I grew up in a seriously homogeneous town.
All my friends were white, Anglo-Saxon and protestant. It wasn’t like we were excluding people of other races or religious beliefs: there simply weren’t any. OK, I’m exaggerating. There was one Asian family, that ran the town’s only restaurant/gas station/bar. And there was one half Chinese kid in my class. (I made him be my boyfriend in Grade One. The shortest boy and tallest girl in class. We still don’t know why we couldn’t work that one out.) And when I was a bit older, one family adopted a bunch of kids of unknown origin. But, for the most part, there weren’t nobody but us rednecks.
I made it out, alive. And relatively prejudice free. A childhood without any diversity still took its toll. I left my little town only vaguely aware of any other cultures, any way of life but mine. I got better. But I’m left with this deep seated terror that I will offend someone, that my intense nervousness is going to make me say The Wrong Thing. And now that I have kids, I am absolutely convinced one of them is going to say The Wrong Thing.
There was a new family at our local park today. A Hasidic Jewish family. Their 3 kids and my 2 played easily and immediately. They compared toys, bikes, ways of going down the slide. I realized that I was digging my fingernails into my palms, waiting. Waiting for my son to ask the little boy (who sported a blue velvet yarmulke) why he was wearing a toque in June. Waiting for my daughter to reach out for the mom’s headscarf and yank it off. But it didn’t happen. They just played.
Until my daughter noticed the mom’s footwear. My daughter’s prized possessions are her pink Crocs.
If there were a fire, and she could save me or the shoes, she’d be sitting on the sidewalk admiring her feet, guilt free, while I roasted. And Hasidic mom was wearing Crocs too. Baby girl was ecstatic, and started jumping up and down, pointing to the woman’s shoes. The only problem is, my daughter is 2. So her English is not great. She’s even a little behind, verbally for her age. So in her excitement, she was yelling, over and over, pointing at the woman,
“Jews! Jews! Jews!”
I opened my mouth, frantically trying to explain what baby girl was actually trying to say. But I just couldn’t get whole words out.
“Sh…but she’s only…sorr…I’m jus…”
The woman knew exactly what I was trying to say. She gave me this look, that I interpreted to mean, “I’m Jewish, not slow, lady. Relax.”
We both laughed.
Then we talked about the upcoming football season, the wicked storm last night, and the way you’re so much more careful with your first kid than you are with subsequent kids, and whether that messes them up.
I need to chill.