Saturday, November 21, 2009
Out of the mouths of babes
When you choose to adopt a child of another race, you know that your family will be conspicuous. You also know that you will have to address prejudice and ignorance at some point. What surprised me was how quickly we had our first chance to address it with one of our sons. One night I was tucking in my seven year old son and I asked him about his day at school. (He is pictured here with his beloved little sister on Halloween). My boys and I have great conversations as they wind down for the day. I know part of it is stalling but I also believe part of it is their brains processing the events and impressions of the day. He seemed quite upset and said one of his classmates had said something to him that really bothered him. He said, "M told me that I should not have a sister that is a different color than me. I was so happy about the adoption (we were still waiting for his sister at that time) and his comment took some of my joy away." I then braced myself as I asked him to explain that a bit. In the back of mind, I worried that he might ask why did we choose to adopt from another race or that he wished his sister would be the same color.
I was uplifted by his answer, "I wish he could be happy about it like me." I then did what mothers often do. I offered to "help" or "fix." I said, "Why don't I talk to your teacher so she can discuss this with M." He looked me straight in the eye and said very matter of factly, "Mom, he is just a little kid; he doesn't know any better." Humbled by that answer but still in mommy help mode, I asked, "Maybe I could explain to M how his comment made you feel." This offer was also rebuffed with a "Mommy, he is my friend and I should be the one to talk to him." I tucked him in and left struck by the wisdom of his seven year old words. I checked in with him a few days later to see how the conversation had gone. He said, "We had a good talk; now he wants to have a sister of another color too but his mom said no because he already has three sisters."
This exchange has come back to me as I see folks study our family - we range from white, shades of olive brown, and dark brown. I know some of this attention is just innocent curiosity. We have found also that much of this attention is very positive and encouraging. We have gotten support from many we meet. However, there is a small portion of that attention that is negative or disapproving in some form. I believe prejudice is generally learned behavior or comes from not being well informed. I also believe taking the time to reach and educate in a positive way can change someone's perspective. I was very proud of my little boy and he taught me a lot by his approach.
He said he wants to do his part to help the people of Ethiopia. We are planning on putting on a bake sale together to raise money. He is my baking buddy (mostly he likes the tasting part). I think it is never too early to get my kids involved with helping other less fortunate or talking about tough issue. And as I found out, the student can become the teacher too in the process