Thursday, December 5, 2013

Riding In Cars With Boys

Quiet. Nap time. And the people said... 

Today, I poured myself a mug of something hot, grabbed my favorite blanket and my computer, and sat down to write. Or type? I am never sure if typing is still writing or writing is also typing. Whatever the case, I have been mulling... not unlike the mulling spices which I failed to find at the store last night, which would have grandly turned my cup of apple juice into something magical... cider. 

This mulling I've been doing started a few days ago... Tuesday. It was a lovely Tuesday evening when once upon a time, my two sweet ones and I were out for a ride as our house was being shown. We've learned over the past few months of our house being on the market that you can never predict the timeliness or timeli-naught-ness or our home-shoppers and it is best to prepare for the long-haul, especially because it never fails that one or both of the kids end up in the car sans pants and shoes. It is quite enough to get your house clean... ain't no mama got time to dress her kids too!

Anyway, these rides can become quite eventful... tears, screaming, crying, "I wanna go home-ing," but alas we press on and pedal to the metal-it all around the neighborhood, circling our house and stalking what we always hope are the future owners and lovers of our home. On Tuesday there was a hint of something different in the air. No crying or screaming, but plenty of hope and optimism coming from the back seat. He may still have not made it to the pant drawer but he had a new spring in his step and for the first time my sweet almost five year old had a fresh outlook on our current circumstance, both the selling of our home and the means as to which we must get there, including, but not limited to, riding around the neighborhood long enough to have made it all the way to Waco and then some. 

As we traveled through the darkening streets the Christmas lights began to pop on, one house after the other and the magic deepened and the wonder amazed and our time was sweet. We were all three talking, laughing and evening doing our best at singing. If we had to be stuck in the car while missing our pants and our shoes, it was the best way I could ever have imagined to spend it, aside from our favorite missing link, our leader, our Daddy. 

But then...

I should have sensed it coming, there is no doubt anyone reading this (which I expect to be my faithful few and someday my older, wiser, handsome son and his gracefully quirky and stunningly beautiful sister) saw the "But then..." coming. Can car rides with two children under 5 be all Skittles and giggles?  Ahem, NO! Plus, I had no Skittles. 

As we were passing our mailbox for what must have been the fifth time, Caden who had been chattering away about all sorts of things got onto his most favorite topic of the moment, aside from where elves are born...Baylor Football. Ah, the glory of our Bears. The green. Their gold. What a great conversation this would be... Until...

But then...

And until...

The course of this story is about to change... brace yourselves, young ones!

Caden says, "You know that player Corey Coleman? Number 1 for Baylor? With the black skin?"

ALERT!! ALERT!! ALERT!! My heart started racing, my jaw dropped, my spirit broke... and I know it might seem like I'm just amping up the drama for entertainment value, but I assure you I am doing no such thing.

In my head I fume and I cry, "Black? Black skin? Did he just say that Corey Coleman, number 1 from Baylor has black skin? How does he even know that?!"

Immediately, I am racing back through our Thanksgiving... who told him he had black skin. Come on... who did it! Who broke our "no color word rule." He's destined to be a racist now! The shame!

No color words. Long before my kids were ever a passing thought, before I met my adorable husband, when I was just a wee little lady myself, I wanted the world to be different than it was. I was passionate for the plight of the underdog, the mistreated, the enslaved, the wrongly judged, the persecuted. And I was equally narcissistic enough to believe that I, the sole "I" could change the world, the WHOLE thing. As I grew older my passion didn't wane, but my perspective shifted and I realized that the whole world might be a bit much, but my in corner of the world... my school... my University, my city... I could bring change. This was before the"Internets" so I am sure I would have had higher hopes had I had, say, a blog, to publish the injustices as I saw them and then provide the world with a simple set of solutions that would have brought about universal peace, love and happiness. Assuredly.

