I am my son’s school for a surprise party. The kindergarteners have gathered on the rug in one gaggle of wiggles, they had filled out these adorable questionnaires; their teacher was leaving to have a baby and they had all written their wishes for the new arrival.
“I hope you get a lot of toys.”
“I hope you get to go to Disney”
“I hope you like your brother”
“I hope you are not afraid of me”
When I volunteer there are some children who are a joy to work with, and this little girl is one of them. More often than not she wears a fancy party dress to school, with tennis shoes. I dig it. Pretty, but still ready to tear up the playground. Her name is one that is just different enough to feel unusual on my tongue and I wanted to get it right.
“It’s a long ‘eeeee’ sound, mommy. Not a short e sound.” says my five year old. I think to myself, ‘Suck on that Betsy DeVos.’
My sons attend a diverse school, and while my babies with their peaches and cream skin SEE color and acknowledge it, so far they haven’t attached value to it. Blond isn’t better than brown. White isn’t better than black. It’s just facts. And I have reveled in this. I mean, isn’t this what we want? It’s as easy as breathing for them to see, understand, and celebrate the differences without everyone being DIFFERENT. Because really they are all five and they just want to learn and play and eat goldfish crackers. It smacks me in the face again that I’ve not considered how the other children feel. I realize now, the world outside of the classroom is not that way for all of them. These children giggling all around me, some have already learned.
“I hope you are not afraid of me”
When my oldest was reading, I AM JACKIE ROBINSON, he learned that Jackie wasn’t allowed to swim in the pools with the white kids. When I explained the reason – my heart aching that I was even introducing the concept, but I guess at some point you have too- he said “Wait, so Isaac couldn’t swim with me?” “No, honey, back then some people thought white people and black people shouldn’t be friends.” “That’s so stupid.” he said, taking a long pause and getting right to the heart of it. “Isaac is a MUCH better swimmer than me ”
I watch as she tears into a present, their teacher has decided to let the children open her gifts for her and they do so gleefully and with abandon.
She is a tiny little thing, a firecracker of a girl, and you cannot help but smile when she smiles at you, her dimples deepening. She runs to me with a hug every time I see her, and her giggle is like bubbles. She is just about as darling as a kindergarten girl could be. Oh Halloween she wore, you guessed it, a fancy party dress and a tiara placed right on top of her bright hijab.
She hopes you are not afraid of her.
Imagine. She’s five. She hopes a brand new baby, not even born, will not be afraid of her. Maybe I am overreacting. Maybe I have a heavy case of white, liberal guilt. (Let’s not kid ourselves, I definitely do.) But all those questionnaires… “I hope you ride a pony” “I hope you get lots of hugs.” “I hope Santa brings you chocolate” and one, lone, heartbreaking message.
“I hope you are not afraid of me.”
I wish I could whisper in her ear, “I am not afraid of you. I adore you, and you are perfect exactly as you are.” I wish I could step in front of whomever may hurl harsh words or worse her way.
She is so sweet, so pure. I look at her and I see my own daughter in two years. She also loves a good party dress and tennies.
I suppose the best thing I can do is raise my children to not be afraid. To not be afraid, and to not cause others to be afraid. To continue to welcome everyone. To think that different is good. Some people are Muslim, some are Catholic. Some people like baseball. Some people like ballet. Some people have blond hair. Some people wear hijabs. Just like Kindergarten.
But we are all just people.
And I am not afraid of you.