Thursday, June 11, 2009

They All Look Like You

I had an unexpected discussion with my 4-year old son this afternoon.

In his usual animated manner, he was telling me about his day at school. Some of his friends didn't want to play with him, he told me. As always, I took this complaint with a grain of salt. He and his friends have their good days and their bad days. And Owen can easily be overly dramatic about these things!

"Which friends?" I asked him, expecting an answer such as "Lucas," "Martin" or "Vicente."

Instead he reached over and rubbed my forearm, saying: "They all look like you."

"Like me?" I responded carefully, unsure as to whether this conversation was really headed where it seemed to be headed.

"Yeah," Owen said matter-of-factly. "They're not black. No one is, just me."

In that moment, I felt a rush of thoughts and emotions as I had a split-second to consider how to respond to such an unanticipated comment. On the one hand I wanted to cry and on the other hand I knew I needed to be as matter-of-fact as he was. Facts from the chapter on pre-school and race from "I'm Chocolate, You're Vanilla" flashed through my mind as I realized this conversation had to be directly related to one that had taken place the day before. I had been showing the kids some new pictures of their brother Ian in Haiti when Eva stated, "But he's not as black as Owen. No one is as black as Owen!" Trying to downplay her comment, I quickly replied, "And that what makes Owen so special!" The girls giggled and excitedly agreed as the three of us grabbed Owen and covered him in kisses. He seemed perfectly okay at the time, but his sister's statement must have affected him more than I realized.

Today, I again said, "And that makes you very special!" but I also added "Until your brothers get home, then there will be three of you!" and that seemed to delight him as he shouted "Yeah!" and danced out of the kitchen happily. At my urging, we sort of repeated the conversation with Daddy, who pointed out to Owen that he and Sissy (Isabel) didn't look like Mommy either because they are brown. But by that point Owen had seemingly moved past the subject without any ill effects, so we let it drop from there.


I always hope I say the right things at moments like these. For the most part, Owen lives a charmed life here in Chile. Everyone loves him. It's been awhile since I took him to the mall, but today he and Eva and I went out in search of birthday presents for Isabel. As usual, as we walked through the crowds of people I could hear the whispered comments following us and feel the eyes on our backs. "Mira que lindo!" (Look how beautiful!) "Lo viste? Viste al negrito?" (Did you see him? Did you see the little black boy?) "Que precioso!" (How precious!)

One lady spoke to me directly as we passed by and asked, "De donde sacaste ese negrito tan lindo?" (Where did you come up with such a cute little black boy?) The saleswoman at the Casio store said, "Estoy enamorada! Me lo quiero llevar!" (I'm in love! I want to take him home!)

And an older couple resting on a bench reached out when he passed by and asked for a kiss. Normally I wouldn't allow it, but they seemed like the grandparent sort and Owen was in a good enough mood that he obliged before I could even intervene. Afterwards Eva said, "Mommy, that makes me kind of nervous when people want to kiss Owen! I don't like that." I told her that usually I don't either, but that maybe these grandparents missed their grandkids and Owen made them feel better today.

There is more I could say - such as how our house is known as "la casa de Owen" by people we don't even know. A lot of foot traffice passes by our house because our next-door neighbor sells homemade melt-in-your-mouth bread every evening. Often at bread time, we'll hear little voices announcing to their parents, "Esta es la casa de Owen!" followed by the doorbell ringing and children hanging on the gate to talk him. Our girls have gotten so used to the visits from Owen's admirers that now they just look out the door and say, "Owen, your friends are here to see you!" as he trots out to give a few minutes of his time to his loyal fans.

So, in many ways life is really good for Owen here. But still, all the admiration in the world doesn't change the fact that he's the odd man out every time. He's can't quite express it in words yet but I know he gets tired of the attention, especially in public. And in the back of my mind the apprehension always lingers of what it will be like when we return to the States and the tables may be abruptly turned. But, I have always believed God has a very special plan for our very special boy and that is what I hold onto. And in the meantime, no one is a bigger fan of Owen's than we are! :)


Vanessa said...

Steph, this is great. We've had the exact same experience with Charleigh. Except that here, there are so many Hispanic families and when they see us out and about, I always wonder what they will think. But mostly, they smile at us. I think in some small way, it lets them know I'm not against them. (I confess, I always carry her baby picture so nobody thinks I swiped her!)

I worry, though, when she goes to school. She doesn't know Spanish. I don't know how things will be for her in school socially. So far, everything has been very easy for us....She actually points out places we've gone "See that place? They think I'm cute."

I love what you write. It helps me a lot.

Terri Fisher said...

Great job, Mom! Sounds like you are handling the conversations very well...keep it up! God will give you the words to say when you need them!

Amundson Family Musings said...

I'm a BIG fan too!!! Love you Owen!!

Happy birthday Isabel! See you all in a month or so!

Aunt Heather