Stories that came out of Nazi Germany and the Old South, of slavery and imprisonment, of discrimination at its most destructive end have always intrigued me. The human element of those stories was very real to me. I always believed had I been born in a different time period that I could have changed the face of slavery. I could have righted the wronged Jews. It would only take a smile, a plate of cookies and the truth that we are all God's children. 

Oh the naivety of youth. I am afraid it didn't get much better as I aged. In college I was neck- deep with the studies I chose to pursue as a writing major in the School of English. I took Native American Lit, African American Lit, Women's Lit... a pattern that surely is not lost on anyone. I loved the narrative of one shamed, abused, discriminated against and the beauty that arose from their ashes. I love a good redemption story and I have always wanted to be a part of a BIG one! Like the one that came right under Jesus. Easy enough.

Somewhere along the way there was this concept of "color-blindness" that would radiate out of so many of these narratives, not overtly, but under the surface. For people to see people, not colors. To be color-blind, to be unbiased, to be born and shaped in a world where there were no blacks, whites, browns, yellows, purples! Instead there were simply Susans, Toms, Bills, Joes, and Marys.

Naturally, my supreme opinion of my abilities to change the world did not change as I entered adulthood and I concluded that the simple solution to making the mind's eye blind to the color of one's skin, hair, eyes, etc. was to refuse to use color words to describe people, unless it referred to an article of clothing they had on... like instead of, "Who are you talking about?" "The black guy." It would be "Who are you talking about?" "The man with the green sweater!" 

But what if he was standing next to a guy with a green sweater on?  

The chance of that happening were highly unlikely... right? Surely, we could find enough descriptive words to avoid having to distinguish people by the color of their skin. Surely. This was THE way to stop discrimination and achieve what so many before me had tried to do with sit-ins, protests, beautifully written speeches, etc.It's too bad I didn't know MLK Jr. personally. I would have loved to have shared my future flory. 

I was thrilled! I had done it. Solved the world's prejudice. Single-handedly! Toot-toot! (That was me tooting my own horn.)

So there we had it... my husband knew he was NOT to use a color word to describe a human being, in front of our offspring. We were damned to see color and that was the fault of our own upbringing, and nothing could be done about that, I puffed, but the children!! My family knew my stance. We avoided it at all costs. And if someone had to use a color word to distinguish someone from another person they were asked to spell it. And yes I have been known to spell a color word... I never said I was perfect...  just a revolutionary! Wink!

I felt pretty proud of my declaration. It, in fact, separated me from those "others," the ones who were teaching their children that people with dark skin are called black people and people with pale skin are called white people and Hispanics and Asians, on and on the rainbow of people we share our world with. Those poor children... growing up in such a way. Pitiful.

It wasn't but just a few days earlier when I touted my beliefs to my brother and his wife in their home over Thanksgiving when the But then... and Until... came about.

So back to the "But then... and the "Until..." Our conversation went on.

As a reminder, Caden said, "You know that player Corey Coleman? Number 1 for Baylor? With the black skin?"

Thinking quick on my feet I decided to say, "Uh- I'm not sure buddy, I think I know who Corey Coleman is." 

"You remember! He's number 1 and he has black skin, like Levi Norwood, right? Levi's is a little different but it's still black like Corey's right?"


"Black skin? I don't understand what you mean," I pathetically claim ignorance?

I mean who did I think this kid was to try to pull one over on him... but I was surely going to try.

"You know, like CeeLo, he has black skin too. And like everyone in MY family has the same skin."

"Well, what color is your skin, Caden?" 


(HAHAHAHAHA... much needed comic relief) 

To myself... Right... dry... Mommy says that A LOT apparently! My skin IS so dry!

Still panicking, and not sure where to take this one... because the SOLUTION was NO color words. Blind to color... he was never supposed to notice! How was I going to change the world? Peace on Earth?! How could I give that up? Stick to your guns Katie!

"Well, did you know that you have a different color skin that Daddy? And from me? And even Kaki? We all have different skin colors."

"What do you mean? My skin looks like yours. And Corey and Levi and CeeLo and TEVIN... did you forget that Tevin has black skin too? They all look the same to me."

