white children, race, and the Emperor Zurg

Over the last day or so, there has been a discussion in my favorite mom group about a racist action by a 4 year old against her mom’s roommate. It has me thinking a lot about the ways that I do or do not talk about race with my (white) son, and the ways we do or do not talk about race with young white children in general. Here’s the scenario:

Mom has a new roommate who is a black man. Her 4 year old daughter wanders in to talk to him, and says she wants to make him a cake. Specifically she wants to make him a black cake. Why? he asks her. Because he is black, the little girl responds, so she will make him a black cake. Roommate later texts mom about this, and says that baby racism can hurt just as much as grown-up racism. Mom apologizes to roommate, and asks the mom group for some advice about handling race issues with her 4 year old (white) daughter.

The immediate response from the vast majority of the moms in the group was that the little girl was not racist, and it was not appropriate for the roommate to characterize her as such.  He must not have much experience with kids, because she was just trying to do something nice (make him a cake) and little kids make associations like that all the time. Probably she meant a chocolate cake! And maybe that’s her favorite cake, so she was actually being nice! And because she is innocent, we should protect her from his accusation of racism (I am paraphrasing here). He shouldn’t be playing the race card with a little kid (I am not paraphrasing here).

So the conversation goes on, and a few chime in to say actually, it doesn’t matter what her intention is, she is racist because she is a white little girl raised in a world that perpetuates racist systems, etc. One woman answers the mom’s actual question, and posts links to several resources. In my opinion, whether the daughter is intentionally racist is a red herring, because the important point is that roommate has used the comment as an opportunity to ask mom to address issues of race with her child, which she was trying to do.

Later, mom updates and says that she had a group of friends over, the night before, and that she also asked the friends this question. Like the mom group, the friends debated whether or not the daughter was racist (mostly deciding that she was not), avoiding the question at hand which is how to address race with a young white child. The roommate came home, and mom’s friends surprised her by ambushing roommate and asking him why he thought the little girl was racist.  He responded that he adores the little girl, and is not attributing negative intent to her, but his whole life people make comments about his skin being like chocolate, about his hair, and it was just too early in the morning for a microaggression, even from a little kid. It’s the cumulative effect of his lived experience.

And the mom group falls relatively silent, except one mom who chimes in to say of course we, as moms, will defend the little girl’s innocence, and she thinks it was a good thing that the friends confronted the roommate because now everyone has left a little better educated, including all the moms in the mom group. /end scene

Of course, if you look at it from the white peoples’ perspective, she’s right. Good thing we all had the opportunity to get educated by this black man.  But if you look at it from his perspective, it’s hard to find what’s good about a group of (presumably white) women ambushing you when you walk in the door after a long day, and asking you to defend your account of the racism you experienced.  For white people, it’s never about race. That is the luxury of white privilege right there, it gets to not be about race.

Many of the moms, in their defense of the little girl (who by the way, needed no defending. Mom didn’t say “how can I punish the little girl for saying this,” she instead said that she thought this presented a learning opportunity for her little girl) pointed to the tendency our children have to characterize things by color.  I have on a red shirt, so I should use the red cup. Red, and red. Matching. Applied to roommate, black skin means he should have a black cake. Black, and black. Matching. No harm.

Here’s the problem: If I am wearing a red shirt, it implies that I like red. Therefore I would probably appreciate someone offering me the red cup. But having black skin does not imply roommate’s likes or dislikes, and someone needs to tell the little girl that. She needs to have a conversation with a trusted adult about how skin color does not dictate innate attributes, or likes and dislikes, or any other such thing.  Take it further, right?  I get to be Buzz Lightyear, because I’m white, and roommate is Emperor Zurg, because he’s black. Matching. Oh look, I also get to be Luke Skywalker, while he’s Darth Vader.  And I get to be Sleeping Beauty, while he’s Maleficent.  I am the heroine of the movie while he is…. oh actually there’s not a black character in this movie, so never mind.

So probably I have had all these conversations with Bumby right? Especially since he has a black babysitter, and white moms. And we live in a predominantly white neighborhood, that borders not one, but three predominantly black neighborhoods.  Well, no. Not exactly. I was telling myself that he’s too young to understand race. He doesn’t really even notice it yet! Except that in itself is a benefit of white privilege, isn’t it? Deciding that our kids are too young to experience race.

My little blond boy is not too young to talk about race.  I will start this conversation today.  So here are a few of the resources helpfully posted in the mom group today, for my further reading and yours:

Raising race conscious children

Why it’s important to talk about race at a young age 

Colorblindness 1 and 2

White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard to Talk to White People About Racism

And last, but not least, why it doesn’t really matter if her favorite cake is chocolate.

White mamas, we’ve got some work to do.

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the other side

Oh, hello. I seem to have (barely) emerged from my momlife crisis with my sanity and life in tact. And weirdly, given how much I love being home with my son, I think the thing that ultimately pulled me through was… my job.

I’ve been working well over full time hours for about 5 months now, with part-time childcare. This means that the other hours have been weekends, or nights after everyone has gone to sleep, or while Bumby is parked in front of 2 hours of Paw Patrol and Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. Trying hard to avoid the last scenario meant overtime for the babysitter, or an afternoon where we “worked” together at the kitchen table (he with paint, me with a laptop) and he tried to send an email to my boss while I was in the bathroom. It was super stressful, and I was super exhausted. Forget about a commitment to a weekly yoga class, I would have settled for a 10 minute walk and more than 5 hours of sleep. This sounds rather hellish, yes?

