Purple Hair and SPD

The other night it happened again. I was pulling my hair back into a ponytail when Lily let out a loud sigh and said “I wish I could have hair like yours.” We’ve been going through this for three years or so. “Princesses don’t have Lily hair. They have Mommy hair.” (Thank you princess Tiana for helping me out there…) We’ve done everything we can to make this little girl love how she looks and be proud of her natural hair. And the strange thing is, she IS proud of it. People tell her “you have the coolest hair!”

And her answer? “I know.”

But this time, I heard her desire for hair like Mommy’s in a different way. So I asked her. “Is it that you want your hair to look like this? Or that you want our hair to look that same?”

“I want our hair to look the same.”

We’ve been going through some adoption stuff around here. It’s the first round of things we knew would come up. She understands that she was someone else’s baby first, and it is really confusing and hurtful for her. And she sees how different we look.

So I had a brainstorm. Her hair cannot look like mine. Not only would that be impossible without a wig, it would look ridiculous. But.

I offered an alternative. “Do you want Mommy to cut her hair short like yours?”

She smiled and said yes.

“What if we could get it even more alike? What if we both got purple in our hair.”


And plans for Purple Hair Day were in the works.

There were several things at play here. First, her desire to match her Mommy. There are certain things I can do to make that a reality. We have a few matching outfits now (handy that Mommy is so short and Lily is so tall. We can shop in the same section.) and she struts around, so excited to be a physically matching team.

Second, I don’t want anyone to think I am downplaying the importance of her own racial identity. When we match, I pick things that she would wear. We do our very best- from the church we attend to the kindergarten teacher I requested- to make sure she is around as many brown people as possible. She wants to look like Mommy. That doesn’t mean I need to help her look “more white.”

Third. The issue of Lily’s hair.

I’ve written about it here.

And also here.

And here too.

It’s a big issue at our house. If you would like to comment on her hair, I beg you to read the links to my previous blogs. And then decide whether you should argue with me. (You probably shouldn’t) It has come up again several times in the past few weeks. A stranger even reached out and touched her hair and said “you need a comb.” Yes. I handled it firmly and swiftly. And then in the car on the way home we practiced saying “you’re a stranger, don’t touch me.”

But last week, we had a breakthrough. Not a breakthrough that allowed us to touch her hair. But one that explained why we can’t.

Lily quite likely has SPD, or Sensory Processing Disorder. I’m still new enough to the world of SPD that my explanation to you might not be any better than a google search. But it can be totally overcome with Occupational Therapy. Her diagnosis makes so much sense. It is the reason she absolutely panics (literally panics. Violent outbursts.) when someone touches her hair in an attempt to cut or detangle it.

There is so much more to SPD and why it is the most likely explanation for so many of Lily’s struggles. She spins. She is physically unable to sit still. All of the pieces fit. But that’s a story for another day. Let’s get back to the purple hair, shall we?

The day Lily agreed to matching short purple hair, I made appointments for us at bumble & bumble. As we got closer, though, she started to feel incredibly anxious about the hair cut. A check-in with her therapist confirmed that we shouldn’t push it. But I decided to follow through.

I sat down in front of Carrie, who has been doing my hair for ten years. I walked into the salon looking like this:


I explained what was happening to Carrie, and asked if my hair was long enough to donate. It was. But only if we cut it very short. Psh. It’s hair. It’ll grow back. Cut it off.

And she did.

I had ten inches cut off taking me from long wavy hair to pixie in a matter of seconds. She shaped it and styled it and it was on to the fun part. The purple.

Meanwhile, Ryan and Lily had been enjoying the city. (And when I say enjoying the city, I mean he drove around in Manhattan traffic while she slept in the back.) But she wanted to see the purple happen, even if she wasn’t having it done herself. So she kept me company while I sat around in foils.

She loved being in the chair and wearing the robe. And I needed to jump on any opportunity that equated salons and getting your hair done with fun.

Then. She told me she wanted purple too. If I could get her to let someone do something to her hair- ANYTHING- I knew the day would be a victory. So I spoke with my colorist who sent over one of the girls with purple spray chalk. And this happened.

