“Brown skin and blonde girls only”, Said My Daughter

It was the moment I dreaded. Today my daughter came home recounting her day with the casual tone she adopts when talking about homework.

At the mention of skin colour, my head turned. But instead of the usual defensive lioness I’ve become so used to at the mention of anyone excluding her for being brown, I had to do a double take.

“What??? Why would you?… Who??….”, my voice tailed off. Realising she’d included blonde girls, I calculated that most of her friends were actually probably included- even with this strange entry requirement.

All except one. “Were all your friends allowed to join then?”, I asked carefully. “Yes”, she said. “Except N…”

My heart dropped. Just as I feared. One of her friends who didn’t play with her that often but who was often on the periphery of her little group was unfortunate to have brown hair.

My daughter was obviously oblivious to her error. In fact, she looked at me curiously to see why I might be so concerned.

What do you do and how do you say it? My automatic anti-racist, discrimination-hating, scary-Mum instinct was about to be unleashed where I lecture my daughter about everything that’s wrong with excluding someone because of their skin colour.

And yet I knew that if I scared my daughter with my reaction, what would be the impact on any future conversations about race?

Would she want to bring up any more moments where race and skin colour come up and would she feel comfortable to know that she can ask anything- even if it is offensive?

Because keeping that conversational door open is one of the most important things to me. That she knows that she can ask anything of us- her parents- even if she suspects it’s not a comfortable subject for many.

We talk about race and heritage and colour because it’s there. Not because we want to make a big deal of it but because it’s there. And we don’t have a choice.

Fortunately, the people who make up my daughter’s entire world are all different colours so I didn’t have to travel far to get her to understand.

“You do know that your rules mean that I couldn’t join your secret club”.

Armed with this new revelation, she seemed to pause and agreed quickly to change the rules so that blonde, brown and black hair, white skin and brown skin could be included.

In Shakil Choudhury’s recent ground-breaking book on diversity, he spells it out for us that our human brain is predisposed to be empathetic to those who are most like us. But as her immediate circle is made up of multiple skin colours and features, I knew that her concept of ‘us’ was unlikely to be limited.

So I didn’t harp on about the colour aspect. The incident that happened today could have happened to any kid, of any colour. For my daughter, it could well have been glasses, no glasses, brown hair, blonde hair or black hair, as long as her chosen friends were included.

In those next few moments, I chose to talk about exclusion as it happens to us all, not about colour specifically.

“Why would you want to exclude N***?”, I asked her.

“Is she mean?”

“No.”

“So, why?”

She didn’t really have an answer. Perhaps because it was easy to exclude N***.  And because her best friends were all blonde-haired or brown-skinned.

I continued. Today, you’re in control of the club but tomorrow, it may be those very same kids who exclude you because of your curly hair or your nose or your shirt or… your skin colour.

“How would you feel if…”

Pausing, she said she understood. And she felt bad, I could tell. She’s not a mean kid and I know she’s been known to stand up to bullies and other kids who turn on others. But what happened today, she was reminded of who she is and what she stands for.

So proud was she of her ‘secret’ club and the fact that she’d come up with rules to make it even more exclusive (probably inspired by the recent episode of Peppa Pig), she’d forgotten how it felt to be left out.

Tomorrow she’ll go in and apologise to her friend. She’s done with secret clubs for now, she says. And she’s got a renewed incentive to be kinder and to ensure everyone gets included in her circle.  Because when encouraged to imagine themselves in the others’ shoes, children don’t need much encouragement to change their behaviour.

I hope that my daughter got the lesson. I certainly did not think I’d be having this conversation with her, especially at 5 years old. But, then again, I’m glad it happened and I can understand better when young children do make judgements and decisions based on skin colour.

Later, it may become more sinister and I’m ready for those conversations. But it’s a reminder that in this racialised world, none of us are perfect and we’re learning along the way. Talking about race is not taboo, nor should we scare our children or run away from such conversations. Even when when they surprise us with the most unimaginable.

Preparing your Children for Racist Bullying

Reading posts from a few Mama bloggers this week, the subject of racist bullying seemed to come up a lot. A black teenager who retaliated when she was called the ‘n’ word and the school/ police’s unequal response. A Mum whose mixed race daughter was asked (twice in one week) if she was adopted and “is that your real mom” because she has dark skin.