Here’s the thing though. It forced me to focus. I had to be productive, and work hard, and dig deep. It was time when I was only myself, my accomplishments were measured and noted, my mistakes were forgiven, and I felt the thrill of success. I realized, hey, I know some shit! I know how to do hard, complicated, legal stuff!

The time I did have with my son felt like it was in technicolor, super intense Friday afternoons that I viciously guarded from interruption where we slowed down, walked at his pace, and had an amazing time cleaning up the patio, or making muffins, or painting our nails. He now sighs and says “Oh it’s so RELAXING” every time he gets in the bath (apparently I say that when I get to take a bath – who knew – even though bathing with a 3 year old is actually not relaxing at all).  We took vitamins and did facemasks together to try to engage in what little self-care there is with this kind of schedule (note: do not get a black charcoal facemask and let your toddler try it. They are likely to ask you do to “silly black face” at really inappropriate times). The reality is, those technicolor afternoons with him were my self-care, the time carved out to disconnect from work, slow down, and live in the moment.  Living on toddler time is much better self-care than a facemask and a multivitamin.

This was me, juggling a demanding work schedule, being professional and wearing a suit and getting it done, and this was me, baking muffins and watching a worm and laughing at my son’s farts.

Also, I finally made Bumby’s photo book from his first year of life. It’s adorable of course. But damn I look tired. Also, there are a LOT of pictures of him with my wife. She is bathing him, feeding him, holding him up to put his first ornament on the Christmas tree. When I saw his, I sobbed. I had constructed this narrative in my head where I did “Everything” for him while she got to do “Everything” else; where I had given up my life while she carried on business-as-usual. It’s not that often where we as humans are confronted with evidence contrary to our personal beliefs and we are able to take it in and accept it, but perhaps that is self defense, because it fucking sucks to be totally wrong in your belief. In fact, my wife, my partner, was right there along side me all along. Once I realized that and stopped blaming her for the way I felt, it got a lot easier. To be fair, I did a disproportionate amount of childcare, especially at night. But not Everything, not even close. She was just slightly more experienced than I was at getting through early motherhood with a sense of self still in tact.

In the last 3 weeks, I have had two deals sign and one close. Some of the biggest deals I’ve worked on yet in my career, and I was the lead on all of them. So now, I get to figure out how to keep it together as the pendulum swings back the other way and I have more downtime, more family time, more time for the dreaded self-reflection before ramping up for a May with business travel and deal closings and etc.

I have not gotten a tattoo. I have not spent (too many) ill advised long nights in bars. My marriage is in tact and of fact stronger than ever. I have emerged from this feeling like I narrowly avoided a disaster, born from too much time spent wondering who I was and who I had become and whether the old me was still in there. And honestly, born also from allowing these things to come between my wife and me, and expecting one date night every four weeks to fix it.

In case you’re wondering, the old me is not in there. I mean yes, I still care about things like social justice and the environment, I still love the same people I did before, I still live in the same town I have lived in for 10 years. So I look a lot like the same person. But early marriage and early motherhood is a metamorphic stage, and trying to be the old me was an exercise in futility. Fact is, I’m not 26 anymore. I don’t actually like long, ill-advised nights in dive bars with inappropriate company any more. I like long dinners with my wife, over good wine, and an early morning walk with my family and my dog, sans hangover, to the bagel shop.  I like figuring out how to make our kitchen work without remodeling it even though major appliances are dropping like flies.  I like the garden even though I rarely have a productive vegetable garden and all my houseplants die.  I like my circle of friends to be very small – this is not because I am not likable, it is because I am very selective about who I am willing to spend my precious time with.

I still don’t have a tattoo, but it is because I like my body the way it is, not because I am not “edgy.” I am actually totally edgy, in my own way.  Try doing something I think is stupid, and you will see how edgy I can be. Actually, how think how edgy it is to like your body, especially when you’re a mom.

So meh. Maybe I’m old, maybe I’ve mellowed. Or maybe I’m more self-aware than I thought, and this person has always been in there.  I’m enjoying getting to know the me that enjoys work almost as much as motherhood, and I am enjoying figuring out this new phase of my relationship with my wife, the one where we have weathered conflict and had some (very) hard conversations, and still like each other.

Want to know something weird? Soon after I made some sort of peace with all of this change, Bumby started sleeping all night in his own bed (rather than coming in to kick my wife in the stomach and shove me off my pillow starting at 1 am). Guess what is really good for a marriage? Sleeping next to each other, that’s what. Last night, my little mirror told me he doesn’t come down to our room because he “doesn’t feel scary anymore.”  Yeah dude, me either.

 

parenting hack

Now that back-to-school days are upon us, my FB feed has been full of promoted articles about “life-hacks” or “parenting hacks” aimed at making our lives as parents easier. These inevitably involve things like how to more quickly cut your kid’s cheese into the shape of a flower, or how to pack apple slices without them turning brown.

Here’s an idea. Cut the cheese into a fucking square. Put the whole apple into the lunch bag without cutting it up.

You’re welcome.