My dad and step-mom are in town this week, henceforth known as Papa and Grandma N., so A+A+J has been having a lot of extended family time. It's been a lot of fun. It has also been the most intensive time that J has ever spent with her cousins, my brother's kids. His oldest, I'll call her Sweetie, is almost four and full of questions. Sweetie loves her baby cousin. In fact, both Sweetie and her one year old little brother, let's call him Cub, (can you tell I'm moving towards a more pseudonymous approach to blogging?) spend a good portion of the time we're together angling to touch, hold, or pet on J. It's very sweet.
Now, four year olds are very observant, so both Sweetie's mom and I have been wondering when and how she would notice that our baby J is a different ethnicity than her Uncle Andrew and Aunt Alissa.
"Auntie Lissa," Sweetie said to me the first night of Papa and Grandma N's visit, "why does J's hair stand up like that?"
"It's curly," I replied.
"Oh." She said. "Maybe she needs to wash it."
I'll admit it, my knee-jerk internal reaction was shock. What??
"Why do you say that, Sweetie?"
"Well, when Cub's hair gets curly mommy says it's because it's time to wash it." She explained.
Of course. Cub has that fine, straight white-baby hair that curls up when it gets greasy. Sweetie didn't think there was anything wrong with J's hair, she was just comparing it to the other baby she knows. My niece lives in a pretty white dominated part of town, and doesn't go to daycare. She hasn't had very many opportunities to meet and play with brown kids. We had a good little talk about how beautiful J's hair is. And also how her bald spot will eventually grow back, when she stops sleeping on her back all the time, a matter that, as it turns out, was bothering Sweetie much more than the curling.
The next day Sweetie and Cub came over for the morning so their mom could run errands. J went down for her morning nap and the other two cuddled up to me for some storytime. We read Whose Knees are These, which features some very beautiful brown knees.
"It's that little boy, they are his knees!" Sweetie pointed out at the end of the book.
"Da!" Proclaimed Cub, having his say.
"That's right," I said. "He has brown skin like baby J."
"I don't have brown skin," my niece observed.
"No," I said. "You have pink skin."
"No I don't!" She giggled, looking at her skin. "I have skin colored skin!"
"Really?" I asked her. "You know there is more than one color for skin." Sweetie looked baffled. "Baby J has skin colored skin, too, right?"
"Oh." Sweetie looked thoughtful. "Yeah, I guess so."
So the next book I reached for was The Colors of Us, recommended by a reader here. We had fun thinking up delicious names for the colors of our skin.
I feel like this is good practice - Sweetie's questions about skin color and curly hair are totally normal expressions of curiousity about something she doesn't quite understand. She won't remember these conversations, she's too young. But hopefully she'll notice the next time someone tells her something is "skin colored."
So the thing I'm thinking about is, how can I create a home life for J where she doesn't grow up thinking her skin is "brown" and my skin is "skin-colored?" I think it starts with the language I use now, talking about skin color and hair texture and other differences in affirming and truly descriptive ways. There's no "regular hair" or "normal nose" or "normal skin color." Maybe, just maybe, there isn't even a privileged "normal" anything.
Just some thoughts. Not completely coalesced yet. Thanks Sweetie, you sure got your Auntie thinking. ♥