Today at the zoo my son saw a prosthetic leg for the first time. Here is the convo that followed his observation:
Rory: Mama look! Is that a robot leg???
Rory: Mama is it????
My internal dialogue: Shit, he’s pointing at this woman and calling her a robot. She hates me. She hates my kid. She thinks I’m a terrible mother who’s taught my kid shit about diversity or differences. Get it together woman, your son needs an answer stat. It better be a good, graceful, teachable set of words lady. Come on, what are you gonna say??? Speak woman, speak.
I pushed our stroller off to the side of the path and knelt down to his level taking his hands in mine.
Me: Rory, she is not a robot. She’s a person just like you, she just looks different. None of us look the same. She doesn’t have two legs like yours. She needs a special leg so she can walk.
Rory: Oh she have a boo boo?
Me: I don’t know. I don’t know why she needs a special leg, but it’s special and it helps her to walk. Lots of people have different special things about them that make them who they are. Like your hair. You have special red curly hair.
Rory: *giggles* Ok mama, can I have my pirate booty now?
Alrighty. I guess that concludes our grand lesson on diversity for today. Of course, I haven’t stopped thinking about it since it happened. I’ve played the whole scenario in my head twelve times and kicked myself for not handling it better or saying something more profound and meaningful. Teaching diversity is so very important to me. I hope to raise my children to appreciate differences and challenge stereotypes. I want them to see the world and experience different cultures and people and inspire them to stand up for equality and seek change where it is needed. Above all, I want to teach them compassion and understanding and a great deal of that starts with dialogue surrounding differences.
I think too many people have this mindset of “I don’t see color”. No. Our world is full of colors and languages and two legs and one legs. If I did anything right today, it was NOT glossing over my sons question and telling him he shouldn’t see robot legs. Step one was certainly acknowledging that yes, her leg is different and we should embrace that. Now step two, three and four and so on I’m admittedly a little clueless about, but the one lesson my son taught ME today was that the conversation is never over.
I will have so many more opportunities to teach him better. To reinforce what I taught him today or what I will teach him tomorrow. And thanks to good ole Bing (my husband is doing back flips of joy because I didn’t say Google), I can read up on ways to teach him in more meaningful, productive ways. Here’s an article my initial search results found that was a good starting place for me. Maybe it will be equally helpful for anyone else out there struggling with how to teach their kids well.
Despite my fears on handling todays scenario all wrong, I do at least find comfort in the fact that my kid was truly asking about the robot leg because he thought it was effing cool and probably wanted one too. I guess that means I’ve done something right cause let’s face it, robots are badass.
Please, tell me how to do this better! How do you teach your kids about diversity?