“Is that her mother? Why is her face brown? Why does her hair look like that?” My daughter asked me this today after dance class in reference to one of her Caucasian peers and her African-American nanny. My first instinct was to tell her to lower her voice. I’m not sure why this was my first response. As if this woman, who works with small children as her profession, would overhear my daughter’s question and say, “how dare this young child point out that my skin looks different than hers!! Shame on you and your parenting skills!”
I explained to Kiki that the woman was actually her friend’s nanny. And when we got in the car I attempted to explain the concept of race to her. I told her that people have lots of differences and that skin color is one of them. Just like how she has blue eyes and I have brown eyes, some people have light skin and some people have dark skin. She told me she kind of understood. So off to the library we went to get a book about race.
On the way home from the library we stopped at the grocery store. The man who bagged our groceries had a speech impediment. Kiki turned and asked me why his voice “sounded so funny”. Oy! She was not going easy on my today. I started to try to explain that he had a disability that caused his voice to sound that way. But then I decided that was not the route I wanted to take and instead I explained that just like people have different looking skin, people also have different sounding voices.
So we’ve clearly reached the point where Kiki is curious about people’s differences. It’s sometimes uncomfortable and embarrassing. But that’s on me, not her. I want to encourage her to ask questions. I want to embrace her curiosity. I’m not too sure how to navigate the social norms that come up when we discuss these topics. Do I tell her that it’s not considered “polite” to loudly point out people’s physical differences? Or does that teach her that it’s not ok to even ask about the differences? Again I say, “oy!”
Fortunately not all of her questions make me immediately uncomfortable Like when she asked if Grandpa had a baby in his belly. Hehehe. “No, Kiki. I can see why you’d think that, but Grandpa does not have a baby in his belly. But he does need to eat better and exercise more,” I said.
My all-time favorite instance of Kiki questioning people’s differences was one time recently when we were at a bakery. We were contentedly eating our yummy baked goods when Kiki noticed that the man behind us had very strange facial hair. He had a soul patch. If you don’t know what a soul patch is, it’s that little bit of hair right under the bottom lip that some guys intentionally don’t shave. This particular gentleman had not only not shaved his soul patch, but he had let it grow out so that it was long and scraggly. My daughter has a very sensitive gag reflex and gags anytime something grosses her out. So Kiki started retching and said, “what is on that man’s face? Is that hair?” I told her that it was indeed hair. Through more retching she said, “I don’t like it!” I considered telling her to keep her voice down because the man could certainly hear us. But I didn’t – mainly because she was just expressing out loud what we all were thinking in our heads. Besides, I was laughing too hard.