Navani Knows Wedding Bliss, Sorta

I was finally beginning to regret my decision. Don’t get me wrong, I was super honored and flattered to be asked to be a bridesmaid for my cousin Christian. It showed me that our relationship (although not by blood) was special enough for him to include me in his big day, and I vowed not to let anything during the process take that away from me. Plus, I had my dearest cousin (the grooms’s sister) along with me for the ride. But I must admit, I almost met my match.

Besides being treated like an outcast since the engagement party (the sorority sisters of the bride had no interest in making conversation with me and the groom’s sister), there was the bachelorette party. A weekend getaway in Atlantic City seemed harmless enough. Until my cousin and I got there and discovered we were left out of the dinner reservations. Instead, were left walking around aimlessly without anyone’s phone number because the maid-of-honor never thought of exchanging that info. Oh, and then there was the heart-to-hearts between the bride-to-be and us.

“Oh you know Adria, I never though you liked me cause you know, you are so Ghetto, and I am like, not” She told us as nonchalantly, as if she just told us her favorite color was blue.

Us being the only people not in her sorority. Us being the family of the groom. You might as well have called us Andre and Big Boi at that point cause we were def outcasts.

“No, I don’t mean ghetto in a bad way, just like you are so into hip hop and stuff, you know.” She continued.

Still totally confused and shocked me and my cousin stood speechless. Were we on a candid camera show? perhaps some new reality show that would air on Bravo or WE. That seemed like the only feasible explanation for this.

Then there was the “I am not sure if I am ready to get married” comments that ensued all weekend. They were followed up with the “you are sooo old comments.” Still, I kept pressing on in my bridesmaid duties, smiling and nodding pleasantly. Even when it was me and my cousin who got stuck setting up tables for the rehearsal dinner at 10 o’clock at night, getting splinters and walking in poo. I desperately held on to the honor I once had in saying “I do” to this whole arrangement.

The wedding day finally came, and with it more chaos. Besides spending an obscene amount on getting hair and nails done and rushing back to the hotel to get dressed with the girls, there was the joy of getting left in the salon while everyone else got done before us. Nothing beats getting dressed for a wedding in the wax room of a Dominican hair salon. It was quite the scene, walking down 94th street in Queens all dressed up in wedding attire. Even though the bridesmaids left us stranded (“umm there is too much traffic for the limo to come there, you should just meet us at the church”) we still tried to hold onto our dignity and our make-up as me, my cousin, make-up artist and the groom’s mother rode in her non-ac car to the ceremony.

I believe it was on the steps of the church, after the ceremony, when the Nazi Photographer yelled at us, that I asked myself why I agreed to this:

“No bubbles!!”

“Ok now bubbles”

“SEMI CIRCLE”

“LOWER FLOWERS!!!” He screamed at us as if we were in bridal boot camp.

I had had enough! I was ready to shove my bouquet down someone’s throat! Then we finally left the the VIP room with the leaking ceiling and lined up in the reception hall and heard Jay’s Encore come on. As we walked out in pairs to Jay Z and flower pumped along the way (and after a few shots of patron) it all started to make sense again. I watched my cousin and his bride run out to the dance floor to Enur’s Calabria and realized how happy they were. It was all about that moment – that one moment of being oblivious to anything else around them, just being so happy to have each other that mattered. And for me, believing that kind of love still existed only because I witnessed it first-hand, made the whole ordeal worthwhile again.

Navani knows not to forget the little people…

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[For those of you new to me and my blog, Olivia is my cousin’s four-year-old daughter/ love of my life. She continually enlightens me with her philosophies.]

Olivia understands many things for a girl her age, but time is not one of them. This is a subject completely abstract to her and sometimes it troubles her… like around bedtime and Christmas time. When Olivia’s mom tells her it’s time for bed, she looks for any reason to stay up. Most recently, she’s discovered the trend of staying up late during the weekend. “But I don’t wanna go to beddddddddddddddddddddd, it’s not time yet!” and her mom replies: “You have to go to bed because you have school tomorrow, it’s not the weekend so you can’t stay up late” Olivia doesn’t understand this. She is perplexed. “When will it be the weekend again?” She asks. “Well it’s only Monday, so you have Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and then Friday, then it’s the weekend” her mom replies. “Ay I wish it was the weekend already!!!!!” Olivia exclaims, totally stressed out. Welcome to the real world my dear!

