Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Momblag: My Six-Year-Old Debate Champ

The alarm went off and I hit snooze.  Katie was lying in bed beside me.  Our dog Sawyer was lying on my feet and our dog Earl was lying on the floor on Katie's side of the bed.  Our cat Thatcher was curled up on Will's pillow next to me.  Will had already left for work.  The sun peaked through our dusty blinds.

The first thing out of Katie's mouth was not the standard "good morning," or "time to get up," or even a grumpy "grrrr".  Instead, she started the day with a question.

"Mom, why did black people used to have to drink from a different drinking fountain?"

I closed one eye as if it would help suck one more drop of sleep from the room.  With the other eye open, I looked out at the blue sky through a crooked slat in the blinds.  I wondered where she had heard about separate drinking fountains.  I used to be able to trace her thoughts back to the source with ease when it was just Will and me taking care of her, but now that she's in school and reading books on her own and playing with classmates with all kinds of knowledge of the world, there's no telling where she picked it up.

"Because our country has a long history of racism," I said before succumbing to an epic yawn.

"What's racism?" she immediately asked.

I didn't feel like getting into this discussion.  I felt like going back to sleep, and if I couldn't do that I felt like getting up and peeing and letting the dogs out and feeding the cat and both dogs and sticking a Morning Round into the toaster and pouring a glass of water for Katie and picking up last night's clothes from a pile on the floor and throwing them on so I could get this inquisitive child to school on time.  Also, how do you explain racism to a six-year-old?  At the same time, I'm honored she still comes to me with her questions about life and I know soon she'll be a teenager and know it all and my wisdom will seem less relevant, so I relish these inconveniently timed questions.

"It's when people are treated badly because of their skin color," I explained, rolling over to turn the alarm off.  No point in snoozing now.

"Like when black people were slaves?" she asked.

"Yes, exactly.  It was legal in our country a long time ago for white people to own black people and force them to work for them without pay.  And then we had a civil war and decided to make owning slaves illegal. But for a long time after that, black people, and other people who are not white, were still not often treated fairly or equally, like they were forced to drink out of separate drinking fountains from white people until our country passed laws saying that all people should be allowed to drink out of the same drinking fountain and go to the same schools and stuff."  I started to pull the covers off, assuming my speech would suffice and it was time to get up.

Katie lay still.  She wanted to talk some more.  "So why do boys and girls use different bathrooms?" she wanted to know.

I sighed.  I love my little philosopher.  It's too bad little things like getting to school on time ruin a good discussion.  "That's a good question," I said, stalling.

"If boys and girls are equal, how come we have to use separate bathrooms at school?" Katie asked, her hands behind her head on the pillow.  I smiled at her.  In a few more years maybe she'll join the debate team at her high school.  I can sit in the audience, beaming with pride, and watch her question the way things are.

"Well, in our culture we hide our private areas from people, especially from people of the opposite sex.  Men and boys cover their penises and women and girls cover their vulvas and breasts by wearing clothes.  But when we go to the bathroom, we have to remove our clothes.  So it just gives us a little more privacy to do it in a separate bathroom," I explained.  I inched my way over to the side of the bed and placed my feet on the floor, ready to rise.

Katie still didn't budge.  "But there are doors on the stalls, Mom," she argued.

I smiled and looked at the clock.  "Yes, you're right.  Maybe some day you'll be explaining to your child how it used to be when you were a kid that boys and girls used separate bathrooms."  I winked.  "But for now, it's time to get up and get ready for school," I said.

What I wanted to say is, "Watch out world, here she comes!" but I try to reserve my maternal braggings for my blog, a mom blog brag, a momblag, and not say them too often to Katie's face, lest the child's head get too big to fit out the door.