Sorry for the butt shot. It's not the most flattering photo of my bottom half, but we were having a good time -- yoga bringing the family together. Note Chauncey upon my work table. He's looking for squirrels, his arch-enemies.
I had my first three days of summer camp orientation this week. On Monday we start for real. Today the campers and their parents were able to come for an open house to meet all the counselors and see our amazing digs (it would make you cry, it's so lovely). That means that Habtam came with Dad and Lire to meet his counselors, see his room, check out the grounds and see SO MANY KIDS! I could tell he was in heaven. He really likes to be amongst a bunch of kids. Lire, too, but especially H. It's a very free and easy place with the ability to run around and not get lost or hurt easily, so it was nice for me to see him racing about, happy with the world.
I met most of my 19 charges and their parents. Only one chilly, limp-wristed handshake was had (hey, turn off the ac, biatch!). Luckily most of the parents were sensible, kind people. The counselors working under me are absolutely terrific. I lucked out. Since I'm new, I think the director purposely gave me experienced counselors, some of whom are former campers themselves. The staff is much more diverse than the clientele, which I was expecting. This school (it's an alternative/hippy/liberal private school during the rest of the year) makes a point of recruiting staff from all walks of life. There are three head counselors who are African, another African-American, two of Asian descent, a number of people who are Hispanic, and then all of us Caucs. The clientele are mostly wealthy Manhattan kids whose parents or grandparents summer out here. The campers are not as diverse as anyone around here would like, but the staff is, and for that I am grateful.
I was telling H that three of the counselors were from Africa, like he was. He appeared interested, but didn't say anything. We have been talking about Ethiopia again lately, usually combined with questions about family relationships. The other day I was on the phone chatting with my mom. I hung up after saying "bye Mom!" Habtam asked me why I called Nana "Mom." He's asked this before, so I repeated that she was my mother.
H: Why is she your mother?
me: (deep breath) well, Nana carried me in her uterus until I was born, and then she took care of me until I was a grown-up. Do you remember who carried you in her uterus?
H: (His name for their first mom)
me: Right. So she was your mother, and she took care of you as long as she was able. And now I am taking care of you, right?
H: Right. (begins to jump on his bed)
me: So I'm your mother, too.
Lire: You my mommy, too!
H: Will I go back there visit?
me: Yes, when you get older, we'd like to take you and Lire to Ethiopia again. Would you like that?
H: (Jumps on bed, no answer)
Lire: Yes, I go Ethiopia! (also jumping on bed)
The jumping got out of hand, as usual, with all of us jumping on Lire's bed and holding hands. I had to jump ship to keep H and L from dragging me into their too-physical-for-me game of banging bodies against the wall.
And that's how a lot of stuff gets discussed around here. Catch as catch can, with a side of physical comedy and/or violence.
Thanks all of you for wanting to appease the Peevish Postmaster! And thanks for your concern about Habtam, too! If you want to include his name on the envelope, feel free. Also, I thought he might begin his own correspondence course with his IRL friends, most of whom will be going to a different kindergarten next year. It will be a way for him to practice his writing (which he loves to do), and to keep in touch.
I'm putting together a sort of haphazard list of children's books that we have liked that feature children who happen to have brown skin, like our guys, and that don't necessarily have a message. Just books about everyday stuff. We get most of our books at the library, so that's where I'm beginning. It will not be exhaustive, for sure, but it's something I think about a lot. If you have any additions, please share!
The boys were quite taken with The Paperboy. The paintings are evocative, as is the job of the paperboy! Our guys were fascinated that a child could get up before everyone else, ride his bike with no one but his dog, AND toss newspapers at houses. I'm not sure how many paper boys or girls there are anymore, but we've got two willing volunteers at our house!
I didn't read Fireflies to the boys, I think Al did, so I'll have to ask him how they liked it. They liked A Tiger Called Thomas enough to take it from the library twice. Lire has a tiger costume, so he relates to that, and H often feels shy about talking to people, so he relates to that piece of it. It's also just a coincidence that all of the stories feature boys. I make a point of getting books about girls, too. They really like Fancy Nancy, speaking of girls! They like her fancy words and crazy outfits.
We also have a nice selection of "everyday" books taking place in Africa and Haiti that I will share some time in the future. They are repetitive favorites around here.
Friday morning while Habtam brushed his teeth, I was doing his hair. He and Lire both want their hair to be "long" so I've been trying to keep up with the tangles by combing and moisturizing on a regular basis. It's actually a really nice way for me to work on our attachment -- they love me combing out their hair, oiling it, giving them a little scalp massage. You don't have to have a girl to do hair!
