I don’t normally hand my 11-month old son to any stranger who asks, but then again, not many strangers ask. I guess this is one of those rules you have to take on a case-by-case basis. The wino in front of the liquor store: no, you can’t hold my offspring. The woman in a hijab at the playground: I guess, sure.
The latter happened last weekend while I was with both boys at the sandbox. On our walk home, I asked my three-year old if he had noticed that there were some people dressed differently at the park. “Yeah,” he said. I’m always skeptical of short answers, so I pressed, “What color were they wearing?”. “Black!” he said, brightening up. (He loves talking about colors.) Now that I’d verified that we were talking about the same people, I said something to the effect that they were Muslim and it was their tradition to dress like that. “I like that different people have different traditions. Like when our friends invited us over for Passover and you had the matzoh ball soup.” “Yeah!” said Bo.
Fast forward to that evening, I tell Jill about the family at the park and – because she’s like a comic book character who can see the future with uncanny accuracy – she pulls out a children’s book that she had just bought (affiliate): Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns: A Muslim Book of Colors, by Hena Khan (Author) and Mehrdokht Amini (Illustrator).
Bodhi loved the colorful drawings, and with lines like “Blue is the hijab, my mom likes to wear, it’s a scarf she uses to cover her hair,” it gave me a chance to bring up the family we had met at the playground. Pages like that helped us talk about how some people are different (and why diversity is good), and others, like one about the sweet dates the main character likes to eat during the Eid celebration, gave us a chance to talk about how we were similar. (We, too, have special food when we celebrate, or, to get to the heart of it for Bo, “I like sweet things, too!”) Other pages gave us a chance to talk about things that were both the same and different – “Green is the Quran, I read with pride. Grandma explains the lessons inside.” “Grandma reads me books, too!” Bo said. “But not that book.”
We’ve read it several times since, and Bo seems absorbed in the colorful, intricately drawn pages which are filled with detail from corner to corner. The text is short and simple, giving us a starting point for discussions without getting bogged down with too many new words or details.
Right now, I have to be okay with just showing him families that are different than ours and hoping he’s getting that diversity is not scary. He’s also being exposed to a religious vocabulary (God, church, prayer, mosque…) which is a positive, but I’d be lying if I said “I hope he asks what Allah means today”. Those answers take a bit more parsing, but in this process, I’m also learning that I have to trust myself – that I’ll get the answers right more often than I get them wrong, and that just as Bo and Zane are learning, I’ll learn, too.