What you see there is a happy girl in a chair with a robe and purple hair.

Is her hair still crazy? Yes. Will we need to cut it all off in order for her to grow it out when she’s ready? Yes. But maybe when it’s time for that, she’ll remember this happy time in the chair and not be so scared. I call that a purple hair victory.

And then there was Mommy. I left bumble & bumble looking like this:


Quite a change, yes?

I left there feeing grateful.
Grateful for the excuse to get short purple hair.
Grateful for the staff downstairs who made a huge deal out of Lily’s hair, even though it wasn’t all that different.
Grateful for the receptionist who told me, after watching us for a few minutes, “I’m adopted too. You guys are awesome.”
Grateful that she shared with me her own identity struggles, and that she had them even though her parents were black just like she is.
Grateful for the understanding of why Lily gets so traumatized by have her hair done.
Grateful for the chance to show her that getting your hair cut really short can be awesome.
And grateful that maybe she’ll remember this happy experience when the time comes for her to make the big chop.

I went into all of this thinking whatever, it’s just hair.

But you know what? It turns out purple hair can be pretty important.

13 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Erin
    Aug 13, 2014 @ 09:40:48

    Eek! My first comment wouldn’t post. I can’t remember what I said… probably something along the lines of “I love it and you both look fabulous!” I can’t let Nariya see though, she is always begging for colored hair.


  2. Erin Bennedum
    Aug 13, 2014 @ 09:42:33

    This entire post makes me so happy! 🙂


  3. Erin
    Aug 13, 2014 @ 09:45:31

    Oh and I love that you guys dress matching. We do that too. Except the kid sizes don’t fit me very well so I have to squeeeeze in to them.


  4. jasonbschmidt
    Aug 13, 2014 @ 10:37:39



  5. amy perrine
    Aug 13, 2014 @ 11:10:07

    I love the purple. I have a friend whose four year old has SPD and so many of the things that you have mentioned in the past are very similar to her daughter as well. Your daughter is perfect just the way she is, but knowing that she has SPD might help understand her better. You both look great!


    • Thoroughly Modern Mommy
      Aug 13, 2014 @ 12:19:46

      Thanks so much! Just knowing what is going on is already helping so much. We approach her differently. And that’s huge.


  6. naturallymia
    Aug 13, 2014 @ 12:10:04

    I absolutely love thisssss! I have to read your other posts about the struggles with her hair. Love that u were willing to do this with her and I love how happy she seems. Soooo glad to hear you’re trying to teach her to love her hair, and maintain her racial identity. Beautiful. 🙂


    • Thoroughly Modern Mommy
      Aug 13, 2014 @ 12:25:28

      Thank you! It has been a long, emotional struggle for sure. But now that we know what is really going on with her, we should have her comfortable with The Big Chop soon. Then we can work together on growing it out nice and long and healthy. But in the meantime, short purple hair for everyone! 😉


  7. Hannah Bunker (@hannahbunker)
    Aug 13, 2014 @ 12:17:42

    Oh my word, I’m remembering this for conversations with Gracie for some day if I need it. This was beautiful.


    • Thoroughly Modern Mommy
      Aug 13, 2014 @ 12:27:21

      Thanks, Hannah. This adoption stuff came up about a month ago, after a family reunion with a bunch of blondes. She had a great time, and loves her cousins so much. But the minute she came back, something was off. All adopted kids go through this, and with transracial adoption I think it hits harder and earlier. When Gracie has questions or is feeling down, you just have her give Lily a call 😉


  8. momto3sugars
    Aug 13, 2014 @ 22:23:10

    Love this post!!!


  9. K. Connolly
    Sep 23, 2014 @ 23:27:30

    This is great! I can relate to Lily all too well. I have SPD, too, and as a kid I would run screaming when my mother brought a hairbrush into the room. Thankfully OT fixed that problem for me, and I’ll be praying it does the same for Lily. It’s neat to see other ways of working through the issue, and I’m sure she’ll remember this for a LONG time.


  10. Trackback: The Countdown Begins | Thoroughly Modern Mommy

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