Anyway, it is a nice time for us, if we're not in a hurry, so we chat sometimes during the grooming. H had rinsed his mouth and was squirting the water from the spray bottle into the sink and watching it drip down the drain. We were discusssing the kids he played with at school. Oh, and names have been changed, of course.
Me: "Who do you like to play with at School?"
H: "Bill most, sometimes Jack."
Me: What about girls? Do you play with any of the girls at school?
H: Jill doesn't play with me anymore.
Me: Why not?
H: She tell me she not like my color skin.
We've talked a bunch about skin color. Why my and Alex's skin is different from his and Lire's, which color is better (yes, he's asked), the kids in school whose skin is like his, etc.
This was the first time he mentioned that anyone had ever said anything like this. I asked him how he felt when she said that. Angry. I told him I didn't blame him, that I was angry that someone had said that to him, and that it was very unkind. I also told him to talk to his teacher or to me and Daddy if someone said something like that again.
He couldn't tell me when it happened, his time sense isn't quite there yet, but I assumed it happened recently. I talked to his teacher after I dropped him off, not naming names, but telling her it had happened. She was disturbed and sad he had had to hear that and said she would do something about it.
Later that day when I went to pick the boys up she reported what had been done. Both Pre-k classes had talked about MLK last week, so she had some of the kids from the other class come into her class and talk about his dream -- basically that his children would be treated the same as other children, no matter their skin color. At the end, H's teacher asked that if anyone had ever said anything hurtful to another student, this would be a good time to say something about it. Apparently the little girl looked guilty, raised her hand, and apologized to H. And he actually said "Thank you" to her! (He doesn't talk much at school).
I was glad that I hadn't mentioned the girl's name to the teacher. She said she asked H the same question I had "who do you like to play with at school" and he repeated what he had told me that morning. The little girl was inspired to apologize without too much haranguing by any of us, which is probably a good thing.
The funny thing is that Al brought H to our local Children's Museum today for a Daddy and Me program, and the little girl was there! She shouted out H's name and they played in the museum together for a while (well, as much as H plays with girls).
Our first experience with the issue of race. And not our last.
I've been tagged for my first meme by New Flower Blooms (check her out, she's great!). I'm a bit nervous, being a meme virgin and all. Here goes.
1. I am:
Irish-Italian with a splash of Dutch/French.
2. My kid(s) are:
3. I first started thinking more about race, culture and identity when:
When I was around 4 or so, my aunt gave me a black baby doll. She worked in New Haven public schools and wanted to make sure my doll collection represented what I saw around me. I recognized that this doll was important, because of all of the attention the gift received.
In kindergarten I remember hearing kids calling kids who were Hispanic "Spic and Span," and asking my parents what it meant. They told me it wasn't nice, so when we heard it again, my sister and I would tell them not to say it anymore.
We later moved from the city to a predominantly white small town -- I continued life racially naive with a few blips and feelings of uneasiness in college during lectures on black southern lit -- a lot of students complained about "having to read this stuff." It was only when I moved to Baltimore and worked in the inner city as a teacher that race, culture and identity permanently moved into my consciousness.
Btw, I still have my doll, but unfortunately, my boys only wanted to throw her against the wall, so she is safely ensconced in my closet for now.
4. People think my name is:
Irish. Which it is. I'm actually more Italian, but nobody knows this unless they meet my mom.
5. The family tradition I most want to pass on is:
Overwhelming support of everyone's interests. Both sides of our families celebrate one another's different passions with lots of curiosity and participation.
6. The family tradition I least want to pass on is:
Second-guessing and regrets. I want the boys to be confident in their choices, and if they make mistakes, move on!
7. My child's first word in English was:
Habtamu: "Daddy" or "Mommy," I forget which came first -- simultaneous? Then "You're welcome."
Lire: "Up." That boy wanted to be picked up and NEVER put down.
8. My child's first non-English word was:
I don't know, since they spoke before I met them. However, "ishi -ca" (ok), "waha" (water) and "macchina" (car) were the words we heard the most when we first met H and L.
9. The non-English word/phrase most used in my home is:
Jintay (bathroom/pee-pee). "Mommy jintay? Ten minutes? Ka-ka? Big jintay?" All said from the other side of the bathroom door as they attempt to unlock it.
10. One thing I love about being a parent is:
Watching the boys learn something, and then seeing them build on the new knowledge. It's astounding, sometimes.
11. One thing I hate about being a parent is:
Losing my patience. Something of which I am too guilty. I must chill.
12. To me, being an anti-racist parent means:
Not letting myself forget that race DOES matter, no matter how many white people tell me that things have changed for the better. Needing to recognize racism and prejudice in myself. Reminding myself to be proactive in making diversity a part of our lives regularly, not just during February.
Now to see who has/hasn't been tagged, so I can pass this one on.