Boarding the plane for a recent trip, my daughter inched patiently behind me counting each row we passed anxiously waiting to get to row 26. As we approached our seats she tapped me on the lower back and said, “Daddy, can I sit next to you? Sister can sit next to mommy.”
“If that’s what you want to do, sure.”
We got to our seats, sat down and began digging around for our seat belts. Settling in, I started to untangle my headphones and quickly download some music before setting my phone to airplane mode. My daughter looked out the window curiously. After a minute or so she said, “Daddy, why are most of the people who work in the airport people of color, like the people who drive the carts and at the restaurants and the people on the plane like the pilot and other…whatever they’re called…people who help?”
“The flight attendants?”
“Ya, them. Why are most of them and the pilots white?”
On our way to school the other morning my daughter asked me, “Why are most of the people who do construction work Latino?”
“That would be a better question to ask a Latino person who does construction.”
She was silent for a moment and then said, “But I don’t know and Latino people who do constructions and I don’t talk to strangers. Why do YOU think a lot of construction workers are Latino.”
“Ok, you’re right. Hmmm…it’s hard to say because I only know a couple Latino men who do construction and I know that Latino men in construction is a stereotype. Latino men, like Tata, and your uncles, and cousins are Latino, but they don’t do construction.”
When my eldest discovered that this month is Black History Month her first question was “Is there a Brown History Month?”
My initial response was a mental, “Ummm.”
I then said, “I don’t know. I’m sure there are months set
aside to recognize the histories of other racial populations, but I’m not sure
when they are.”
“Is there a Chinese History Month or Mexican History Month, because I am Chinese and Mexican and I think there should be a month for us?” She proclaimed.
Recently, I’ve been discovering that my techniques and strategies to talk with my soon to be eight-year-old are insufficient. For the past couple of years when I have been asked a question about this confusing complex world we live in I pulled ideas form books, television shows, and movies she was familiar with. She was engaged and the conversations never had a conclusion. It was open for ongoing follow-up questions from either of us. While I continue to use the past books, television shows and movies her questions are requiring me to go beyond the immediate content and extend it to abstract concepts that go beyond the storylines. In short, Daniel Tiger, Zootopia and Have you Filled a Bucket Today are a bit too simple for my daughter…but that doesn’t mean they don’t continue to be the foundation of our conversations. It is the idea of creating a foundation early on that is central to discussing (in)justice and (in)equity with young children.
The most recent challenge occurred when she asked me, “Why don’t we adopt a child who is in foster care. They need families.” As usual, I had to pause and consider a formulated response that made sense to my experiences. Continue reading
Several months ago a colleague of my wife tragically died by suicide. My wife and I talked about it a few times, but the conversations were brief, especially around the children. However, we were aware that they heard some of our dialogue. Nonetheless, neither asked for more information…at the time.
Death is something we have discussed with our seven-year-old countless times. It became a regular topic of conversation after watching the children’s movies The Book of Life and Coco, which both have a narrative based on the afterlife. But we have never talked about death in the context of suicide…that is until a month or so ago. Continue reading
This morning my daughter asked, seemingly out of nowhere and initially rhetorically, “Why weren’t the Native American people and Europeans friends?”
“Why do you think they weren’t friends,” I asked.
“Well, I think they were friends, but not all of them.”
I drove in silence, unsure of what to say. I thought about my knowledge of the trail of tears, Indian boarding schools, the Indian Appropriation Act and a few personal stories shared with me when I worked with families living on the Pasqua Yaqui Reservation in Tucson, Arizona. Everything was part of the tragedies and acts of violence inflicted upon indigenous populations by White people on “Turtle Island,” which is what many native people call North America. I was also aware of a few historical accounts of relatively positive relationships between native people and colonialists…however those often relied on native people becoming Christian and “civilized.”
Since our children were infants, we have always talked about human sexuality bluntly. We refer to body parts using the anatomically correct name, we don’t hide or shame the early sexual curiosity, and babies do not come from storks. Of course, at six years old when my oldest asked, “Daddy, I know babies grow inside their mommies belly and come out of their mommy’s vagina, but how do they get in there?” I turned flush red and surprised the children with the news that mommy was coming home with donuts. I was very relieved that she forgot she asked the question…especially since that is very, very unusual. She has not asked since…but when she does, I’m a little more prepared, because I know it is critical to talk about sex when children are young. However, when she asked me about child sex trafficking, I was not prepared.
My daughter discovered a new weapon in her arsenal of language. Sister, you’re an idiot! Daddy, don’t be an idiot! Mommy’s an idiot!
Several years back, a good friend of mine introduced me to the terms “teeth and claws words.” These are the words that can hurt people. That worked great until my daughter began hearing cuss words tossed around on the school playground this year. Continue reading
My daughter’s favorite book for the past two months has been “For the right to learn: Malala Yousafzai’s story.” So it wasn’t all that surprising when, on our way to the grocery store this afternoon she asked, “Do all Muslim women have to wear a hijab?” Continue reading
I was at my favorite bookstore a couple weeks back when I was introduced to the book, “I have the right to be a child.” This book is an amazing conversation starter…and awesome to reference right before a tantrum. I now reference it more often than “Have you filled a bucket.” It became particularly handy this afternoon when the children were begging to eat dinner at Chipotle. Continue reading