Real racism or blatant bullying hasn’t happened to my kids… yet. But I’ve witnessed hints of kids becoming ‘aware’ of difference.

At 4 years old, I could see the children already noticing skin colour and how it relates to them and their friends.

But racist bullying isn’t anything new, surely?

Children noticing difference and singling out other kids for looking or acting a certain way is nothing new. I remember being picked on and even doing the picking- for all sorts of things: glasses, red hair, short, fat, hairy, long nose, short nose, names… the list goes on. But what I don’t remember and what I’ve never had to experience is racist comments about skin colour.

Though I was born into a mixed family, my father a milk chocolate colour, I am by far the lightest in my family- easily able to pass as white. I could float between my identities at will, embracing more of my Iranian background as I grew older but wanting nothing to do with anything foreign in my pre-teen years. True, my name often gave me away but I was able to shorten it to a westernised version that allowed me to pass.

So I’m new to this territory. I remember when my daughter was barely 1 year old and my husband and I took her to a local park in a very white middle class area. A child came up to her and stuck his tongue out, then tried to tell her she couldn’t come to the part of the climbing frame where he was.

Perhaps we were sensitive as new parents but I remember feeling rage at the other child for excluding her or being mean to her. She was oblivious of course, as most babies would be. But looking around the park with so many white children and their blue-eyed- blonde- haired parents in groups, it played into the feeling we already had of feeling isolated and sensitive to a world that might judge our beautiful child on the basis of her skin.

Like any mother I desperately want to protect my children. I don’t want to be over sensitive but…

Why then does racist bullying hurt so much more than just plain bullying?

My guess is it’s because we know it won’t end when the children grow up and realize glasses can be cool, being short is pretty common and having a different name isn’t something to make fun of someone for.

Most people grow out of bullying. But racism is something that will and can continue for a lifetime. It may take a different form but the hurt caused whether you’re in the playground or grown up and working can be just as painful.

So to have it start at such an early age is heartbreaking. Because if you’ve given them the best start, you know they’re confident, even proud of who they are, soon, very soon, they’ll understand not everyone thinks that way.

I do realize that nothing could happen as many mixed friends can recount not having encountered any negative experience because of their skin color. If so, my daughters may just escape the large chip many of (we and many generations before us) us have been forced to carry and have a pretty good shot at happiness.

Be Ready…

But if comments do happen, I hope I’m ready for it. Ready to maintain my cool and hold down the rage that I can imagine I’ll feel at even the slightest hint of racist bullying. I hope I can talk to my daughter about how and why it happened, how it made her feel and how some people may see things that way. What I hope more than anything though is that if it does happen, my daughters will be secure enough in who they are to be able to dismiss such comments as they would any other.

Is there any way a parent can prepare for when their child gets bullied? Perhaps not. I can’t do anything about the way the world sees her, but I hope I can be a positive influence in the way she sees herself.

Find products and resources for your Mixed race Hair type…

When you or your children’s hair is entirely different from your children’s mixed race hair, it can be overwhelming trying to find the right products and hair care. So, welcome to the second of a series I am running focusing on mixed race hair care throughout January.

The best start is to identify what your son or daughter’s hair type is. If you can get that right, the world is your oyster. Literally, many of the natural and curly hair blogs and sites can recommend products and methods based on hair types. Believe it or not, there are about 12 so look at your child’s hair in closely and compare it to those in the pictures (or, even better, go and see one of London’s top 7 hair salons for mixed race hair). But it shouldn’t ‘s be too hard to identify.

Once you’ve done that, you can go on to purchase products that are recommended by others with similar hair types. It’s that simple.

Click here to identify your child’s hair type…

LIFE AFTER BREXIT: LET’S DO THIS FOR OUR CHILDREN

Since the Brexit referendum, I’ve not written much, choosing instead to sit back and understand how the results will play out.

It’s been a whirlwind of activity. Almost comical at times watching politicians one after the other, most of whom supported leave, back out of the deal they so vehemently supported. Unfortunately, however, the results have not been so funny.

I voted remain. I made no secret of this fact.

And for the first time, my 5 year old was watching.

