Friday, October 31, 2014

Diverse Skeletons

Last week I took Sidney to the base library's Halloween party. There the kids listened to stories, ate and did craft activities while dressed in their costumes. It was a simple activity but you would never have known it by the excitement the kids expressed for everything that was happening. When it came time for the craft activity Sidney chose the one that involved constructing a skeleton out of Q-tips. He happily taped the white swabs onto black construction paper and when he was finished, sat back to admire his masterpiece. After looking critically at his then at the ones made by the other children, he immediately asked why all of the skeletons looked so different. I explained that just as every person looked different on the outside their skeletons looked different on the inside. He nodded and seemed to accept my answer but his question got me thinking.

It made me realize that we live in a pretty diverse world. Since Sidney was a baby we have lived in foreign environments surrounded by people who both look similar to and different than us, hailing from countries spanning the globe and speaking languages that we understand, at least recognize or can't even place on a map. Because of all this, Sidney has essentially been immersed in natural diversity since his earliest memories and therefore takes this diversity in stride. When describing a classmate or friend from the playground to me he has never once used skin color as a descriptor. He'll talk about the child's clothing, what they were doing or even the language they speak but never has color come into play. And when I look at this playmates while I see a Crayola box of diversity amongst them, he simply sees his peers. They are the kid who has the good snacks, the one who always causes trouble and the boy who doesn't like to play Star Wars. That's it. (And if I describe someone using skin color he simply looks at me strangely). The flags of all of the NATO countries fly near the entrance to the base. A favorite game of Sidney's is to identify as many of the flags as he can. He takes it one step further when identifying a flag and tells me which of his classmates is from that particular country and what languages they speak. And speaking of languages, rather than being turned off by hearing a language he doesn't recognize, Sidney either gets excited and names the language when he hears one he knows or asks what language is being spoken when he can't place it himself. Hearing English does excite him beyond belief and he is quick to identify the differences between American and British English. (We're still working on the distinction between the English dialects of other countries).

I love the fact that at this point in his life Sidney is essentially blind to skin color. He accepts his peers based on what they can and cannot do rather than what they look like. (Perhaps all children do this to some extent). My only wish is that I could harness this openness forever. How much easier would life be if skin color, physical characteristics or language wasn't one of the first things we adults use to identify people with. Obviously none of these traits matter to kids so why do they matter so much to adults?

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