April 9, 2012

Look, I’m Chinese

You know the world’s a lot simpler than we make it sometimes.  And the obvious is much more fun to see through children’s eyes.  I find a moment of truth slides up through the carpool conversation many days.  And I find myself listening for them because they make me giggle.  They make me think.  They make me happy.chinese


As we were exiting the car at Staples the other day, my two boys and our friend, who happens to be Chinese…  the kids were playing with a phone I had given my 5 year old.  I had found it somewhere in a drawer with other cords and things.  Kids love little trinket things, right?  And he inadvertently made the phone write in Chinese instead of English.  Our bright little Carpool Barbie could read it, of course, which I find amazing.  But my 8 year old told my 5 year old that the reason she could read it was because she was Chinese.  (of course, between you and I, it’s because she studies Chinese.) 


Then a light bulb went on above my 8 year old’s head, and I watched with trepidation, one eye open, one butt cheek clenched, while he started blurting out what he’d thought of.  I was right to clench, but I could tell his motivation was kind.  He said, “Guess what?!  I know how to be Chinese too!”  He grabbed the sides of his large, exceptionally round blue eyes and pulled down taut.  Yep, he definitely looked Chinese.  Now you and I both know we would never do this.  But you have to remember through a child’s eyes, things have different motivations, like discovery.  And without malice of forethought, these thoughts are interesting.  I decided to watch it play out. 


My little Chinese friend looked at my son and said very plainly, “No, that doesn’t make you Chinese.”  She paused.  I couldn’t tell if she was offended or not.  But she is always very good at responding clearly to my boys when they misspeak.  And wait for the punch line…


She spoke. “Chinese people never have blonde hair.”  And I let out my breath.  That was it.  There was no more.  The conversation was over.  I was given a “Get out of lecture free” card, and the children had worked through the problem beautifully. 


Pulling your eyes down does not make you Chinese…  IF you have blonde hair.  But being Chinese means you can read Chinese.  Yep, the world is simple.  And I am happy, happy to know that at an early age children can speak about race honestly and without malice.  The answers to our differences are clear and precise.  And everyone walked away, not knowing they haven’t been PC, and it doesn’t matter.  They are friends, and observations haven’t changed the reality of that.  Some days I wish I was a kid again.  I’d be so good at it now!