It also frustrated Olivia to see the Christmas tree go up this past holiday, minus the presents. To her a tree = opening gifts. Waiting a month to get them was not an option. She instantly inquired about the situation. “Mami, when can I open my presents?” “Not until Christmas, it isn’t Christmas yet.” Her mother explained. “But you put the Christmas tree up, isn’t it Christmas now?” “No Olivia, it’s not till the end of the month” Of course Olivia cannot grasp this concept at all so everyday since then she has had this same convo, ending with this same response, “But I don’t know when that is! I really miss Christmas mami; I wish it was Christmas now”

And lastly on this edition of the Olivia report, are her thoughts on knuckleheads. Another random evening, when it was time for her to go to bed, her dog “Foxy” was barking and making all kinds of noise, and that was just not going to fly. So Olivia took it upon herself to resolve the situation. “Foxy!!!! Be QUIET you knucklehead!” She yelled at the dog. This was not effective enough. The dog barked again. So again, Olivia ran to her and this time got a lil more threatening, “FOXY STOP BARKING, OR YOU GONNA GET A KNUCKLE UPSIDE YOUR HEAD!” We still cannot think of where this child got this line from, but she does watch a lot of Sanford and Son reruns, so that could be it. In any case, it did the job.

Navani knows How to Give Hairapy

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I am still a rookie in my position as big cousin/ auntie to my cousin’s lil girls but I recently got my first assignment when Naomi, (nine), had a mini-breakdown. Naomi is a sweet natured, girlie girl. She loves the color pink, Hello Kitty, and accessories. She has a huge capacity for love, but with that, it is easy for her to have her feelings hurt. Which happened when kids at school made her feel self-conscious about her thick, curly, vivacious hair (courtesy of her Puerto Rican and African-American parents). Poor thing was crying and wishing her hair was different so her mom directed her to me – the curly-hair expert of the family. As I listened to her whimper on the phone I was enraged… it just bought me back to all my battles with my hair and self-acceptance and I wondered if it had started that early for myself. I mean nine and lil girls are already questioning themselves and trying to fit some mold that society tells us to? I guess I was overly optimistic to think things had changed since I was that age.

I remember wishing I had straight hair, even going so far as getting perms. I fretted whenever I had to go get a haircut cause no one in my suburban town knew what to do with my hair –  they could barely comb it out much less style it. It wasn’t until I was much older and discovered Dominican salons that I truly appreciated my hair. Then it became a part of my personality, and with it I had the best of both worlds: I can have it straight or curly at the drop of a dime. Now I stopped trying to fit other people’s standards of beauty, they have to fit to me. For example, I won’t date a guy that doesn’t love my natural curls as much as I do. I remember a guy in college asking, “is your hair straight today?” Meaning he’d prefer to see me only when I had straight hair. Was he crazy?

I tried to convey all of this in lament’s terms to my lil cousin. I reminded her how beautiful and special she is. To reiterate, I sent her this poem by one of my favorite poets, Mariposa:

Poem for My Grifa-Rican Sistah
Or Broken Ends Broken Promises

Braids twist and tie
constrain baby naps never to be free
braids twist and tie
contain / hold in the shame
of not havin’ long black silky strands
to run my fingers through.
Moños y bobby pins
twist and wrap
Please forgive me for the sin
Of not inheriting Papi’s “good hair”
moños y bobby pins
twist and wrap
restrain kinky naps
dying to be free
but not the pain
of not having a long black silky mane
to run my fingers through.

Clips and ribbons
to hold back and tie
oppressing baby naps
never to be free.

Clips and ribbons
to hold back and tie
imprisoning baby naps
never to have the dignity to me.

Chemical relaxers
broken ends / broken promises
activator and cream
mixed in with bitterness
mix well.
The ritual of combing / parting / sectioning
the greasing of the scalp / the neck
the forehead / the ears
the process / and then the burning / the burning
“It hurts to be beautiful”
my mother tells me
“¡Pero mami me PICA!”
and then the running / the running to water
to salvation / to neutralizer / to broken ends
and broken promises.
Graduating from Carefree Curl
to Kitty curl / to Revlon / to super duper Fabulaxer
different boxes offering us broken ends and broken promises.

“We’ve come a long way since Dixie Peach.”
My mother tells me as I sit at the kitchen table.

Chemical relaxers to melt away the shame
until new growth reminds us
that it is time once again
for the ritual and the fear of
scalp burns and hair loss
and the welcoming
of broken ends
and broken
promises.

Black hair is beautiful.
¡Que viva pelo libre!
¡Que viva!

We hung up, and I wondered if what I said helped Naomi at all. I got my answer last week when I went to visit her and she recited an original poem she was inspired to write:

My Hairby Naomi Otero-Phillips

Short, curly and brown
Wild as can be
In the morning it feels like a pillow
That is as soft as can be
It is really my hair so soft and divine
And that’s why I love my hair

Phew! Mission accomplished.