"Sure... they may look like that to you, but they're not. Daddy has LOTS of freckles on his skin and Mommy doesn't, so our skin looks different. And sometimes Mommy's skin turns brown in the summer because of the sun and Daddy's turns red, so our skin looks different."

"Your skin turns brown? No it doesn't!"

"Well it turns tan!"

"It does?"

"Yes... especially if I forget my sunscreen." (How had he missed my beautiful summer bronze?)

He got really quiet and I could tell he was really trying to think it through... this whole different color thing.

Then I said, "You know Caden it doesn't really matter what color our skin is or what we look like, God made us all different, no two of us are the same, so it is really important that we never treat anyone differently because they have more freckles than us or have a different color hair, okay?"

"What do you mean?"

It's dawning on me... I am screwing this up BIG time. But it would take a few days of mulling before I really figured out just how bad.

"I don't want you to ever be mean to someone because they look different than you. Like Daddy... we never want to make fun of Daddy because he has lots of freckles, right?"

"Oh no, I would never do that. I wasn't making fun of anyone, Mommy."

What looking back now I should have been thinking: And for that matter why in the world would saying someone has black skin be linked to making fun? Was being black bad?? 

And there it was...

He wasn't making fun of anyone. He was just observing a difference. He noticed that his favorite football players have darker skin than he did. He noticed that some of them have skin colors that are more similar to each other than to his, and likewise he noticed that many people around him like his family have skin colors that match his. In no way was he making it a bad thing or even anything more than if a girl had on a red sweater or a man a Baylor shirt. Just a simple difference in appearance.

It took me a few days to come down off of the "world-saver-platform" and understand that color words aren't the problem. Color words may distinguish one person from another but it doesn't take the person out of people and we know that with people there is sameness. In fact, it is what makes us the same that is the problem! Under God we are all sinners, and that makes us equal and that equality is the root of every bit of inequality in our world. 

Did you catch that? Equality in our sin is the root of ALL inequality. Sin is what separates. It separates us from God and from each other... no color word is responsible for that.

Without sin, color would be celebrated, as God intended. He created us all, uniquely different, no two of us is the same as proved by each meticulously drawn masterpiece in the prints of our fingers. We are fearfully and wonderfully made with distinguishing characteristics and unlike abilities, all bundled in the sameness in sin making each of us born, ready for redemption. 

Jesus was God's redemption story and by His grace and through His mercy that never ceases He has given each of us a shot at that same redemption story. In us He has created the most glorious paradox, each different yet tragically the same. But our tragedy ends with Jesus. Amen.

As we celebrate what makes each different, we should find ample humility in our likeness.

I learned a really great truth on Tuesday... from the mouth of an almost five year old and from the Spirit of Truth. 

Different is never bad. Sin, the common link in humanity, is always bad. So being the same is what makes us bad, and being different never hurt a fly. 

So I think next time Caden says, "You know that player Corey Coleman? Number 1 for Baylor? With the black skin?"

I'll say..."Yes! I know Corey Coleman! He's awesome."

And if he continues to make comparisons and asks me questions, curious if what he was observing was, in fact, true, I'll say... 

"Yes, you're right, God gave him black skin like CeeLo's. Isn't that the greatest?!"

"And Levi's skin is different. We're all different. His is more of a caramel color, just how God made him. Cool huh?"

"Daddy, he is like a big connect-the-dot game... God built Daddy for fun and adventure."

"That lady has wrinkly skin because God saved her from a terrible fire. God is powerful!"

"Kaki has curly hair because God thought it would best compliment her spunk!"

"And sometimes we don't know why God made us the way He did, but we can always know that He loves us and be assured He has a great plan for us!"

Different is never bad. Sin is always bad. 

And the best part of all...

Through Jesus Christ our sameness in sin can be changed to become different, and aren't we thankful for that?

And because that's the case, I am praying my kids are DOUBLY DIFFERENT!!