I explained to her, in the simplest of terms what we were voting for, making sure I played it as neutrally as possible knowing full well there were people she knew and loved who sided with the leave campaign.

I explained to her that our country was deciding whether it was better to be in a team or to play on our own. That some people thought the team made decisions that may not always be best for our country but that we were united in our end goal to fight for what’s best for all of us.

She understood. And she came with me to the polling station, as did my two younger girls. I showed her the ballot paper. I made her read the question. (I didn’t go so far as to let her do the X fearing perhaps she’d ruin my ballot paper=). And she carefully folded the paper and inserted it into the ballot box. With me all the while, explaining that although it seems simple, this is an important decision that many people around the country will be deciding on.

We woke up the next morning and heard the news. The same news that shocked a Nation. I knew very few people who had voted leave. And so, living within my bubble, I had thought it was in the bag. How I react from this point onward is exactly what my children are now watching.

Never before (at least in my lifetime) has a nation been so deeply divided. Never before, have so many people been so politically engaged. Never before has politics drawn so much discussion, heartache and emotion.

And yet, the divisions run deep- perpetuated perhaps by the relative ease at which we all have access to a keyboard and the internet to jot down random thoughts and dig at others without any thought to consequence. It’s highlighted the deep divides between class, London vs. the rest, England and Wales vs Scotland and Northern Ireland, young and old and immigrant vs native.

I didn’t like the outcome, I still don’t. But this was and is the ultimate show of democracy. A result where there are winners and losers and where division of opinion exists in its extreme.

So isn’t this exactly how we show our children that there will be setbacks? That we may not like the outcome of certain things that happen?

We have a choice here. We can choose to be one of the sore losers who are still angry and calling for a second referendum despite the millions- 52% of the country- who clearly said they wanted change. We can direct our anger toward the racists that choose to lash out at hardworking migrants and immigrants and we can live in denial, supporting politicians who are looking for a sneaky way out.

Or, we can choose to get on with it. This is a lesson in life. An opportunity to show how we can take lemons and make lemonade. Particularly where difference of opinion divides families, couples and friends right down the middle. I was raised to understand that healthy debate and difference of opinion challenges you. I want that for my daughters as well. I choose to react differently. I choose to move on. I choose to abandon my hope for another referendum and understand the protest that the have-nots have stood for.

Our nation will be great. And it’s those who called on all of us, just hours after the results came in, with tears in their eyes to work together and make this work for all of us- that’s what I have admiration for.

With all that is happening across the globe, our world is divided like never before. With a new PM about to take charge and a woman at that, we have an opportunity to start over.

So let’s do this Britain. For our children.

Why Walking to School is So Important

Why Walking to School is So Important

We’ve been looking at moving house and deciding how close to the school we actually need to be. Move further out and you get more for your money. Be within walking distance and well, you definitely get less but what you do get is difficult to put value on.

Our walk to school is perhaps my most favourite moment of the day. When it’s not fraught with chaos and shouting to get us all out the door on time, it is a walk that takes us past some of the most beautiful parts of London- narrow canals lined with house boats, tree-lined streets, green spaces and multi-coloured houses offering us all sorts of treasures along the way.

At the moment, I take my three girls to school and nursery via pram, buggy board and scooters. It’s a 15-20 minute walk and often at a brisk pace. But the thought of giving it up for a bigger place, and a commute by car, well, it just can’t be worth it.

When I think of how much learning our children get just by being in the outdoors, I’m grateful that we have this space… this time that captures the girls’ imaginations. Walks become adventures to find secret passages, the biggest leaf…seeds that look like acorns, sticks, squirrels, foxes and cats along the way litter our path. Pidgeons who raid the bins on the corner and ants, ladybugs, worms and snails that stop us to examine each and every one.

If you think about it, every moment in nature offers a different opportunity to learn and to teach our children.

I had a bee on my leg yesterday. Of course, my instinct was to flick it off but (luckily it didn’t sting me), we got the kids over to show the pollen it had stuck down its leg to carry back to its hive. Ants who march all in a row following a trail of sticky ice-cream, squirrels scurrying to and fro in the autumn trying to gather as much food as they can before winter.

My daughter even had a dead mouse left in her nursery playground! Disgusting yes, but instead of tossing it straight away, the children’s fascination led the teachers to tell them about the cats who might have caught it, why and the cycle of life.

