer is a little bit better since their locs are so much more dreaded up now. I’m so glad we have done dreads and I now truly cannot imagine Kyle or Owen with any other “look.” It has become so much a part of who they are.
EXTRA) One of my favorite parts about my boys’ dreadlocks is that their hair has never been cut and their life is in their locs ~~~ The tips of their locs are Haiti. Their birthmom touched that hair. The women in the orphanage braided that hair that is now napped up in the ends of those locs. About an inch up their locs is their coming home. In those locs is where we held them in our arms for the first time, and brought them from the heat of Haiti to the depths of a Pennsylvania winter. Their adoption is in there, our attachment, all of our time together, the good and the bad, every vacation and every sick day — it is all in their locs. The thick parts of their locs, close to their scalp, that’s their new growth – literally, and figuratively. I know it is hard for people who don’t understand locs, but for those who do—– well, they just get it. I’ll never have locs myself, but I’m glad I “get it” a little bit.
*** re: beeswax — I would really strongly not recommend using beeswax to start or maintain locs (too heavy/sticky and thus stuff gets caught in/on the locs). However… if you’re starting dreadlocks on a very young child (remember, we started K & O’s locs when they were just 20 months old)… then, in my own experience, you really don’t have a choice but to use beeswax. It is the only thing strong/heavy enough to hold up to the wear and tear of baby boys’ crazy lifestyle. K & O have always been extremely active and physical. They don’t care about keeping their hair pretty. They roll around on the lawn and in the sandbox, they splash like nuts in the bathtub, they wrestle each other like there is no tomorrow, and… when they were 20 months old (all the way up until they were about 2.5) they had a very bad habit of pulling each other’s hair/dreds as a way to lash out with anger/frustration. They also have always loved to touch their own hair and each other’s hair. Also, Kyle and Owen always refused to wear any kind of wrap/cap over their hair at night– so we were/are dealing with them sleeping with their hair freestyle. And, since they are such huge swimmers in the summer, and we have a swimming pool, and we don’t force them to wear swim caps, we’re also dealing with swimming freestyle. All of these things are not conducive to starting dreadlocs. And it is nearly impossible to get a 2 year old (at least our two two year olds) to be careful of their hair, not pull out their locs, not rub their head on the back of their carseat (or high chair, or pillow, or the carpet when they’re wrestling), etc., etc., etc. So… don’t use beeswax if you have a choice. But for us, it was really the only choice. If I was doing it all over again, and on much older kids, I’d choose to start locs with either Carol’s Daughter Loc Butter (click here), or Aveda Humectant Pomade (click here). We’re using the Loc Butter now and we love it (see P.S. below), and I’ve heard wonderful things about the Aveda Pomade for dreds.
P.S. to this post — As of summer 2007 we started using a whole new line of products for K & O’s hair… we bit the bullet and started using the seriously expensive kinds of stuff. And, sad but true: as with most things, you get what you pay for. We’re now full converts to Carol’s Daughter and Aveda. Carol’s Daughter (click here) products are our ***PANACEA***!!! Liquid (or lotion or oil) GOLD!!!!!!! Try it, you’ll like it!!! We’ve tried many, many of the Carol’s Daughter products and have loved them all. We mail-order them from online. Also, as of summer 2007, to shampoo and condition K & O’s hair we’re using Aveda Rosemary Mint Shampoo (click here), and Aveda Damage Remedy Intensive Restructuring Treatment (click here). We have a salon nearby that sells the full line of Aveda products, so we buy them there. But you can also purchase Aveda online. For a related blog post, click here.
UPDATE as of November, 2007:
Our current hair-skin-care regiment goes something like this~~~
  • Shampoo & condition about once per week using Aveda Rosemary Mint Shampoo (click here), and Aveda Damage Remedy Intensive Restructuring Treatment (click here). [Even if the boys have more baths we normally only wash their hair at most once per week.]
  • Carol’s Daughter Some of Marguerite’s Magic Cream Hairdress (click here) on damp hair after bath (even if hair has not been washed during that bath).
  • Carol’s Daughter Khoret Amen Hair Oil (click here) every 2-3 nights, on dry hair, before bed [this is especially important for Owen, whose hair has always been much more dry and brittle than Kyle’s].
  • Each morning before starting their day, we either spray on Carol’s Daughter Tui Jojoba & Shea Butter Hair Sheen (click here), or smooth on Carol’s Daughter Hair Balm (click here) to K & O’s locs.
  • As of now (fall, 2007) we can confidently say that both boys’ hair is finally fully 100% dredded [Owen’s hair, just because of its texture, took quite a bit longer to fully loc up]. Because their hair is completely dredded now, we are currently only fully re-twisting about once every 6-8 weeks or so at most. We sometimes do a little “touch up twisting” in-between just to polish up their locs (maybe only once ever 2-3 weeks or so). For real re-twisting and for our “touch ups” we use Carol’s Daughter Loc Butter (click here).
  • Skin— after each bath K & O get lathered up, heavy duty, with Queen Helene Cocoa Butter Body Oil (click here). We also sometimes use Queen Helene Cocoa Butter Creme (click here) between baths. We use Eucerin Aquaphor Healing Ointment (click here) every single night, without fail, on faces and hands before bed.


*** November 23, 2007 we finally trimmed the boys’ hair for the very first time. Click here for post about that.

*** December 7, 2008 we trimmed the boys’ hair for the second time. Click here for post about that.

As of spring 2009~~ Re: hair — At this point we’re using Aveda shampoos and conditioners for washing and conditioning. We wash and condition 1 time per week (maybe 2, at the most, and only if necessary). We’re using only Carol’s Daughter products for loc care… one of the hair oils (like Khoret Amen Hair Oil) after washing and conditioning; the spray on Tui Jojoba & Shea Butter Hair Sheen almost every morning; and the Loc Butter for re-twisting/loc maintenance (which we’re doing about once every 2-3 months at this point). Re: skin — still exactly the same as ‘November 2007’ above.

*** August 23, 2009 we trimmed the boys’ hair for the third time. Click here.

*** October 2010 New Favorite Hair and Skin Product post: Click here.

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