“It’s weird you don’t match”
It happened. At 5 years old, Maya was at the receiving end of an ignorant comment from a fellow classmate.
I was picking up Alana and Maya from their school’s extended care when Maya shared a comment her friend had made. Now, kids don’t usually get to see their classmates' parents unless they went to before or after school care. Alana and Maya had only gone a handful of times and Trevor always picked them up. I was making my debut at extended care.
The girls made their usual complaints that I shouldn’t have picked them up so early because they were having too much fun. I made a snarky comment about them living at school permanently, which backfired because these girls truly love school and were overjoyed with the idea of never leaving.
I had already pulled out of the school parking lot when Maya told me a story that simultaneously broke my heart and made me so proud of her.
A fellow classmate had asked Maya if I was indeed her mom, and proceeded to tell Maya that it was “weird” that our skin colors didn’t match. My head whipped back so fast, eye brows furrowed, my lips pursed and ready to turn the car around.
I know stories of parent/babysitter confusion and I didn’t think I would ever have a story of my own. I’m not really sure why. Maybe it’s because we live in a fairly diverse city with a lot of multiracial families. Maybe it was a bit naive (or maybe smug?) of me to not consider the possibility…
Then Maya proudly says, “I told her it was NOT weird and that you’re my mommy.”
Her confidence and self-assured tone made me smile. I praised Maya for standing up for herself, and told her that she was absolutely correct.
We then talked about her feelings and the different types of families. “Do people have to match skin colors to be a family?”
“Can families come in all shapes, sizes and colors?”
“Is our family so beautiful?”
“Of course,” coupled with rolled eyes.
I remembered then we didn’t have to worry (too much) about Maya and Alana. We’ve been diligently and intentionally nurturing their own racial identities, making sure we were as well-represented as possible in all the things we consumed at home.
I know Maya (and Alana) are confident in who they are while still curiously exploring the multiple identities they hold.
Yet I worried. I worry that there would be that one comment that would send them spiraling into the kind of confusion many multi-racial folks feel. I worry that no matter what Trevor and I instill in Alana and Maya would not be enough to deter that one tiny little seedling of doubt around their identities. I worry that there will come a time when they do not feel like they belong.
It feels so hard to let go of these thoughts and worries when the world around us will make you “choose” a side; when loud-ass people look down on you; when a comment can make you doubt yourself; when children repeat the problematic messages they hear from their grown-ups.
I felt sad for Maya that someone tried to make her believe she didn’t belong in our family, but I was even more proud that she was louder than that little friend of hers. I could just picture the face Maya made – eyebrows furrowed, lips pursed, using that tone that tells you she means business.
I hope she never loses her sense of self.