Civics Lesson


My son has one week left of school. Needless to say, things have been a bit hectic in our house as of late. His birthday (and party) were last weekend. My husband left the following day for a week long business trip. This is after only being home for one week from a three week trip. Also, today was ‘field day’ for the school. I had to, sadly, actually plan the morning around making his lunch since i’ve been LazyMom lately and letting him buy every day.

So he comes home today after an extra long day, we sit down to start on homework and as i’m going through his backpack, it’s clear the teacher is beginning the big end of year purge. There’s all kinds of random papers in his backpack.

I’d like to sign a paper in the beginning of the school year that says i do not wish to keep every scrap of paper he scribbled, drooled on, or added something on. I would like the tests back, and any pertinent, fun, interesting pictures or work, but as for the monotonous math work, i’m really not interested.

I come across 2 pictures that were printed from his field trip 2 weeks ago. I show them to him and he says right off the bat, “See her, mom? She’s a black. See my skin? You and me are whites.”

I had to put my eyes back in my head. Pick up my jaw from the floor. Take a deep breath and alter/assess my initial reaction all in the space of 1.5 seconds. I’d like to say i did it in 1, but no such luck.

So i -as calmly as i could – ask, “Where did this conversation originate? Who has been talking to you like this?”

“No one, mom, she’s just a black and i’m a white.”

I visibly had to shake my head to stop myself from reacting.

“First of all, she is not A black. She is black, or african american. Saying someone is ‘a something’ is just rude.”

I wanted to know which friend was putting this language in his head.

“You are not in trouble, what you’re saying is not anything i’ve heard you say before. This leads me to believe someone has been talking to you like this. I’d just like to know who. I’m curious.”

“No one, mom.”

“Think about it, and when you’re ready, please tell me.”

“Ok. It’s just that (___) told me that.”

oh, the Asian kid pointed out someone else who is different. Irony much?

So we had a nice chat about how lots of people look different. No one looks the same, but we are all people, etc etc etc. It just so happened his reading homework was about Martin Luther King. So we had a big home lesson about the civil rights movement, slavery, and segregation.

Just a typical light 1st grade homework session.

Sometimes I am proud of myself and equally astonished at the amount of information i can recall without any effort, and speak about it with calm cool reasoning. How long has it been since i’ve had to talk about slavery and segregation and Abraham Lincoln, for crissakes?! But from my own ears, i sounded like a rock star!

I can’t wait until Kim Kardashian faces these kinds of parenting curve balls. I’d love to be a fly on the wall … oh wait… she’ll televise it all, what am i saying?

Anyway, so it was an interesting moment as a parent. I’m glad it didn’t happen at a store or at pick up.

“Look , Mom, it’s another White!”

oh my god

Then i think to myself, “Shit, i need to diversify my friend base if this is a topic!” , but really, i guess it’s one of those conversations you’re going to have regardless of your own race or religion. Everyone realizes at some point they are different. I remember my stepmom taking me with her on her interpreting jobs. She was a sign language interpreter and she worked anywhere/everywhere they sent her. For a period of time she did legal interpreting. I have a vivid memory of going to the Van Nuys courthouse with her for a job. I had to sit in the ‘audience’, and the deaf person’s family member or friend was sitting next to me.

I think i was 12 or 13.

I knew no useful sign language other than ‘popcorn’, ‘soda pop’ and ‘no and yes’. I was terrified this person would start signing to me. As if they didn’t realize i didn’t sign. I was sweating and trying to look anywhere except where i might make eye contact with said deaf person.

I’m sure they were thinking, “Lord please don’t let this kid try talking to me. Why is she sweating so much? I should bug my eyes out and start flailing my hands around to see what she’ll do.”

That’s what i’d do, anyway.

I remember looking back as an adult and being appreciative she put me in uncomfortable situations with people i didn’t normally see on a daily basis. It made me understand how yes, they are different, but it doesn’t mean they are less. I have always understood differences and tried to see the uniqueness and interest there. I think when we preach “no one is different”, that just makes the differences stand out more. Especially to a kid. I can barely get my son to agree that we live in a green house, let alone try and convince him someone with darker skin looks the same.

Instead, i told him to put himself in that person’s shoes. He knows his own feelings. He knows a body is a body. When he thinks about being told not to drink out of a drinking fountain at the park just because he’s a certain color, how would that feel. There’s a girl at his school who is missing part of her arm. He has said repeatedly “that just freaks me out because it’s gross”. I asked him “If your best friend was in an accident or had to have an operation and they were missing part of an arm or leg, would he be different? Would you stop being his friend?”

he looked at me like i had a third eye, “No.”

“What if something, God forbid, happened to you and you had to go to school without an arm or leg? Would you want to sit somewhere else because people didn’t want to look at you? You’re still you, right?”

“Yea, mom”

The differences about everyone make life interesting. They make it fun and adventurous and cool. Different cultures are fascinating, as are religions that are not my own. I do not shield myself into thinking everything is blanket equal and not appreciate what makes something unique. I hope to teach that to my children.

I would just prefer to do it in my own home and not as a reaction to them pointing out and loudly declaring what is different about a total stranger in public.

Let’s see what tomorrow has in store! I can’t wait! Maybe a discussion about where babies come from – which i narrowly avoided while we watched the DVD from when my son was born on his birthday last weekend – or how HPV happens. Or why mommy drinks so much.

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