Content of their character

Now that Tiger Woods is a dad, golf aficionados might wonder what princess Sam’s arrival might do to her old man’s game. Baby-boomers might wonder why the couple chose to name their daughter the tomboy-chic “Sam” instead of the time-tested “Samantha”. Others may wonder if Tiger’s wife Elin’s credentials as a former nanny means she’ll still need one of her own. But as a mom who’s doing her best to raise kids who take pride in their heritage, I’m wondering how the PGA champ plans to approach his daughter when it comes to the matter of race.

My query is far from unfounded. It’s no secret that Tiger Woods has a history of dodging phone calls from the NAACP requesting his support, of laughing off fried chicken jokes made by other golfers at his expense and publicly admitting to Oprah Winfrey that he’s not black or Asian, but ”Cablinasian”, meaning Caucasian, black, Indian and Asian, (despite the fact that neither of his parents were white). By this point, his publicists know better than to return phone calls asking the American Express spokesman to speak at Black History Month events.

Either way, I hope Tiger will prepare his daughter for the fact that despite however famous a person is or how wealthy they are, race still matters in America. I hope he’ll brace Sam Alexis for the fact that there may come a time when she hears a racially tainted joke uttered at the lunch table of whatever prestigious private school he and Elin choose to send her to. Or better yet, that there may come a time when she has an experience similar to my own, some twenty-odd years ago on the schoolyard:

"Come to me, blackie!"

I was mortified as I stood there in pigtails, watching Doug Cohn beckon me with his chubby little finger. My only comeback was to tell Lise Toplin, the safety guard (oooh, a big fifth grader!), who whinily told him to "Stop being mean."

Later, Doug ended up in my eleventh grade Sociology class. Regularly, as the teacher was explaining things like propaganda and the media. I felt Doug’s eyes on me. He wasn't waiting for the right time to ask me to shine his shoes, he clearly wanted more than that. By then there’d been plenty of time for new stereotypes about black females to plant themselves I his brain. It was the good thing that sociology class was at the end of the day. That way, if I felt the urge to run right home and take a shower, I could.

I think the best way to teach children about racism is to approach it in a similar manner to how one might begin talking to one’s child about other things that may (or may not) make a parent feel a little uncomfortable to discuss, like sex and death. Both topics are big issues, but also ones that will come up in a child's life whether we want them to or not. Like the birds and the bees, I think there are some things that kids should learn from their parents before they get misinformation from somewhere else.

Not unlike the facts of life, my husband and I take each of our daughter's questions about racism as they come. Then we try to break it down to a level she can relate to, given her age (five). A preschooler might want to know things like why MLK had to fight for freedom in the first place, but the answer doesn't need to be a lecture on the atrocities of slavery or a detailed account of lynchings in the Jim Crow south. That will come later. For now, we talk about how black people weren't allowed to eat in the same restaurants as white people or drink from the same fountains. How that would make a person feel (if they weren't white)? Is that fair? Preschoolers love to talk about what is and isn't fair, so at this point, discussing race has basically been a piece of cake.

We’re also careful not to dwell on the fact that in America, our ethnic group has been considered inferior, because we don't want them to become so self-conscious of others biases that it limits their ability, as evidenced by "The Stereotype Threat". Instead, we choose to focus less on racism and more on the accomplishments of African Americans and the aspects of our culture that have been written out of standard education. We know that racism will eventually rear its ugly head; we try our best to give them the ammunition to confront it head on when it does.

Yet people of color aren't the only ones who need to understand prejudice. White children should be taught about it too, so that by the time it comes up in school, they are sensitized to the issue, not dismissive of it. And like sex, if a child has reached 9 or 10 without ever asking about it, it's probably a good idea to go ahead and have "the big talk". At that age, a fifteen-minute history lesson should do the trick (I wish Doug's parent's had done that). The last thing a parent should want is to find out that their kid was off at college participating in a (insert favorite minority group here)"costume party". Much like catching one’s daughter on a commercial for "Girls Gone Wild", that would be proof that someone dropped the ball.

