The beginning of a most wonderful opportunity for me to solidify my opinions and teach with intention was brought about by my adorable son's lovely and politically incorrect vocalized observation.
We were at a McDonalds. My four tiny boys and I had just arrived. While waiting for our food, my then four year old noticed two colorfully dressed and extremely dark skinned men sitting at a nearby table. They were enjoying a conversation in a language we could not understand while sipping their cokes and munching their French fries. My son openly stared and smiled. As our family headed toward the playroom with drinks in hand, he peered up at me and spoke with wonder. "Look at those guys mommy. They are so black!" They were, and so I comfortably agreed.
Moments later I was confronted by an attractive yet unhappy black woman. "I heard what you said to your son", she informed me. After a moments confusion, I understood her concern. She went on. "They are clearly visiting our country and should not be exposed to those ignorant comments."
I wondered if she had even noticed my colorful brood. My two oldest are dark brown (their dad is Arab), the four year old painfully white like me (his dad is a little Italian) and my youngest is a beautiful coffee and cream color (his dad, my husband, is quite black). In attempting to gift this woman with my explanation, I was given an opportunity to voice an opinion I had not yet clearly formed.
Those two men were very black. My four year old had not lied. Neither had he judged them based on their skin color or fascinating and beautiful outfits. Rather, he had been interested and impassioned to voice his excitement. If I had asked him to be quiet or worse, not observe and engage in the world around him, I would have been in danger of frightening and confusing his natural curiosity; his thrill in enjoying the world. My adorable four year old who had been a slow speaker to begin with would have heard me bash his newly formed words and his desire to share them. Also, I would have been suggesting that maybe there is something wrong with their dark skin.
The men visiting our country are not my responsibility. The diners at the restaurant and their opinions on how my kids should behave are not my responsibility. Teaching my children to engage in the world is.
If I could find that woman today, I would thank her with all my heart. By being willing to voice her concern she challenged me to discover my own. And as is so often the case, through parenting, I came to understand what is--to me--an important and universal truth.
Understanding and accepting our responsibilities, not fearing a truth for the difficulties it may bring or what others may perceive it to mean, and being willing to speak out when you feel others may benefit from what you have to say (as that woman did on that day) are what it takes to be an active parent. My mom taught me that.
It is also a successful recipe to being a passionate and engaged citizen. For my boys and the world they will inherit, I insist on being both.
(Article changed on April 26, 2014 at 20:38)