This morning I was lathering cream on my four-year old son Alec's skin before pre-school when he suddenly announced, "Look! I have white skin, too!" A bit startled only because this hasn't been a topic of conversation for him before, I followed his gaze to what appeared to be a dried blister on the bottom of his foot.
As mothers often do, I murmured something agreeable as I continued to smooth cream onto his adorable chunky thighs. I couldn't resist replying, "But this skin is brown, like chocolate! I love chocolate!"
Alec, who loves all things sweet, immediately and enthusiastically agreed, "Me too! I love chocolate!" Then he reached over and pointed to my arm with his finger. "What color is this, Mommy? White?"
"Well," I responded, "Most people call it that. But I think it's more like peach. Do you think it looks like peach?"
Of course he thought so, too. I had one more thing to tell him. "Alec, sometimes families don't look the same on the outside. Our skin can be a different color. Our family has lots of colors! But that's okay, because we are beautiful and God made us."
I continued, "Do you know where we are the same?" and lightly touched his chest, then mine. "We are the same right here, in our hearts. That is where we love each other! And I love you! I'm glad you're my little boy. I'm glad you're my son."
It wasn't until evening that I recalled this conversation and shared it with my husband. On the one hand we agreed it may have been the first time Alec brought up the topic of skin color. On the other hand, we have been working diligently with both little boys at learning colors for pre-school this semester; so maybe this conversation was to be expected.
It caused me to take the time to do some looking back through old posts on this blog and I immediately encountered similar situations when Owen was this age. A post entitled "Recognizing Race" was especially appropriate, and poignant to remember.
Two posts written almost a year apart - entitled "Racism & Reverse Racism" and simply "Reverse Racism" - recorded our experiences arriving in Chile with a young Owen and his "paparazzi." To be honest, as I read them I felt a small twinge of regret because I have not missed that kind of attention this past year while in the United States and don't look forward to facing it again. But I was reminded also that thankfully, Iquique has become home and we have become less of a novelty and more accepted as a different but relatively "normal" family in the neighborhood. And that makes me anxious to return!
Karen Katz has written a brightly illustrated children's book entitled "The Colors of Us." We own this in Chile, and I have enjoyed reading it to my kids from time to time. As the principal character Lena explores her neighborhood, she notices the beautiful different shades of color that each person brings to her environment. Later she paints the many varieties that are the "colors of us."
I am so thankful for open conversations, even simple ones like Alec and I had today, that remind us of the beauty in diversity and the gift God has given us in one another. I am thankful for "us" and the "colors of us!"