The toughest part is, most parents have the birds and the bees all figured out (or let’s hope so), but many adults, of all persuasions, are ignorant about the history of race in America and how it plays into our everyday lives...from where a person decides to sit in a doctor's waiting room, to the friends they choose, to who they elect for president. Knowing that racism will affect their children at some point in life (whether it's through white privilege or bearing the brunt of direct bigotry) should encourage any parent—including those who are famous golfers—to learn as much about it as they can. So when it’s finally time for “the big talk”, they’re prepared.

This essay is dedicated to the memory of my grandfather, the late William Howard May (June 17, 1911 — June 4, 2007), who taught me to be proud of who I am and took pride in the groundbreaking success of Tiger Woods as if he’d been a grandchild of his very own.

On Friday my posts also appear as an online column for Time Out New York Kids. Visit them at Time Out New York Kids for more city-specific parenting tips and diversions. The regular column is called Not the Nanny, which pretty much answers the crazy looks I sometimes receive when I'm out and about with my rosy-cheeked son.


Baby in the air

All knocked up with no place to go. That basically sums up my general disposition during the last trimester of both pregnancies. As much as I wanted to set foot on a plane and see the world, I was on house arrest by doctor’s orders, stuck at home, staring at my belly, guessing who’s coming to dinner.

It wasn’t anything serious, but both times, my OB suggested I think twice before traveling anywhere. My first pregnancy was perfect with the exception of a benign, but excruciating condition that prevented me from being in a close friend's island wedding (to this day, five years later, I still don't think the bride has forgiven me). The second, a twin pregnancy that left me looking full-term somewhere around month five, I was too huge to even take my two-year-old on a merry-go-round without the operator grilling me about my due date. A week later, when I asked my doctor what he thought of my bright idea to jet off and meet my husband who was teaching at a summer writer’s workshop, he just looked at my belly and laughed.

The only thing worse than being extremely pregnant is being extremely pregnant and exceptionally bored. Even if the nursery's not finished, there's only but so much nesting a gestating woman is capable of before losing her hormone-marinated mind. That’s why I refuse to badmouth the woman who recently boarded a Delta airplane pregnant and ended up giving birth before landing. Many criticized her for setting foot on the plane in the first place, but honestly, who can blame her? Life must go on, whether one already has kids with or just happens to be “with child”. In fact, as a parent of small children who’s terrified of flying (with them), I’m almost willing to pay someone to have a baby while my family takes our first flight as a fivesome this summer.

I actually think a parent flying with small kids would be crazy not to welcome a (non-terrorism related) mid-flight commotion that isn’t caused by their own offspring. Please, somebody distract the entire plane from listening to my youngest daughter squeal because she wants the Pirates Booty that I forgot to pack. Save the woman behind us from being distracted from her knitting because my preverbal son keeps flirting with her. Prevent the entire economy class from listening to my oldest serenade them because she's decided she's the newest member of the Cheetah Girls. Keep me from wanting to hit my husband over the head with my Skip Hop bag because he’s listening to his ipod and reading a comic book through all of this, pretending he doesn’t even know us. I'm not adverse to anyone who wants to help make sure my kids don't get our entire family thrown off the plane. To jet-setting parents of half-pints, a laboring mother on board is like a get out of jail free card.

So bring me your tired, your poor pregnant women who can’t stand the idea of putting their lives on hold while waiting for their special deliveries to arrive. We’ll make a seat for you in first class. Don’t even worry about the other passengers. In the rare event you’re your water breaks somewhere between the plastic cups being taken away and Zoolander being shown, your dignity will fly right out the passenger seat window anyway. You’ll care less about the nauseous businessman two rows in front of you, the flight attendant who’s too freaked out to serve pretzels because she’s hiding in the bathroom, or the baby boomer shouting “that’s not how I did it!” from the back.

Just know that no matter how stir-crazy you happen to be right now, or how gargantuan you insist you are, making the decision to fly in the third trimester isn’t anything to take lightly. It’s a lot different than wondering if a glass of merlot has a higher alcohol content than a glass of shiraz and if just one teeny glass of either of the two could cause fetal alcohol syndrome. It’s not like questioning the health risk of cooked sushi or wondering if the steaming hot bath you took the other night could mean your unborn child is destined to a life of pity. But if you have the nerve, I applaud you and any woman with enough gumption to laugh in the face of her OB, Mother Nature and of course her own mother to climb aboard with an almost baked bun in the oven. Let's just hope there's a doctor in the house.

