Tuesday, January 09, 2007

We're Gonna Break It Down Baby Now

Sunday morning at 7:13 a.m. I was dancing around my kitchen to that song "Shotgun."

I said, Shotgun shoot em for he runs now
Do the jerk baby
Do the jerk now

The Mayor and Rooster had been awake forever already, breakfast was eaten, sippy cups were administered to all the right pie holes...

What else was there to do?

So I was shaking my tacos to Jr. Walker and the Allstars when The Mayor popped his sippy cup out of his mouth and said,
"Mom, is this digger music?"
I totally froze.

The next 10 seconds felt like they were going in slow motion as I tried to figure out what to do, what to say, what he might say, how I would respond...

A few weeks ago we were eating dinner at a local restaurant decorated with random memorabilia like washboards, old farm signs, a life-like statue of a traffic cop and assorted children's toys including a bulldozer that The Mayor likes.

[Only the classiest spots for The Family Joy.]

On this particular evening The Mayor approached an African American server and asked,
"Where is the digger? I want to play with the digger."
The surprised man did a bit of a double take, looked down at The Mayor and said,
"Excuse me?"
K and I were quick to say,
"The bulldozer toy!!! He's looking for the bulldozer!!!"
Though The Mayor uses the word 'digger' to refer to all construction machines – bulldozers, back hoes, etc, he took me by surprise when he asked about 'digger music' while I listened to Motown.

Finally, I settled on saying,
"What's digger music, Mayor?"
He rolled his eyes at me, like any COOL mom should KNOW this, and said,
"Mom, digger music goes GGGRRRRRRRRRRR and sounds like a big bucket shovel picking up dirt."
Right. Of course.

Who doesn't like bulldozer music? I am so not hip.

But seriously, what would I have said if he meant what I feared he meant?

He is growing up in America. He is going to hear hateful words.

I will need to find the right words, words that help him grow up to be a person that wants to embrace human difference rather than push it away.

I worry about this. I want to do it right.



Kristin said...

I can really relate to this post... I was watching, "Mad Hot Ballroom" with my boys this weekend and one of them turned to me and asked, "Is this in Africa?".

I wanted to freak out until I realized that, HOlY SHIT the only African Americans he sees are indeed on TV... he wasn't being shitty, he just lives in such a white world.

Well, a white, Asian and Hispanic world, but not many (if any) Afro-Americans.

We had a pretty direct conversation about the issue at hand, but he is 10 and it is, of course, easier at that age...

You are such a direct and honest parent, you will handle everything, including the ugly, with tenderness and humor and your boy will understand.

Momish said...

Don't you worry, kids learn by example. They will know what is right and what is wrong. I grew up in the inner city with extreme racial tensions. However, my parents and family were not this way, nor am I. I never heard that word in my parents' house, only on the streets. For that reason, that word has never been said in mine.

They may have to stand up for their beliefs someday, I had to, but they will do that too. The outside world, although tempting, I believe is no match for you and your husband.

Love the photo! You are truly lovely!

Long Island Dad said...

I totally agree with MOMISH, kids learn from OUR actions, OUR words. We filter their world, their friends, their experiences so when they're confronted with hatred and discrimination, they no it's wrong and they've learned how to respond. Keep up the good work J.

Long Island Dad said...

I meant... "they KNOW it's wrong..." Sorry, it's early, LOL!

The Sour Kraut said...

I agree. I am certain that you and K will teach them by example.

Be a tyrant on tv and movies when they're older. Monitor is closely because it's filled with ugly stuff.

Veronica Mitchell said...

Whew! Close one.

I have wondered and worried about how to have the conversation not exactly about racism, which I think I can explain, but about words we don't say because of racism. I am not sure how to make that understandable to a little girl.

Nikki said...

I'll give you what I told my daughter from a very early age (3)....she had heard the "digger" word at a grocery store and I explained what it meant (very hard b/c the concept of skin color mattering didn't seem to click in her cute little head) and I told her...

"It's not the skin, but the heart within"

She still says that.

That was possibly one of my best mommy moments coming up with that.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the other girls here. Your children, OUR children will learn from example. Just be the best person and the best mom you can be, and they'll hold on tight to the essence of you, without them even realizing it at times.

You are a great Mom. Believe that.

Iris said...

As a woman who lives in a culturally diverse family, I suppose I don't really understand that fear with my own children. But, the fear does come of how some people will talk about members of my family. My own children, the older three, are bi-racial, though you would not even know it by looking at them. Their father is First Nations. My youngest is caucasion. The new man in my life is black (his own description, not mine). His daughter is bi-racial as well. I have a niece who is half hispanic, and a niece who is half African. Our family tree is very colourful.

Children do learn by example. I believe you will have no problems in teaching your children well.

mamatulip said...

I worry about this too, and I also want to do it right.

Since she started preschool Julia has been noticing that not everyone has the same colour skin as she. I picked up a book called "We're Different, We're The Same" and it talks about just that. It's been the segue for some really good conversations between us -- as good as it gets with a three-year old, anyway.

I don't want to be afraid to talk about these things with my kids, and in turn, I don't want my kids to be afraid to talk to me about them.

hk said...

well played.....it's hard to know which direction the little ones are coming from.

Those disturbing words are everywhere and I'll echo the above in that they will follow in acceptance/tolerance from you and yours.

wendy boucher said...

You're already doin' it right, Chica. By being open-minded and willing to discuss.

ewe are here said...

Sounds like you're handling it well.

We'll probably be having these types of worries in the near future, too.

Queen of the Mayhem said...

When my daughter asked me why some people have brown skin, I told her that God made everyone different. I told her that we are all the same on the inside and it doesn't matter what we look like on the outside. I also go out of my way to ensure she is not exposed to hateful behavior. Sometimes in this really small town, that can be a challenge!

