Today at work was more hectic than most. In addition to the usual three year old, two year old, seven month old, and one month old I take care of every day, I also had in the house with me my six year old brother, Tyrone, and my five year old niece, Emma.
When I say hectic I don’t mean to imply that the children were trouble makers (well… not too much trouble), but rather hectic in the sense that the volume within the house was doubled what it normally is, twice as many questions being asked, twice as many lunches to prepare, and twice as many kids to entertain for ten hours.
Though today was hectic, and I was definitely ready to leave work by five o’clock when their parents came to pick them up, I enjoyed listening to the giggles, the shrills, the footsteps moving quickly through the house, and the occasional crying baby. All of these sounds were evidences of life happening in the house today.
My favorite sound by far though were the conversations between Tyrone and Emma that I was privileged to eavesdrop on. Because they are so close in age, and because they see each other quite a bit, they have a very comfortable relationship with each other. One minute they will be fighting over whose turn it is to play the Nintendo DS, and the next minute they will be snuggled up together in the big leather char watching “Frozen” for the twenty-fifth time. Their conversations reflect their trust with each other.
For the sake of the rest of this article, it is important to make the distinction that Tyrone has dark brown skin, and Emma has white skin. The two year old also has brown skin, while the rest of the children in the house all have white skin. The color of their own skin, nor the color of their friend’s skin has ever been a topic of conversation until today, that I know of.
Tyrone and Emma were both sitting in the living room watching a Disney movie while the younger kids were pushing plastic tractors and plastic trucks across the floor. I was standing nearby at the dining room table folding the third basket of laundry for the day when I heard Tyrone say something about Abraham Lincoln. I stopped folding the towels and looked up to hear where in the world this conversation was going. I’m still not quite sure how their conversation arrived to this point while watching a Disney movie, but as I turned my attention to the conversation Tyrone said to Emma, “Abraham Lincoln had brown skin like me.”
After I chuckled a bit I spoke up to take advantage of the teaching moment and said, “No, Tyrone. Abraham Lincoln had white skin, but he did do a lot of good things to help people with brown skin.”
“Like what?” Tyrone asked.
“Well,” again trying to continue the teaching moment I said, “a long time ago people with brown and black skin sometimes had to work for people with white skin. Abraham Lincoln said that was not good, and that everyone deserved to be treated the same, no matter what color skin they had.”
At this point Emma joins the conversation about brown skin. With excitement that she is able to contribute knowledgably to the conversation, but also with sadness in her voice, she adds, “In a different place a long time ago kids with brown skin and kids with white skin weren’t allowed to play on the same playground together. The kids with brown skin had to have a separate place to play. It was really sad.”
With shock, Tyrone responded, “What?! That would be really sad. That means that me and JoJo (the two year old) wouldn’t get to play on the playground with you, Emma! I don’t like that!”
Emma comforts him by saying, “That alright, Tyrone. It’s not like that anymore. I’m glad we can play on the playground together.”
After this exchange Tyrone and Emma’s attention returned to their Netflix movie. Nothing else was said. Nothing else needed to me said.
I thought that I was going to be the teacher in that moment and teach Tyrone and Emma a bit of U.S. history. Instead, they both used that moment to teach me with their honesty, and with their unhindered love for each other.
In the days after the recent tragic deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, and the shooting in Dallas, I was having trouble seeing hope. I trusted, and continue to trust that hope is there, but my sorrow and frustration was blinding me from recognizing it. Today, I opened my eyes and I saw hope.
I saw hope in the honest conversation between Tyrone and Emma. I saw love between two children who were temporarily heartbroken over the idea that the color of their skin could have once kept them from playing together on the same playground. I saw genuine wisdom in these little people that humbles me. I saw bravery as I heard Tyrone and Emma speak up against something that was not right.
May I take this lesson today and may I also choose to be brave, to have wisdom, to show love, and to offer hope.