I’ve suddenly found myself in a pickle because I realized only yesterday there is so much that I don’t know. I always know when I get to this point because I have three books on my nightstand, notes all over my desk, and then it dawns on me that I’m in the learning process and I’m rushing to find out everything I need to know to do a good job with what I’ve got to do.
And what I’ve got to do right now is the most important job I’ve ever had to do in my 53 years of living – to parent Tin. And in parenting Tin I have to make sure he has a strong sense of his cultural identity as an African American, that we as a family incorporate as much of his culture into our culture, and that I can speak intelligently about these things to him.
Two years ago when he was a one year old, I had time. Plenty of time to have the discussion about skin color differences, plenty of time to have the discussion about adoption and race, and plenty of time to have that discussion about slavery and its lingering stain on America. But last night, Tin came home from a music session that Silence is Violence puts on and he said to me, “So this black boy wanted to play the trumpet, but he didn’t have one, and so the black boy wanted to use mine.”
I got down real low and said, “Honey, the black boy is an African American boy just like you.”
Tin said, “No I’m not.”
“Oh yes you are honey. Let’s all talk about our cultural identity for a moment. You are a beautiful African American boy and you are proud. Mama is an Eastern European woman and she is proud. And I’m a Spanish Jew with European ancestors and I’m proud. We are all proud of our cultural identity.”
“No, I’m not. The black boy didn’t have a trumpet.”
Tin will be four years old in March, and already I have this avalanche of thoughts going through my head – get him to a Kwanzaa celebration, talk to him about slavery before someone else does, instill in him a strong sense of his African heritage, help him to understand that we are a family even if we don’t match. I took a deep breath.
“Tin,” I said on my knees looking him in the eye, “both of your birth parents, your birth mother and your birth father were African American and proud. Your godfather, Evan, is Thai and was adopted by parents of a different culture too. Darrin and Yolanda are African American.”
I wanted to call a friend this morning – any friend – to ask what to do. I don’t want Tin to experience the avalanche, I had hope these things would come slower, at a pace that could be absorbed, but today I woke feeling as if I haven’t done enough to prepare him for all he needs to know and I knew with certainty that I hadn’t done enough to prepare myself.
I came upstairs to my office this morning and meditated and asked my mother to not let me fail at this very important job.
I wonder what other mothers with children of different races are speaking about with their 3.5 year old sons? I wonder what an African American parent would say to his or her child that I might not have access to? What would you have done in this situation?