This summer, Miles had a swim lesson at a public pool. It was sunny and hot out, so when he was done, we stayed for open swim. He had just that day conquered his fear of water and was enjoying leaping into the pool over and over again. After about the fourth time, he climbed out and stood on the edge of the pool. Almost as an after thought, he said, “Mommy, my hair is weird,” as he pulled taut one of his adorably tight ringlets.
I bristled. He’d never said anything like that before. I immediately answered, “Your hair’s not weird, Miles. It’s beautiful. The most beautiful hair I’ve ever seen.”
“And I’m brown,” he said.
“Yes, you are brown,” I answered. “My favorite color.” And then he leapt into the pool as if it was no big deal.
But it felt like a big deal to me. I’ve talked about skin color to him many times before, but this is the first time he’d ever brought it up. The realization that he is brown is just a fact, but I didn’t like that it was accompanied by the notion that his hair was “weird.” I didn’t bring it up again until after we were done having fun in the pool. I asked him who had said that to him, but he didn’t want to talk about. He refused. I’m pretty sure it was a little girl in his swim lesson, and I caught a glimpse of what a mama bear I am going to be as Miles grows up. I wanted to go over there, pull her out of the pool, and tell her that, actually, her straight, blonde, and boring hair is weird. Ha, I wouldn’t do that, but clearly I am going to need some strategies.
I’ve been talking a lot about differences in people and what makes us all unique and am trying to hammer home the message that being different is not “weird” but what makes the world beautiful. We read books with characters of color and with empowering messages and I try to make sure that his pre-school and surroundings are diverse, etc. We talk about the fact that he’s a “beautiful brown boy,” and that people come in different colors. We haven’t gotten into race yet as he’s only three but he understands that skin color can be light or dark or somewhere in the middle. I realize that I can’t insulate or protect him from insensitive comments by children who don’t know any better, but I sure wish I could! Hopefully I can empower him with positive self-esteem and the knowledge that looking different than someone else is nothing to be ashamed of.
I can’t help but wish that every parent would have these conversations with their children.