Kimberly Seals Allers: Despite every mom's best efforts, there will inevitably be those moments where you say to yourself, "Um, where did I go wrong?"
You thought you were teaching a valuable lesson. But they completely missed the point. You thought you were raising well-grounded kids, despite whatever "privilege" you've been blessed with. And then you realize that they are completely disconnected from reality.
Sometimes those moments are funny.
For example, my children recently engaged in this backseat-of-the-car conversation. Now, before I share the exchange, please note that for the past 18 years, I earned a great living as a business journalist -- an award-winning business journalist, no less -- who interviewed captains of industry as a writer for Fortune and who covered the complex financial markets as a Wall Street reporter for a major N.Y.C. newspaper. With that in mind, here's how the conversation went down:
My 10-year-old girl to her 6-year-old brother: "Linens and Things is closed because of the economy."
My 6-year-old: "The economy? Where's that?"
My 10-year old: "Michael! The economy is not a place! It's a group of people. I saw them working on their computers on CNN."
Boy oh boy, did I have some explaining to do. And I'd thought I was raising business-savvy kids ... LOL! Well, at least they pay attention to my constant CNN-watching.
My girlfriend, whose mommying style I fiercely admire, told me how her daughter, who volunteers at homeless shelters, recycles religiously, etc. ... had somehow befriended a homeless person. The homeless person was apparently overweight, and a great conversation ensued between my friend and her daughter about food choices, the price of processed foods versus healthy foods, etc., and why this homeless person may be overweight. My girlfriend was feeling on top of the mommy world and utterly proud of her daughter's humanity. That is, until her daughter said that she thought the homeless lady was overweight because she didn't have anyone to watch her shopping cart of stuff while she went to the gym.
We still crack up over that one.
But other times, it may be less than humorous. Recently, some cable repairmen were at the house. They put the TV on a random channel as they continued their tests to find the problem. It was an infomercial about a skin cream or makeup product of some sort. I didn't think anyone was paying much attention to the TV, but my son was hovering.
Anyhoo, about 10 minutes into the infomercial, my 6-year-old son blurts out, "Everything is for white people." Oh. Dear.
Of course, the white repairmen pretended not to hear, but looked at me like I was raising the next Malcolm X/Huey P. Newton.
Now, I don't apologize for having candid talks about race with my children. As a black parent, I would be doing them a disservice if I didn't prepare them for the realities of life in America. And to my son's point, there weren't any brown people at all in this skin care/makeup infomercial.
But I certainly don't want my son to think that everything is for white people. Because if so, then by some very basic deductive reasoning, nothing is for him. And as far I'm concerned, the world is his to conquer.
So I thought deeply about making sure that my preparing my brown babies for the world that awaits them also includes keeping them boundlessly hopeful and full of possibilities for creating and achieving whatever they want in life.
And so I remember my gentle correction that day, and I'm praying it will stick. "No, son," I said. "Everything is for anyone who wants it."