I love children’s books. I love making silly, expressive voices for the characters. I love the act of reading. I love what it does to our family when we snuggle and read together. What’s more, I love the questions my kids ask, and the discussions that arise from many of these profound children’s books. As much as I love hearing what my kids have to say, I am also challenged by their perceptiveness and outlook.
“AHHHHHHH!!! EEEEEEEEKKK!!!” I screamed as I sounded out the voice to our current favorite children’s book series, Sam the Most Scaredy Cat Kid in the World, by Mo Willems. (As a side note, it’s prequel is called Leonardo the Terrible Monster, and I definitely recommend them both.)
“I’m not scared of that monster!!… I’m scared of that kid!!” I said in an overly dramatic way.
My five year old daughter then interrupted me and said in perfect innocence, “Mommy, maybe they are scared of each other because their skin colors are different.”
Okay, let’s backtrack, since you don’t know me, or why I am mentioning skin color to begin with.
About ten years ago, I married a man whom I found incredibly attractive (and warm-hearted, and all that other good stuff a young kallah finds in her chasan). With much gratitude to G-d, our marriage has grown much deeper, and we have traveled an interesting journey in these ten years of marriage. We have four sensitive, vivacious, and just plain awesome daughters together. We are proud Lubavitchers and we homeschool. Oh, did I mention that my husband was born and raised in India, and happens to be dark-skinned?
One of the top most recurring question/comments I hear has to do with the color of our family’s skin. Not mine. I’m white. No one cares much to ask about where I got my tinted pale tone from. People want to know about my children’s skin color, and where it came from.
I cannot count the amount of times I am asked, “Is your husband Sefardi?” or “I am trying to figure out what nationality your husband is,” or sometimes I am told flat out, “Your children are beautiful. I love their skin color.”
Frankly, these kinds of comments do not bother me one bit. I can’t say I am in any way flattered, but I am not offended. No one is being racist. I am a super easy-going person. Also, I am understanding of the fact that when people ask these types of curious questions, what they are really asking is…WHAT IS YOUR STORY? So, it’s all good.
I am noticing lately that this recurring message of their skin color being observed by others is doing a number on our children. It is their skin that is unintentionally being put on display. As is normal in children, their attempt to process experiences and where their place is in the scope of the world comes out in other ways. Like these:
- A friend comes over to play, and they compare skin colors with her,
- They joke how Tatty must have eaten a lot of chocolate when he was a child, and that is why his skin is so dark,
- Stating matter-of-factly that today they were the darkest people in their art class because one kid was absent,
- Pointing out the skin color of characters in children’s books.
Children soak up little messages. Sometimes the conversation is so quick, that by the time I realized what was just said, we have all moved on, my children have received the message, and it is being internally processed by their developing minds. After years of listening to their Mommy respond to random remarks about their exterior by all sorts of people that we meet in passing (like, the cashier at the grocery store), they are quietly taking it all in. At this point in their childhood, they see themselves as different, and are in an internal process of figuring out what that exactly means.
There is no other safety net for children except their own self-worth and self-esteem with who they are and who their parents are. It begins with US, the parents, and keeping our own self-esteem and Jewish pride at high levels. Also, how much of our day is spent on superficial matters, and how much do we focus on what is deeply important?
Judaism is a relationship with G-d, and the Torah is our guidebook to help us live. Judaism is about what you do with the literal piece of G-d that lies deep within every Jew, that untouchable spark that ignites and sways like a candle whilst talking to the Creator of the world. I have yet to read a part of the Torah or Talmud that speaks about a toasty brown complexion being a major source of spirituality that brings us closer to our mission in life.
The color of one’s skin completely disappears when one is motivated to live a meaningful life. Frankly, I do not even recognize that my husband has a skin color that is different than mine, much like you would not notice every superficial scar or mole on your own spouse. Whatever has been stated to me about my children’s exterior never fails to confuse me for the first few moments, because it is just not where my mind goes.
So, where am I going in writing this article? Simply put, I am sharing our family’s experience, being that my husband is noticeably dark, I am noticeably not, and our kids are somewhere in between. I am sharing how I see my children taking in these messages, and the challenges I have as a Jewish mom raising children in the United States.