My husband is music directing his school’s production of Oklahoma next weekend, which means that I’ve been a single parent for about two weeks, and I will continue to be one for at least one more. (And before all the contemporary musical theater showmo snobs roll their eyes that there is yet another high school production of Oklahoma out there, know that this is their first “classic” musical after producing The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Urinetown, and Working the past three years! Also, a young student of color is playing Curley. So there.)
In spite of completely stressing out at the prospect of my husband leaving the house three hours before the kids wake up in the morning and him coming home three hours after they go to bed each night, I tend to do pretty well on these solo ventures. Without the crutch of relying on a second parent, I know that I need to structure the time with my kids to keep both them and me happy and busy. When my husband is home during times like this, things tend to fall apart. He was home one night this past week, and knowing that the entirety of parenting didn’t fall on my shoulders, I expected him to carry more than his share, which was clearly a recipe for disaster. Each of us ended up banished to separate rooms within minutes.
Yesterday was Saturday, and I found myself having to–good heavens–parent my children for an entire day all by myself. I initially thought we’d get away with some time at home and then a quick lunch out, but then I realized we all needed to get out of the house if we were going to make it through the day without tears. We headed to the movies, and then enjoyed lunch at our favorite sushi spot at the mall.
The sushi restaurant is one of those gimmicky ones where the plates come by on a conveyer belt and you lift off the items you want. The kids love the schtick and we all love the food. The restaurant is in the middle of the mall with no walls surrounding it and no roof directly above. At one point, my daughter saw a woman pointing from the second balcony of the mall and she immediately turned sour. “That lady is pointing at me. I don’t like it when people do that.” I looked up and saw the woman smiling and chatting with her friend, not even noticing our little colorful family.
“I think she’s just pointing at the sushi conveyor belt, honey,” I told her. “This place is kind of funny looking from the outside isn’t it?” My daughter realized I must be right, changed her expression to one of amusement, and clicked away with her chopsticks.
I was reminded in that moment of a girls’ day out my daughter had with friends of ours a few months ago. Two good friends, a married same-sex couple of women, one white and one black, came to take our daughter out for some girl time. They got their nails done, had lunch, and talked about the things six-year-old girls want to talk about. One of those things was apparently the fact that in towns like ours, sometimes people point and stare, especially at people like my daughter and our dark-skinned friend. The latter asked our daughter if people ever stared and pointed at her in town, and she said, “Yes, and I don’t like it.” Our adult friend told her that it happens to her too, and that she certainly doesn’t like it. She said that she just stares right back and usually the person feels silly and turns away.
I’m sure a lot of the time, these pointing fingers and ogling stares aren’t necessarily directed at us, and at the same time the reality for my family and others like us is that the questions always hover there: Are they really physically acknowledging our differences? Does it make a difference to them? Do they know how it feels?
A colleague mentioned to me at school that a local family of color once asked her if teachers didn’t make direct contact with her because she was Latina and spoke Spanish. My white colleague assured her that teachers typically don’t have time to make direct contact with any parents unless there is a problem. The reality though is that for some families of color, the absence of that contact often makes us wonder if there is some unspoken problem. The absence of a negative doesn’t always mean a positive for us. I try to keep this in mind with my own students who live on the margins, and I hope that others keep this in mind with us.