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Still, three years in, I’m just getting the hang of being a parent of school-aged children. (To cut myself a little slack, this is only year one with both kids in school.) Kindergarten and second grade. Recently it dawned on me that this “adjustment period” of mine has gone on too long, and I’m committed to shaking off the shock by next September. But for now, there is still a lot I’ve got to work out, including the morning madness, which is akin to herding cats. (What do you mean you’ve tied your shoes? Move the pile of Star Wars figures at the bottom of the stairs now! Since when don’t you like oatmeal? And most notably, WHERE IS THE RED HOMEWORK FOLDER?! I THOUGHT I SAID PUT THAT IN YOUR BAG LAST NIGHT!)

There is also something else I have to get better at; figuring out how to approach matters of race and culture in child-appropriate ways. My boys are not only beautiful and bright, but they are also brown in a sea of beige.

If you asked me why in such a progressive school, in the era of Barack Obama, at a time when terms like “post-racial” exist, does this even matter? I would understand. But let me give an example of how it affects life on, say, a 5-year-old.

Me: Why don’t you ever play with Bobby, (aka, the only other black child in class)? We should have a playdate with him, right?

Kid: Well, Bobby yelled at me that we are not twins.

Me: Quizzical silence. What did you say when he said that?

Kid: I yelled at him back. I said, “I KNOW WE ARE NOT TWINS!” But, Mommy everyone says that we are.

It helps to know that Bobby is about a head taller than my son and that they look nothing alike. But the truth is, on the very first day of school, I was relieved to see little Bobby. I recalled my older son’s first year of school as the only black boy in class, and I remembered how he socially retreated, and how I—fearing that I would impose some warped adult interpretation of his reality on him—waited an entire year to ask if he felt different.

The twin thing between my kindergartener and his classmate had actually been bubbling under the surface all year. After completing their first “self-portraits,” where they both used the same color brown construction paper, my baby said to me that everyone said his picture “looked like Bobby’s.” Later in the semester, he told me that everyone said he and Bobby “have the same hair.”

What I’m learning is that even with the youngest of children, matters of race are not always simple, neatly tied bows with “everyone is special” on one side and “we are all unique” on the other. Clearly the other five- and six-year-olds in my son’s class, who see him and Bobby as “twins,” were not trying to hurt the boys’ feelings. They certainly weren’t trying to cause a rift between them.  They were observing something. Bobby and my boy are both black. Yet, no child ever called them that—just twins. For me the lesson here is that maybe as parents, identifying (recognizing, talking about) race, instead of pretending to our children that it doesn’t exist, isn’t always so bad after all.

 

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Comments (3)

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  1. Exactly right. This was made clear to me when my pale skinned son was holding hands with a darker skinned classmate; when he picked up her hand and commented on the darkness of her skin, I immediately panicked and started to jump in with a whole host of socially engineered responses. But then I realized that they were both exploring their differences in a very factual and literal and completely 5 year old way. So I took a chill pill and answered their questions and reveled in their eager approach to the topic.

  2. Posted by: TH

    Wow, it was great to read this having dealt often, but most recently w this issue. I also have a 5 yr old & at that age, they seem to think what other’s think, they just don’t have a filter to not say things. My son makes observations abt other people skin color & I cringe for fear he might upset or offend someone. But all they are, are observations. He has no intent to hurt anyone w his comments. I constantly worry he will say something that will lead to a ‘teachable moment’ on my part & I will fail to teach him anything bc I’m scared of saying the wrong thing myself. I think you said it best, that matters of race aren’t always simple. Especially if someone is feeling different. We live in Asia & my son’s school has lots of skin colors. I was hoping those diversities would make him not see the skin colors of his friends but in fact, they are still different colors. It is a fact, not a judgement, just a fact. I’m having my own teachable moment. Great post.

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