Sunday, November 29, 2009

Picking up Sushi

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?”

“Yes.”

“Did she have big muscles?”

“Uh-huh.”
“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?”

“Um, no.”

“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.”

“She does?”

“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?”

“Brown.”

“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?”

“Yes!”

“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.

10 comments:

  1. Nice post! I have struggled with the race issue with my kids--do I bring it up if they don't seem to notice or not? It was pretty endearing for my son to describe his new best friend in kindergarten (who is Indian, the only Indian boy in his class) in a million different ways to try to help me remember if I had seen him at the orientation. He said, "He has big, circular eyes!" and "He is shorter than I am." And my favorite, "His laugh sounds like music, which is why I wanted to be his friend!" Never once did he mention that his skin was darker than his or anything else. It is a fascinating and sweetly innocent time before our kids even notice color. Despite the Nurture Shock position, I can't help wanting just to sit back and enjoy this time a little longer.

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  2. That is fabulous! What a great story. The "his laugh sounds like music" is wonderful. I have always enjoyed listening to Indian doctors lecture, for that exact same reason. Their voices sound like music.

    You know, on the way to work this morning, I noticed John was right about the billboard poster. It was a small, dark-skinned version of Rosie advertising the flu shot.

    I don't find anything wrong with your way. I think as long as we are plugged into our kids, as parents, we will know when it is important to intervene.

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  3. First of all, I love the post--as a parent of mixed children, it's an issue that I haven't resolved yet and am waiting for them to bring up first, I think.

    However, I am extremely disappointed and shocked at your reply to the initial commenter. As an Indian-American woman who was born and raised in the states, my voice sounds like most other Californians, and certainly not "musical." I don't know if the Indian boy in the first comment is first-generation or not, but I find it somewhat racist to ascribe his "musical laughter" to his race. He could just be a kid with a great laugh and not have it be related to his race at all, which is what I think the original poster was getting at. If he had been African-American, would you have said, "I love how Black people have musical voices?"

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  4. First of all, I love the post--as a parent of mixed children, it's an issue that I haven't resolved yet and am waiting for them to bring up first, I think.

    However, I am extremely disappointed and shocked at your reply to the initial commenter. As an Indian-American woman who was born and raised in the states, my voice sounds like most other Californians, and certainly not "musical." I don't know if the Indian boy in the first comment is first-generation or not, but I find it somewhat racist to ascribe his "musical laughter" to his race. He could just be a kid with a great laugh and not have it be related to his race at all, which is what I think the original poster was getting at. If he had been African-American, would you have said, "I love how Black people have musical voices?"

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  5. I am so sorry to have disappointed you. I have lots of friends from India, and would be mortified to disturb them with my assessment of their voices. Some, like yourself, sound just like they are from the states. And those voices don't intrigue me as much, because they are like my own.

    I think that I love listening to other's accents, since they are different from my own. There are certain dialects from India that sound like music to my ears. I mean this in the best possible way. The other day, I asked a black man to help me in the grocery aisle. He had an amazing African accent, and I wanted to think of an excuse to keep asking him more questions, just to listen to his voice some more. So yes, some Black people do have musical voices, to my ears.

    I'm a Caucasian girl from the South, but when I go to other parts of the States, I get lots of comments on my accent. Hopefully it is enjoyable, and I don't sound like a hillbilly bumpkin. I do remember being in New York as a kid, waiting in line at the Statue of Liberty. When the people in front of us heard my family talking, they kept looking at our feet. We were puzzled. Finally, they said, "We are so surprised you have shoes on. We didn't know people from the South wore them."

    So prejudices and accents do mix. But I like to think that I can shed the prejudices and just enjoy a different way of speaking. It is wonderful music to me. And I hope, if you ever heard my Southern twang, you would think the same of me. Again, sorry if I offended. Completely unintentional, I promise.

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  6. Did my reply get deleted? I'll try again in case it's the software that did it, but if that's not the case, then I'd like to know why...

    I also think that accents and voices can be musical and beautiful.

    What I find troubling is your sentence, "Their voices sound like music." This is a broad generalization. Had you said something like, "My professor had a musical voice," then that would be different.

    We don't know if the Indian boy in the first comment is from India or Indian-American, but your first leap was to say that his laugh was musical based on his race, which I do not think is correct. It is the generalization that I think is wrong, not the sentiment that voices can be musical.

    I think that our kids learn from us when we say these things, to differentiate between "us" and "them," and to perpetuate a sense "those people are all the same" instead of individuality no matter what color, which is what you are trying to teach your kid in the original post.

    Sometimes, I think that these are more powerful lessons as they are insidious and not easily recognized as prejudicial, even if our expressed intentions are to teach exactly the opposite.

    I mean this all respectfully, and hope that you can see where I'm coming from. I don't want this to detract from your initial post, which I love.

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  7. Point taken. I completely agree with you. It is amazing how we can consider ourselves so broad-minded and then make a generalization based on our own experiences, that might not be as easily evident to the outside reader, since they have not shared our experiences.

    I guess what I am trying to get at here is that I have not been blogging all that long, and I am still getting used to expressing myself. I was honestly left reeling by your reaction - very, very rattled. I have found that one of my primary hurdles in writing is that I tend to make the assumption that the reader knows exactly where I am coming from because they share my experiences. Others have complained to me about this before - but more related to work, certainly not one that strikes the chord of such a weighty issue as race.

    When Tempeh described her child saying "his laughter sounded like music," I immediately thought of two colleagues that had such wonderful Indian accents that the dialect sounded like music, assumed (here I admit I may be wrong, this was a gut assumption) this was what the child was referring to, felt connection, reacted. And generalized - in writing, not thinking, I promise. I should have been more clear in my writing. I do really appreciate your criticism because it will teach me to think more about how I express myself in the future.

    Good luck, mom to mom, about having these conversations with your own kids. And thanks again for your thoughtful advice, and compliments. Putting yourself out there, and opening up to criticism, is tough, I am learning. But that's what makes us better, right?

    Your comment was not deleted, I don't think. I don't have control over the comments on this blog.

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  8. Agreed--and I apologize for the harshness of my first comment--I don't think I was really thinking as much as I should have. Another testament to "think before you type." I've had some misunderstandings on my blog, too, and you think I'd know better. Anyway, isn't this the point of blogs--to foster discussion and learn from other people you might never actually have a chance to meet? Keep up the blogging and I look forward to reading your future posts.

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  9. I'm glad to be called out, in order to learn. Please post a link to your blog - I would love to look at it.

    Your comments had me thinking a lot about misunderstanding in writing and verbal expression. How these things can lead to national conflict, unintentionally. I know that sounds dramatic, but I'm sure that wars are started over lesser things. And how much better our world would be if we just communicate well and openly, as we have done in this comment thread. I'm proud of us.

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  10. Gizabeth--if you just click on my name, it'll link to the blog but here's the link for easier access: sajbat.wordpress.com.

    I'm sort of proud of us, too. :)

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