We went to the mall in Tysons Corner, Virginia- We decided to end the trip at the Haagen Daaz Ice Creamery.
As one might expect, there were too few tables. Our party of 6 needed two tables. That left 2 extra chairs.
Some members of our friendly gaggle were more than surprised when a foreign couple plopped their bags on one of our tables and sat down with us.
My husband and I didn’t think much of it, actually- Our time in Germany socialized us into respecting the practicality of sharing limited restaurant resources with strangers.
We Americans tend to like our individual property all to ourselves- even if it’s only for the duration it takes to suck down a chocolate malt. It’s OURS. That’s not always the case elsewhere in the world. The sharing of public spaces is a pretty practical way to make sure every paying customer gets a chance to sit while sucking down their chocolate malts, too.
So, it wasn’t a big deal that we didn’t know our new table mates.
We could tell the couple spoke a language we didn’t recognize. Didn’t matter. It would have been hard to follow anyone’s conversation over the slurping sounds emanating from our traps.
So, we were all minding our own business while our fat cells expanded upon Deep Chocolate Peanut Butter Sundae gastrointestinal impact- when we heard a very dreaded and mortifying question from a child that I would, under other circumstances, normally lay claim to.
Can you imagine what we might have heard?
Our 5-year old daughter had apparently been studying our table neighbors for some time and we had been ignorant of it in our consuming and blinding gluttony.
She asked, quite loudly:
“WHY IS YOUR SKIN BLACK???????”
Let me tell you something.
The sounds of the snorting porcine feeding frenzy…..STOPPED.
Please imagine 4 adults, with mouths agape, full of dripping ice cream, spoons in mid-air- looking in horror at our exotic table mate strangers.
How were they going to respond?
The man and woman looked at us.
First, I apologized to the couple.
I explained that our daughter had lived her entire life in a city with a comparatively small African-American population… We didn’t live in a Metropolitan Area….Some of the most diverse schools in our area still settle on about a 99% Hispanic-American to 1% Everyone Else ratio…I apologized again….We really read about diversity….Really, we do….Really, we respect all cultures….and aren’t these beautiful people, daughter?……I apologized, again.
I looked over at my sister, brother-in-law and husband for support but they were still shaking their heads in disbelief and embarrassment.
Although, my husband was shaking his head while shoveling Belgian Double-Dark chocolate with fudge and caramel and whipped cream into his face. Hey, being hungry doesn’t make one any less dismayed, people…
I told our daughter that some people might wonder why your skin is so white and pale and why we can see your veins….And she held her arm up. I babbled on even more, trying to recover like a nervous idiot.
But, the coolest thing happened ever.
The woman smiled.
The man laughed.
The woman across the table held her own arm up to our daughter’s. She pressed it next to our daughters arm so they were side by side. They sat there for about a minute or so and our daughter had a chance to look and study the differences, but also the similarities.
We asked where the couple was from.
The gentleman responded that they were from West Africa- Senegal!
Our daughter repeated it- Senegal?
He said, “Yes. It’s a very new country.” And we all laughed at the joke.
Our daughter, said, “NOT ANOTHER ONE!”
To her, all countries she’s never heard of are new.
When it was time to leave, we thanked the couple for their understanding.
And we all breathed a little easier because a truly uncomfortable situation turned into something really great- a real-life, meaningful lesson about race and humanity and kindness.
By the time we got to the hotel, my husband and I realized this was a time to capitalize on what our daughter had learned today.
We pulled out the Montessori-inspired Landmark Tray we created for our Montessori Corner of the play room.
It is one of several trays we packed for our hotel vacation stay.
It consists of:
- a tray
- a small simple map of the world
- some small landmark figurines you can find here.
- a little globe full of cultural wooden figures (We got ours from Oriental Trading Company but it’s not available anymore, but these cultural world cut-outs would be a good substitute!)
We pulled out the map and she pointed to Africa.
We looked up “Senegal” on the computer to see where it was on the Western coast of Africa. Our daughter pointed to it on the screen.
Then, she found the cultural figurine in African traditional dress and put it on the map on Senegal.
Then, we cleaned up!
The whole bedtime follow-up lesson took about 5 minutes- but I think we all learned some things today that will last our lifetimes.
In the end, we also learned that we were actually glad that the Senegalese couple sat at our table without asking.
But, we also laughed because they probably learned that they might want to reconsider ever doing THAT, again.
HAVE YOU HAD ANY INTERESTING CONVERSATIONS WITH YOUR CHILDREN ABOUT RACE, CULTURE, GLOBALISM OR TOLERANCE?
HOW’D IT GO?
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