In the supermarket the other day, my three-year-old daughter was helping me toss some vegetables in our shopping cart when two young African American guys strolled by.
Violet, smiled at up them, like she smiles at just about everybody these day, and I was sort of proud of that. I like that she is a smiler, what dad wouldn’t.
Then she blurted out,”Look Daddy, they have brown faces!”
The guys were out of earshot by then and I found myself standing there with a bag of jalapenos dangling from my fist, wondering what had just happened.
I mean, it wasn’t anything bad she had said.
She’s so young and toddlers are notorious for opening their mouths and just saying whatever they feel like saying. But, in that moment, standing right beside her with her tiny heart pumping just a few feet from mine, something slammed into my chest.
What that was was the realization that, for my wife and I, the monumental work, our life’s work, so to speak, starts now.
As parents who want to stress that all people are equal, no matter what they look like/who they worship/ who they choose to love/ or where they come from, the process of speaking to your child about some of the most important things we will ever be able to teach them starts as soon as they begin to make observations like Violet made that day.
In my mind, the earlier that my kids hear something from my very own mouth, the more they are prone to understand the weight of my words for the rest of their lives.
Children hit an age, usually around a year or two, when their minds begin to sponge up information with intensity. There isn’t much memory to speak of just yet, I don’t believe. That stuff usually comes around three or four. But within their little heads, lots of other cogs are already turning by the time they can do some walking and talking, and that’s when we, as parents, have to be on our teaching toes.
To be honest, I have thought about the day when I wanted to talk to my children individually about how people have different color skin and different body shapes and different beliefs, but I have struggled to find the ways. They are just so young yet that sometimes it seems my efforts are simply lost in the shuffle of playtime or tired scrambled brains.
Perhaps, that’s how things are meant to be too, right?
I mean, at one-and-a-half and three-and-a-half, it’s still pretty difficult to get them to pee in the darn potty, let alone listen to me speak about equality and human rights.
Still, that brief incident in the grocery store moved me to thinking.
What should I tell Violet now, today?
How do I explain to her that, in this life, to reach a place where we never even notice people’s skin color, is to live with a mind uncluttered by the hate that ultimately destroys the minds of so many around us.
And when do I start?
I knew the other day that she was noticing the people around her, taking them in as a simple observer and not just plowing by them on her way to something fun or yummy. That was really eye-opening to me as her dad.; it tells me that there are beautiful talks and intriguing questions coming my way, and hers too, in our very near future.
I may not have all the answers just yet,
I might not know exactly what to say, or how and when to say it, but I can tell you this much.
I feel damn good knowing that I’m crazy in love with two shining little people, with hearts as blank as slates.
And that my real work has only just begun.
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