Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Accidental Good Parenting

I haven't always been the best mom on the planet (that's a new title). There are things that, upon further reflection, I would have done differently. Scary movies wouldn't have been acceptable choices on video rental night. I wouldn't have allowed my kids to have as much soda. There would have been more chores at an earlier age and I probably wouldn't have been so lenient with the state of their living quarters. Finally, I would have put a block on late night television.

My neighborhood is fairly diverse for a small city in the Midwest. We have a good mix of the lower middle class, which in South Dakota encompasses many races. When we first moved to Sioux Falls, the kids and I shared a two bedroom apartment in a rather poor neighborhood. It was heavily populated with immigrants, legal and illegal, and aside from our pasty trio, the only "Caucasian" folks were Eastern European immigrants that didn't speak a lick of English. 

Of course this didn't stop my kids from making friends. We'd never really discussed race in our home because it didn't come up. I should have known that race was at least worthy of minimal discussion when I found my son filling out a paper questionnaire sent home by the school. When he explained what he was doing, I let him go about his business and continued to make dinner. A few moments later he asked, "We're Hispanic right, Mom?" I responded, "No, Jacob. We're Caucasian or white. Whichever one is on the form." We left it at that, and the topic of racial differences didn't come up again for a couple of months. 

Parent teacher conferences are something I've always enjoyed. My kids have always gotten rave reviews from their teachers.  Apparently my children have a very well developed sense of humor. On more than one occasion I've had teachers say "I really enjoy having Alex/Jacob in class. He/She gets all of the jokes that fly over the heads of the other kids." You would have to have a sense of humor if you were raised by me. God knows it's not been easy. 

My son and I prepared for conferences and made sure to be there a little early. I'd chosen the earliest evening time slot possible and we arrived a good 15 minutes before the teachers were ready for us. As I headed to the stairwell to go to my son's classroom he yanked on my sleeve and said (in his best George Lopez voice), "Moms you not supposed to go up thereeeeee!" 

My head snapped up and I stared at the sea of Hispanic families filled in around us. I was mortified. I leaned down. "What are you doing?! We do NOT talk that way! That is not very nice!" I whispered (if you can call it that). The look on his face was pure confusion. I pulled him aside and sat down at the lunch room tables. His eyes welled up while I tried to explain that making fun of someones accent wasn't nice.

I asked him where he had picked that sort of thing up. He said, "All my friends talk that way. Even their moms and dads do. I wasn't being mean." I felt it best to find out who these disrespectful people were. I sure as hell wasn't going to let my son hang out with a bunch of racists. "Who? Which friends?" I said. So he began to name the friends he learned such disrespectful behavior from. "Max, Jose, and George Lopez talks like that, too." he pointed out.

I felt like a complete moron. My son still thought he was Hispanic. It never occurred to me that the majority of his after school friends were not white. Kids come in and out of the yard. They run in to use the bathroom and just as quickly run back out. They play at the park. They must have learned early on that Jacob's mom doesn't have good snacks because none of them talked to me. My son thought he was Hispanic because his friends all knew they were Hispanic. They were his peeps. His hombres.

I decided to let it go for the time being, feeling we'd have time to talk about it after conferences were over. As we started back toward the steps, the school janitor stopped me. "I just want you to know how good of a boy you've raised. He's the only kid in school who says hello to me every morning with a smile on his face and when I see him at the end of the day he asks me how my day was. He's always polite and courteous even when I can tell he had a bad day. You've got a good boy there."

I choked back tears through my smile, thanked the man, and hugged my son a little closer to my side. He's still a good boy. About 6 years older and 6 years bigger... but since he's moved to his dad's I can't tell you how much I miss hearing his, "Hey Mom. How was your day?" He doesn't see people for their job titles, skin color, their income level, or anything surface level like that. He just sees them for who they are under all of that. I might have done something right, accidentally. 


Anonymous said...

When it comes to shaping who they'll become, I've long believed that the lessons our kids learn by accident have far more impact than the ones we try to teach them.

My girls surprise me every day with stuff I accidentally taught them. And those little moments when you realize they learned something important from you? They make it all worthwhile.

Linda Medrano said...

It's funny, Angie, but when my kids talk about their childhood, one of their favorite memories is that on Friday nights, we all got in my bed and watched a show that came on about 10 PM called "Creature Features". I was divorced with two kids at 24, so I really wasn't smart enough to know that "Night of the Living Dead" was not good kiddie viewing. We would drink hot chocolate and eat cookies and watch horror movies until about midnight. I lived for Friday nights with the bamino and bambina!

I am Mexican, and my 2 kids took after their Dad, (blond with light eyes). We had a great ethnic mix of friends and so color was never really an issue. Living in San Francisco, we had gay friends too. The kids were very open minded about such matters. My daughter was about six when she told me she had learned how to speak Chinese from a new girl at school. She said "If you see someone crying, you go put your arm around her and say 'Whatta Matta" and that's Chinese for "Is something wrong?" Oddly, my daughter has married a Persian guy and now is fluent in Korean, Farsi, Arabic, French and Spanish. I think she's come a long ways from her "Whatta Matta" days!

Angie said...

I agree. Actions speak louder than words. Lesson learned! Yay us!

Angie said...

When I read "Whatta Matta" I damn near wet myself. hahaha I love that! Thank you so much for sharing that!

Gorilla Bananas said...

What a touching story. Deep down, I think all humans are Hispanic. Did you ever have a crush on Ricardo Montalban?

Angie said...

Who DIDN'T?!

Fred Miller said...

Sean is a little blonde, male Tessa, but his dad is clearly Hispanic. I don't know how he talks because he hasn't said an intelligible word since he turned 13 last October. You make me wonder what he sounds like around his friends (who are nearly all beautifully brown, by the way).

Angie said...

They don't get intelligent again for a good 10 years I fear. I didn't anyway. I was actually shocked to hear my daughter with her friends. They don't swear or use slang. They are little grown ups that discuss poetry and philosophy and pretend to be much older than they are. Sure, most of it is WRONG, but they sound like smart to the untrained ear. :)

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