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Sorry to Disappoint

December 10, 2009

Since I have a kindergartner, I am now a school volunteer. I have been down to Lily’s class twice and it’s very interesting. Even though I have probably spent more time in Kindergarten in the last few years than any other parent, and am therefore quite conversant with the curriculum and activities. But I do enjoy observing the class routine, watching the interaction of her teacher with the students, and getting to know the students that Lily talks about.

One of my concerns with my kids at school outside of the city was that I didn’t want them to grow up being the only black kid in the class. That is a major reason I live in this district that directly abuts the city and therefore has a more similar population than suburbs a little further out. At orientation I noticed another black girl in Lily’s class and the first time I went to volunteer, I was struck at how similar they look: nearly identical skin tone, tall, same kind of hair, and even twin ponytails. My guess is that lots of people at the school had a hard time keeping those girls straight.

That first day, all the kids in the class rotated through my station and we chit-chatted as they worked on the project there. The thought had crossed my mind that some of the kids in the class might be surprised that Lily’s mom looks like me, but I was surprised when the only person who seemed taken aback was that other little black girl.

“Are you Lily’s mom?”
“Yes.”
Careful studying of my face, presumably to tell if I was lying. Then, “But you’re supposed to be brown!”
“Well, I’m not,” and then we carried on with the work.

Yesterday, I was back. This time, the girl came and sat down at my table and got right to work. I figured she had accepted me for what I am. Not so fast.

“You should be brown.”
“Well, I’m not. Moms come in all colors.”
Another girl at the table pipes up, “My mom is orange.”
The first girl wants the conversation back, though. “You should be brown. Kids should match their moms.”
So I ask, “Is your mom brown?” (I know I saw the mom at orientation, but I don’t remember).
“No. But she will be. She says she is going to be brown soon and I am going to be brown when I am a mom.”

At this point, I am very confused. One mom is orange and another is apparently changing colors. Oh well. Kindergarten is eye-opening.

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