Moobs said...

When I was about 6 my youngest sister was 4. I had spent the afternoon with a black friend called Dave. My parents offered him a lift back to his place and my sister tagged along. As he climbed into the car my sis looked him and said "Hello Blacky". THe temperature in te car dropped to the point where the windows frosted over. I KNOW she had not picked that up from Mum or Dad. Maybe it was a friend at playschool. Maybe she was so blissfully ignorant of racism at her age that she could not appreciate that any offence was likely. Mum leaned round and corrected her but I got the impression Dave had decided that's how things were at our place.

crazymumma said...

Nothing like when a child breaks it down for us.

Over the holidays, my 5 year old asked what fuck meant. In front of relatives of course. I looked around at all the dissapproving faces, and said, well its a swear word honey where did you hear it (knowing full well that she had heard it from none other than moi on many occasions....). After hearing the dirty truth come from her mouth, and under the stares of the relatives, I told her that I should not use this word and neither should we but sometimes they just come 'popping' out when we are angry or frustrated. She then proceeded to sing in a low voice : fuckfuckfuckfuckfuck. sigh.

I think you handled it very well and anyone who shakes her tacos at breakfast is SURE to figure out how to do the right thing.

PunditMom said...

I hear you. I'm especially tuned in to this issue as the mom of a little girl born in China. Questions come from her and her friends about skin color, but so far, not the "digger" word. I'd better start thinking now.

Lisa said...

I think that its great that you asked him to clarify first. Amazing where our brains go versus theirs.

I think talking to kids about race/differences is like talking to them about sex. You have to do it in increments...Give a little bit of info at a time and the kind of info/answers that's appropriate for their age.

Mel said...

I think you did just fine, and that by not overreacting, you handled it perfectly.
My older girl was one of two caucasian children in her class for the first three years of her education; she learned about racial terms from the mouths of her classmates. When she brought the word "cracker" home to me, and talked about being called "white girl" in a not-very-nice way, I had a hell of a time explaining it to her; then I had to step in and speak to her teacher and the school principal.
You can't stop them from learning the words. All you can do is give them the tools and the logic to understand that using race as a source of insult and hostility is stupid.

Alpha Dogma said...

I think you handled that well.

Thank god I'm not the only person dealing with this.

Last week Dr. Know passed me a completed colouring page. One of the characters was a boy of African extraction (with stereotyped facial features...does that make sense? I'm from Canada and I'm trying to use universally non-offensive terms). Dr. Know had coloured him with a brown crayon, all the others were peach coloured. I said I liked the picture and that the African boy in the back row was my favourite. Dr. Know said, "Yeah, he's brown. All the others have normal skin." EGAD! My liberal bleeding heart ran cold!

So we explained that there was no such thing as normal, but everyone is different but the same. I think we got through, but we'll be revisiting this issue often. For my peace of mind.

Mama's Moon said...

Wow, this is very thought-provoking. We haven't reached that point (yet) but I just know that someday very soon we will be sitting down to discuss it. I, too, want to do it right. Please keep me updated. I'll take my cues from you...

Paige said...

You did well. And these are just the types of things I worry about too, even though I haven't had to discuss them yet.

Anonymous said...

I have lived in an urban setting for the last 10 years and both of my children were born in that setting (although they are only 5 & 21 months). I work in our downtown (uber-urban) area and have literally been in this area since I was 11, as I went to a school from 6-12 grades that is literally about 10 blocks from where I work. So, I've been more consistently downtown for the past 23 years than I have anywhere else in my city. It's also a city rife with racial tensions - which have been extremely high since we had a series of riots in 2001 (my eldest was just about 3 weeks old when it happened).

I work in a Library and I bring my children to the Library where I work at least once a week... usually on Saturdays for storytime. They are very aware of the differences in race, culture, etc.

My eldest LOVES African-American people. She sits as close as she can to the little African-American girls that come to storytime... sometimes so close that I have to remind her about personal space. She uses the term "brown faced" or "brown skinned" to refer to them. I try to "correct" her and tell her the proper way to refer to someone of color, but she's a child and only knows what she sees.

I have many African-American friends and I always tell them stories about my daughter and her references. Mostly they are amused by them... but these are people who aren't so uptight about racial issues and we can laugh together at ourselves and each other. Still, I find myself taking cues from them on how to talk to my daughters and teach them to respect all people of all races, religions, cultures, etc.

In general, I find myself more comfortable being with people who are more open and less restrictive about racial issues, than I do being with people who are more restrictive and less open, no matter what race they are.

carrie said...

I completely forgot that "digger" was a favorite word in our house too when the boys were toddlers and their world revolved around dump trucks.

But seriously, as they get older, there will be more and more of those "teaching moments", where the realities of the world around us will become part of their world too, and all you can do is be gentle, and honest.

And always ask them what they mean, because if I could count the times I thought they were asking me something that I wasn't prepared to explain, or was waaaay over their heads, I'd be a very wealthy woman.

And to make you feel better, yesterday while dining out, Katie asked my husband if the man at the other table had a baby in his tummy. I hope he didn't hear her. Ugh!


Stepping Over the Junk said...

AAAAAAAAAAAAAACH! Oh my gosh, you must have been DYING! Digger music. AH! Shovels and stuff. Breathe now...

QT said...

I can only imagine what must have been going through your head! My BF's sister has a 6 year old that is going through some culture shock now that he is in 1st grade. He seems to be really fascinated with the fact that there are people that look "different" than he does. We always tell him what others her have already mentioned - everyone is the same inside, and everyone has the same feelings.

I'm sure you'll do fine. Love the pic, too!