Though I’ve not got a green thumb, I’ve appreciated the many opportunities planting and growing and maintaining greenery our children have had and continue to have both at school and elsewhere. My two year old knows how to plant a seed, dig up a potato and pull up carrots when ripe.

Physically, our walk to school offers opportunities to practice balancing along the walls, learn about traffic safety, point out tree types, birds and flowers, with the chance to pick up flowers that have fallen for craft-time later.

It’s 15 minutes of peaceful joy as we start and end each day. It’s a wind down before we get home to make dinner, finish homework, bathtime and bed. It’s short but it’s physical activity and fresh air that makes me feel less guilty at the end of the day if we’ve not had time to go to the park. And it’s a chance to talk about our days, holding each other’s hands as we go. Singing songs and laughing at each other’s knock knock jokes. I don’t always appreciate it as much as I should but when I’m faced with giving it up… I hope not.

Mixed Race Book Review: Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match

Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match by Monica Brown is the second in our mixed race book review series by Mixed.Up.Mama.

This is one my daughters’ favourites (and mine). Inspired by her Peruvian-American heritage, Monica Brown has won numerous awards and starred reviews for her Marisol series which, incidentally is also written in Spanish.

Marisol McDonald is a wonderful book about a Peruvian-American girl named Marisol who loves to be different. She loves to wear green polka dots and purple stripes, eats peanut butter and jelly burritos and tells her cousin off when he tries to tell her her skin colour (brown) does not match her red hair. Simply said, she loves who she is. When everyone, including her teacher, tells her she should match, she decides to change herself and the next day, she wears a matching outfit, plays pirates with her friends how they like it and writes her name in printed letters as her teacher says she should. But soon, she discovers how boring it is and how proud she is to be a mismatched Marisol.

The illustrations, done by Sara Palacios and the fact that it is written in Spanish beside the English are bonuses to the lovely story behind author Brown’s loveable character. For bilingual children as well as kids that come from more than one culture, this is a fantastic choice.

Another recommendation if you want your child to be proud of their mixed heritage!

ASKING THE RIGHT QUESTIONS WHEN YOUR KIDS ARE BACK AT SCHOOL

For millions of kids around the world, it’s the start of the school year.

And for just as many mums used to knowing every detail of our children’s lives, we are now left standing at the entrance of the school gate wondering just what the heck they get up to for those 6 hours away from us.

It’s a new year, a new class and for some, even a new school so it’s normal for parents to worry about how their child is faring and what the teacher is like?

The transition from reception to Year 1 for us has been especially challenging as the kids have reported feeling like there are more rules and definitely less playtime.

It’s been hard knowing we’re entrusting our kids with teachers whom we know very little about and how they interact with our children. Hence, the end of the day debrief is so important.

If your kids are anything like mine, getting them to tell you about their day is exhausting. I’ve tried everything- from bribery to punishment (yes, I said it!) just to get some answers!

But I’ve found that if you ask the right questions, you can get something… Just don’t make the rookie mistake and ask them about their day. Even I can answer that one. “Fine, Mum. Can I go play now?”

So I thought I’d share a few of my favourite questions which have gotten somewhere with my daughters.

  • What was your favourite part of your day?
  • What didn’t you like about today?
  • Did you get into any trouble? What did the teacher do?
  • Was anybody mean? What did you do?
  • Did you do anything extra nice today?
  • Was anybody else extra nice to you today?
  • Who did you play with at lunchtime? And what did you play?
  • Did anybody else get in trouble today? What did the teacher say?
  • What was the funniest thing that happened today?
  • What did you have for lunch? And who did you sit beside?

For me, I love to hear about the social dynamics at school as well as what they learned. I want to know that my child didn’t feel bullied, what the teacher’s approach to bad behaviour might be, who she plays with and how she relates to others…

If there is something you want to know about such as how the phonics lesson was taught, think of a way to ask it that isn’t, “what was your phonics lesson like?”

Just remember, keep it short because your kids will lose interest pretty fast so get the key questions in there fast and save the rest for later. Vary it up each day if you can and add your own!

I’m trusting you, my faithful readers to come up with much more ingenious ways to ask your kids about their day. Please share them here in the comments and I might even write a follow up later in the year!