By: Wendy Rhein
“Who is THAT?”
“This is Nathan’s brother, Sam.”
“He isn’t Nathan’s real brother! He doesn’t look anything like you.”
And so started my Friday evening. Actually, let me back up. My evening started when I dashed out of work for daycare pick up. I walked into the happy and bright room and saw a handful of little people surrounding a daycare worker, a substitute, and together they were studying something orange and fuzzy. I hung back, loving the look on Sam’s face when he sees me at the end of the day. The biggest smile creeps over his face and he explodes with a running leap to me.
He saw me, smiled, and as he started his dash, the substitute daycare worker stepped in front of him. She glared at me and asked who I was. Meanwhile Sam is behind her yelling happily “Mama! Mama!” I replied to her I am Mama. She looked at Sam, wide eyed, and then looked at me with narrowing eyes. And looked back at him. He scooted around her legs and ran towards me but by this point my excitement over his excitement had been tarnished. We proceeded to walk around the room and gather his end of the week things: a random art project, his red baseball cap. The worker followed me around the room as I followed Sam. I wondered if she thought she could catch me not knowing where things were or trapping him in the coat room. I was tempted to say something but held back. This isn’t the first time my parenting link with Sam has been questioned by an African American woman, just as I have written before about Caucasian people raising a questioning eye. It goes both ways, folks.
Just in the moment that I wanted to remind her that there were four other 2-year-olds that could use her attention, one of the regular class leaders came in and greeted me by name. Immediately the watchful woman hung back and sat down. I admit I felt a little smug in the moment. Sad but smug. Is that possible?
Once we were home, I was greeted by the conversation above from a 7-year-old playmate of Nathan’s. Within a minute of the comment his parent arrived to take him home and none too soon. My mom went on to tell me of the other things that had been said that day, judgments flying as soon as he walked in our home. The most hurtful of which involved Nathan not having a father (the kid’s words, not mine) and that Nathan could never be a Jedi or a ninja (the two most sought after career options of 7-year-old boys) because only dads can teach those skills, not moms. Nathan, bless him, countered with the simple statement that his mom is an incredible Sensei and a Jedi Master (which I am) and his training has been excellent.
His training in self respect and self restraint is clearly excellent.
His Master and Sensi, however, needs a refresher.
I waited for several hours and let the comments fester. I reached out to a single mom friend of mine with a multiracial family and we discussed options. I was frustrated and hurt and angry and yes, feeling lacking as a parent to not be able to prevent these kinds of lobs of divisiveness that still surprise me. More often than not I expect it from adults – the mean spirited comments, the looks, the “he doesn’t belong to you” stares. I expect more of children. I have seen so many of them ask questions out of curiosity and wonder, accepting the answers that we give about fathers and colors as if they make perfect sense. Because they do make perfect sense. Families are all different and it is love that makes a family. Or, as Nathan said about his friend’s comment on his brother: he was born to a different mother, so what? He’s my brother no matter what.
In the end, I wrote the parents of the child a cordial and careful email, explaining that comments were made that caused some hurt and I hoped they would work with me to address them because our kids have a special bond and I would hate for these things to get in the way. I monitored myself very carefully. I chose my words to make my point and not to give life to the rant that was ping ponging around my brain. In their response the parents were horrified and apologetic. They swore they didn’t understand where that language and thought was coming from, and I believe them. They would speak to him. They would work it out.
In the day that followed my email Nathan had all but forgotten the comments made. He had dismissed the no dad/no ninja comment as some silly and uninformed quip. He knew better, he said. And yet, he remained upset by the comment about Sam. A full 24 hours later he said that he was so glad that Sam was little and couldn’t understand what was said because he knew it would hurt him more than it hurt Nathan, and that was already a lot of hurt. What better demonstration of a brother’s love could anyone want?
Two days later Nathan and I went to see them to have a quick chat – after multiple attempts the child remembered he needed to apologize for saying ‘something’ that hurt Nathan’s feelings. Was I satisfied? Not really. Am I expecting change? Unlikely. Am I incredibly thankful for the loving and courageous friends of all races, family compositions, ages and genders who are raising inquisitive and caring children for whom something different is not something wrong? Absolutely. All y’all know who you are. Thank you.