I’ve been reading this book called Nurture Shock, by PO Bronson and Ashley Merryman. It’s a gift from my friend who practices at Stanford – a gift she gave me on my recent trip to San Francisco. It is a parenting book, about relating to your child, and each chapter has evidence-based information, presented in a readable format, that blows conventional thinking out of the water. Topics like lying, and race, and the development of intelligence. I tend to gravitate toward fiction, but if you read one parenting book this year, or even this decade, I highly recommend it. It is changing the way I relate to my kids, already.
The other night I was on my way to the Sushi Café to pick up a take-out order with my four-year-old son, John. He had been away for a couple of days for the holiday, while I was on call. I intentionally turned off the radio so we could have conversation in the car.
“Mommy! I just saw a picture of a strong woman.”
“You did? That’s great. What made you think she was strong?”
“Um, I don’t know. She was strong.”
“Did she look smart?”
“Did she have big muscles?”
“Was she beautiful?”
“Yes! She looked like the people in Aladdin, she was so beautiful.”
I immediately thought of the book, Nurture Shock. There is this one chapter on race, discussing how our children draw their own conclusions, based on their peers, if we don’t bring it up. Often their conclusions become hard-wired, by the third grade. So it’s not enough just to let them watch “Little Bill.” It’s important that we discuss skin color with them, as early as age three, to get our two cents in. We often think that if we just ignore skin color, they will, too. But that’s not the case. I was fascinated by the research, and resolved to start discussion with my own kids. But I didn’t want to force the issue, I wanted it to come up naturally. Here was the perfect opportunity.
“John, did you know that some people have different skin colors?”
He answered excitedly. “Do you mean like rainbow skin, mom?”
“Well, not exactly rainbow, but that’s a great idea. I mean like brown, and yellow, and pink. Is there anyone at your school that has different color skin?”
“You don’t know anyone with pink skin?”
“Yes! There is this one girl, Ella, not the Ella you know, but a different Ella. She has pink skin.”
“Yes! And then she turns into a fish. And she has rainbow skin. Then she swims. It’s sparkly. It’s so beautiful.”
This wasn’t going in the direction I had intended, but it was interesting. I pressed on.
“John, what color is your skin?”
“And what color is my skin?”
“Yours is brown too, mom.”
We are Caucasian, but of the darker variety. Myself more than him.
“Brown is a great color. I love brown. Do you know people with skin color other than brown?”
“Did you know that they are the same as us? With the same love, the same anger, the same feelings, and the same everything?”
“Yes! And they can turn into fishes too!”
I decided that was enough, for one night. The talk turned to gyoza, and sushi, and edamame, and whether or not there would still be a Halloween candy dish at the sushi place. I doubted it, and prepared him so he wouldn’t be disappointed. All in all, I was proud of my venture. Hopefully he got something out of it. At least I started the discussion, one that I plan to continue. Kids need experienced adults to guide them on these issues, not to ignore them and hope they will draw their own conclusions, correctly.
On the way back from picking up the sushi, I saw the billboard he was referring to. Someone was using the image of Rosie the Riveter, to peddle their wares. I love that John looked at this timeless Caucasian icon, and decided she looked like the people in Aladdin. He’s still blind to skin color, I guess. I’ve got lots of time. I hope he always sees a rainbow in every person’s skin.