Monday, January 5, 2009
The other day, as I was picking up my son D from preschool, one of his teachers approached me with a furrowed brow and a solemn look on her face.
Uh-oh, I thought. D has obviously hit another child. Or peed in the birdcage. Again. Game face game face.
"Hi!" I said, with so much eagerness I sounded like I was trying out for the cheerleading squad.
"Hi," Miss M. said, as she put her hand on my shoulder with concern that was palpable.
"How are you?" I shrieked.
"I'm good," she replied, all hushed-tones. "D told us what's going on, it must be really hard for you with the 2 kids, and being pregnant and all," she said.
I laughed nervously in that way you do when you are going through the rolodex of possible puzzle pieces in your head. D told her what happened? Wait, something happened? Something that D could communicate? D can communicate? Beyond "I want Mamma Bear Pappa Bear" (which is what he calls The Berenstein Bears, his new favorite tv show, replacing Cailou--thank god for small miracles--but still driving me crazy)?
Miss M. charitably took the panicky smile on my face as a cue to further explain.
"About your husband?" she said, looking around the room as the other parents were coming to pick up their kids. "And how he left yesterday and moved to India?"
My first thought--I have to admit--was whether I was so tired that I had forgotten this had happened. (Like the time I told my husband about this "crazy dream" I had involving our kids spewing every bodily fluid on us in the course of one day, and he informed me that it wasn't a dream, it was last Sunday.) Then, I just laughed--in a more natural, non-stage-fright way--and told Miss M. that my husband was at home and had no plans to move, to India or anywhere else.
It was then Miss M's turn to laugh and look slightly puzzled: "D is non-stop," she said, as things like "natural comic" and other attributes that seem bizarre to pin to a 3 year old rolled off her tongue. Apparently in "circle" that morning, D had told his class and all his teachers, and I quote: "My daddy moved to India yesterday and my mommy and I are very sad but my brother is too baby he isn't sad."
After we exchanged a few more laughs and a bit of necessary awkward conversation, I collected my crazy D and all his stuff and drove us home. On the drive, my thoughts quickly turned from whether D was super imaginative or a pathological liar (I decided on the former) to something decidedly different: How did D make up that his daddy moved to India?
It still baffles me, really. Our race and ethnicity are not the usual stuff of conversation at our house (yet?) D hasn't been to India yet. In fact, I'm not sure if the word "India" has been used around D any more often than many other words. So how did he pick India as the backdrop for his daddy's imaginary furlough? How do we learn where we're from? Does D know he is Indian? He barely understands that "home" is a place, could he possibly understand that India is one? It's heady stuff, the way a child's mind works, and the way a child learns about race.
As is the natural corollary. If D somehow, implicitly, knows what "Indian" is, does he also know what other races are? And does he know that race makes people "different"? I'm reminded of my friend's 3 year old daughter who, when asked who was going to be the next President, responded "Obama! The black man!" My friend was somewhat aghast--especially as her daughter repeated the whole thing numerous times--and went out of her way to explain that she did not teach that particular qualifier to her daughter. So how did she pick it up?
I don't think racial identity and, by extension, prejudice are hard-wired. I am pretty sure you have to learn to hate. It's cool to see D play at his preschool amongst his "it's a small world" cadre of friends--Diego, Joaquin, Johnny (how cool is that? That Johnny is the one with the "weird" name...!) And yet: D's first friend at school was another little Indian boy, and D somehow selected him himself.
I can't tell you what that means but I'm pretty sure it means something. (Maybe I need some time in "circle" to figure it all out...!)