They Are Wrong…

communicationAt 6:45 this morning our daughter asked us a question that sat us right on our butt.  I’m still in shock.  I’d expected questions like the one she posed, but certainly not in kindergarten.  Hubby and I have even had hypothetical conversations about what we would do in “X” situation.  Yeah, you can’t prepare for it and especially not at 6:45 in the morning.  Our daughter asked,

Why would someone say that white people and black people shouldn’t mix?

I’m a Sociologist.  I talk race for a living.  I can facilitate the heck out of conversations whether online, face to face or using an interactive video system.  I get high ratings for this kind of work.  My eloquent first response this morning?  “Uh…” (deer in headlights, WHAT THE HELL running through my brain, and there isn’t enough caffeine in the world for this face).

Hubby stepped up and quietly (like he was approaching a time bomb) asked, “Honey, where did you hear that?” Dr. Sociologist is still saying, “Uh….” At this point, Munchkin sees our faces and knows that she has said something wrong, but we do not want her to get upset because she NEEDS to be able to ask us why someone would say these things.  We know this is one of those moments.  I finally snap out of it and hug her reassuringly and tell her we’d really like to know where she heard it.  From this, we deduced it was at school though she is still pretty cagey about where in school.

Again…WHAT THE HELL?

A million things were running through my head.  I was thinking about a conversation I’d JUST HAD LAST NIGHT with a friend about race, education, and a pretty messed up situation. I was thinking, “IT’S 6:45 IN THE MORNING!”  I was thinking,  “Why has my baby been exposed to this thinking?!”

And, I knew we had to keep it simple.  We had to keep it on the level of a 5-year-old.  We very slowly told her that we love all people.  That all people can love each other.  That love isn’t just for some people and not for others. We talked about all the people in her world who are wonderfully unique that she loved and who loved her.  We talked about how much better her life is for knowing those people.  We talked about how much she would be missing if she did not have them.  We bumbled through.  We stumbled.

We then told her, and I think this is key, that the person who said those things is WRONG.  We did not chalk it up to “some people just think differently.” No.  We flat out told her that they are WRONG.  We also took it a step further that might land us in the teacher conference one day, but we also told her that when she hears things like that she has our permission to say it is WRONG.  I feel like we at least did that part alright.

I feel like at age 5 that is about the best we can do for now–keep it simple while also giving her a voice to tell someone that kind of thinking is wrong.  We can try so hard to protect her, but I cannot protect her from playground talk, talk at dance class, things she may overhear in the grocery store.  But, I can teach her how to respond to these situations and remind her of the values and people we hold dear.

I’m sitting at work writing this now.  I’ve spent the first nearly 2 hours at work writing welcome messages to my online students in race, class, and gender and to my sociology of gender students.  I’m reminded how important these classes are in trying to overcome these early messages kids get and then they carry into young adulthood.  I’m not often at a loss for words, but this morning just kicked me in the stomach and made my heart hurt.

But, I can say this–COME ON, ADULTS! WE CAN DO BETTER THAN THIS.  WE MUST DO BETTER THAN THIS.

The Road to Independence

Abigail

First Day of Kindergarten!

 

When Munchkin went off to kindergarten 2 weeks ago, she did so excited, confident and, frankly, like a boss.  In fact, she told me after we brought her in, “You can go now, Mama.  I’ve got this.”  And, she certainly did.  On day 2 she didn’t want us to bring her in.  She wanted to be dropped off and walk in on her own.  By Tuesday of the next week, she decided our flimsy excuses of why she couldn’t ride the school bus didn’t match up and so she started riding the bus home.  Part of me, like any mother doing this for the first time, was a little sad that she did all of this without needing her old Mama very much.  The other part of me was reminded that this is what I am training her for.

At 5 it seems a little extreme to say I’m training her for independence.  She still needs Mommy and Daddy in so many way and will always need us as her parents.  But, even as she hits kindergarten there are things we are doing that increases her level of independence and self-sufficiency a little more each day.  She thinks it’s complete crap that I won’t jump up and get her whatever she needs.  She is perfectly capable of getting herself a drink, getting her snacks and, as her Daddy wants to push, even start making her own sandwiches for lunch.  We war over cleaning her room, picking up her toys and doing chores around the house.  She looked at me a little shocked this summer when I told her it was part of the gig of being the younger cousin that you sometimes were teased (in a loving, but definitely older cousin kind of way).  I am reminded of my own days of being “Donde-Magombe” though now when they try to call me that I tell them it is “Dr. Magombe” to them.  Good laughs.  Good memories.  Horrible nickname.

But, she is perfectly capable and needs to learn from these early tasks that she can take care of things herself.  It starts now so that it is not a complete surprise the first time she is told to figure it out for herself.  She needs to learn the skills early on so that when bigger challenges come up she can feel confident in creating solutions on her own.  This includes learning to deal with conflict in school, being able to handle it when she fails at something, working hard toward a goal and feeling the great sense of accomplishment when she does it and learning, as much as I do not want to think this way, that Mommy and Daddy may not always be around to fix life’s challenges.

Anyone who knows me, knows I have always felt this way.  I was raised with an emphasis on independence and self-sufficiency mainly due to circumstances.  But, this was brought to the forefront again this week with seeing the devastating loss 11 children are going through in Oxford, MS.  It was brought to the forefront with the responses of those children in the light of tragedy in considering how they will take care of their brothers and sisters.  Those kinds of attitudes just do not appear in children.  They are carefully cultivated by parents.  I was reminded once again in a very stark and sobering way, that as much as I want to be there for Munchkin and be the one to make sure she’s never hurt or in trouble or has to need for anything, life may deal a very, very different hand.  I was reminded once again that my task is not just to love my child unconditionally, but also do the very hard work of building all of those really hard, difficult skills they need.  I have thought of those children constantly and also of those parents who probably never dreamed of this outcome.

I was much older when I lost my precious father and there were many things I still depended on him for—a listening ear and his humor just to name a few.  That void alone has been difficult to manage.  But, again, those skills of coping do not just happen.  You do not suddenly reach a specific age and BOOM!  Coping skills!  Those are also learned through a life time of challenges and problem solving.  So, next time when she yells that I am, “Completely unfair and I am ruining her life!” over making her do something she does not want to do, I’ll just keep remembering that one day she may still yell that something is ruining her life, but she will know how to pick up and get to figuring it out.  And, it is with all of my hope that I am the one there to provide a little humor and a listening ear as she rants and raves about whatever it may be she is facing but also with pride as she figures it out.