On Friday my posts also appear as an online column for Time Out New York Kids. Visit them at Time Out New York Kids for more city-specific parenting tips and diversions. The regular column will be called Not the Nanny, which pretty much answers the crazy looks I sometimes receive when I'm out and about with my rosy-cheeked son.


Is there a problem?

Racism is often treated as a "black subject", but we know it's everybody's issue. Being white shouldn't make a person exempt from having to consider race and racism in their everyday lives. Any a parent who want to raise well-adjusted children should probably be thinking about these kind of things. I was reminded of this as I was going through some of J-Jo's papers from nursery school. So much of it brought back certain memories, like:

...the day I brought J-Jo to school a few minutes late and Headteacher beckoned (only) to J-Jo and chimed: "Hurry up, we're taking about Africa!" (emphasis on the word "Africa!")

...or the day that we told Headteacher we were keeping J-Jo out of school one afternoon to take her to see a replica of the Amistad, which was temporarily docked at a harbor nearby.

Mrs. Headteacher: "Do you feel she's ready for the subject of slavery?"

Mrs. J: "She's known about slavery since she was two." In a general sense, but it's true.

Mrs. Headteacher: "Let us know if there's anything we can do here to help her with that."

Mrs. J: Uh, thanks.

What I wanted to say: "You all pretend like the holidays aren't even happening because you're afraid of offending people. Do you really think I expect you to teach my child about slavery? Do ya really think I'd TRUST you to?"

Oh well. It's over now. J-Jo graduated two weeks ago (in the form of a picnic, no cap and gowns up here). Next year, she'll be at a progressive charter school in Houston that's a lot more diverse. I know J-Jo will miss the friends she's made here, though. I will too. They're all sweet kids who I've watched grow from babies to toddlers to sassy-mouthed little kids right along with my own (not too thrilled about that sassy part). And I know she'll miss the little white schoolhouse and its intimate little yard. But I gotta admit, I'm still reeling from this upstate nursery school experience. While it was great in certain ways — the healthy snacks, organic "birthday muffins" instead of cupcakes, the fact that their learning was play-based — I can't say I'll actually miss it.


And just where do you think you're going?

Ever been to a graduation where somebody's family acted a fool? I have. Thank God it wasn't my own.

Anybody who's witnessed what I reference knows the cringe factor here. Overzealous whooping and hollering is just not cute in certain settings. Those with home training (and you know who you are) know full well that at certain dignified, stoic events...weddings, baptisms, graduations there's a certain amount of decorum expected, no? Naturally heads are going to turn when all of the sudden, a name of a graduating senior is announced and an entire section — Uncle Jimmie, cousin Skeeter, Big Momma and ten more — decide to stand up and raise the roof. Almost as if they earned the diploma themselves, just for showing up.

But should that mean that the graduating senior should be penalized by
not receiving their diplomas, based on the reaction of their family members? According to the officials of Galesburg High School, the answer is yes. And as if that isn't punishment enough, the seniors — including those with honors — are expected to do several hours of "community service" (ie. filing, answering phones, and other menial tasks for the School Board) before they get their actual diploma.

From AP:

The principal, Principal Tom Chiles, said administrators who monitored the more than 2,000-seat auditorium reported only disruptions they considered "significant," and all turned in the same five names.

"Race had absolutely nothing to do with it whatsoever," Chiles said. "It is the amount of disruption at the time of the incident."

I would buy that if four out of the five students punished weren't black, and the other wasn't hispanic. And if I was certain there had been equal repercussions for other seniors, and their shenanigans.

Some people might need etiquette lessons, but what's wrong with being happy? And should any of us really be held accountable for our, how do I say, more eccentric family members? As much as I cringe at Al Sharpton jumping into the mix any time anything even remotely racial occurs anywhere in the U.S., I sure hope he's on his way out to Galesburg, Illinois right now.

What do you all think?