Friday, June 3, 2011

The neighbor

There's a little girl next door... well, maybe not so little.  She's going to be in sixth grade next year.  Anyway.  She's there.  Next door.  She has a lot of thoughts, a lot of opinions, seems pretty damn smart, very confident, and, oh- also?  She disregards boundaries.  But maybe that's my fault because I haven't just right out told her I don't want to hang out each and every time my boy and I go outside.  I keep thinking she might get the hint, but seriously.  It's not working.

Anyway, this post isn't about my being a bitch and not wanting to chill with a sixth grader all summer long... it's more about the conversations she and I have almost every time we join up on the boulevard.  Or more about the things she has to say and how I don't know how to respond.

A few months ago, when she first shook my hand and tousled my boy's hair, she made the comment about not having ever met an African American before.  She shared the different places she's been, places which I am sure she has encountered folks that have a skin color different than her own, and insisted that she had never seen skin that was brown.  Or black.  Or different.  From her own.

The next time we met up (or maybe the time after that?  It really doesn't matter), she said she was fairly sure Leone knew how to eat from a plate because he was from Africa.

The following time (or whenever) she wanted to know if he would have an accent when he started speaking more.  Or if he was so cute because he didn't come from around here.  Or that he liked spaghetti because he was adopted.

I know, I know, I know... she's curious.  She's drawn to our family, she wants to know more, she's learning about people and differences and sameness- and the good Lord knows she wants to babysit (for $15 an hour!  What a deal!).  But the truth is, I find myself struggling.  I hate that each time we get together, she wants to point something out about my kid.  Something she has decided no one else does (doesn't every God fearing two year old like spaghetti?), and that the only explanation for why he does it is because he doesn't physically match his Papa and me.

This isn't about the sixth grader.  It's about my trying to figure out how to respond to generalizing.  To other people's ideas and thoughts pertaining to my kid.  Do I tip-toe ("Well, sweetheart, the reason Leone eats spaghetti from a plate isn't because he's from Africa... it's because he's two and is learning his manners") or do I state the obvious ("Listen, kid.  Leone eats spaghetti from a plate because that's what we expect him to do.  And just because he's adopted doesn't make him some alien that you need to discover and explore.  Now leave us the hell alone!").

Truth is, I tend to tip-toe.  Truth is, it doesn't seem to matter much.  And pretty soon, pretty soon my boy is going to comprehend what this chick-a-dee (and others like her) are wondering about.  Chances are high the questions and explanations that we are getting now will quiet themselves, but there will be others.  There will be others, and they will be more obvious.  And more pointed.

And well, the thing is, I'm thinking I need to figure out what I'm going to say and do when those words and looks and glances and exchanges come our way.  For him.  For me.  For all of us.