Our normal routine includes a Tuesday morning visit to the library. I have posted about that experience before here and here. I really love the library, but I have to be on my game to keep my kids in the building and on the same floor as me, never mind stopping them from pulling books off the shelves. I do make a valiant effort to stop the book de-shelving. And, most importantly, I scold them extra loud if the grumpy re-shelving volunteer is around, so she knows I respect her work.
Today I thought about skipping this weekly excursion. I am not feeling well, and the kids have both been
on crack high-strung lately. I just wasn’t sure we could make it a positive experience. Then I talked to my friend A. She said they were definitely going to be there. I knew it would be great to hoist PJ off on see her. So I decided to hope for the best but take the Ergo and stroller in case I had to strap anybody down.
It is spring break here so the library was particularly crowded and story time was canceled. But, for the most part, we were doing okay. We hung out by the Children’s Librarian’s desk for awhile and played with the magnet board. Of course, Little Dude kept running over to push the elevator button, but in general things were fine.
A arrived and I got to spend some one-on-one time with Little Dude, while PJ used the computer with A and her daughter E. Eventually I was
overwhelmed by responsible for both of my own kids, when Little Dude said, “Water” and ran off towards the fountain. I kept an eye on PJ while I slowly followed Little Dude. Yes, it is a big place. A big, public place, but I knew exactly where he was headed.
When I got there a couple moments later, he was nowhere to be found. I tried not to panic, but I didn’t see him as I started to glance around. One of the librarians saw the look in my eyes and realized what was happening. She quickly started to help me search, while enlisting other librarians’ for help. As she asked for their assistance she kept describing Little Dude, “He is about this tall, with a red shirt on.” A tiny part of my brain registered that I was impressed that she remembered the color of his shirt since we hadn’t been anywhere near her in at least 30 minutes, but the other part of me was like… that isn’t enough information.
We were both moving swiftly in different directions, she would say to another librarian, “He is this tall, wearing a red shirt.” And I would yell out, “And he’s black. With a birthmark.” Like in all panic situations, my brain did the slow-down thing. I had time to think, “Should I call him brown? Should I call him Black? Should I describe his hair?”
“Why isn’t she really describing him?”
A couple of minutes later I found him. He had managed to open the restroom door and was filling the toilet bowl with paper. In the past he could not open the doors himself, although I have seen him try. The restroom is right next to the drinking fountain and if I had not panicked when I didn’t see him initially, I probably would have opened the door.
All was well, but then again, all was strange. Our library seems to fairly represent our community – diverse for a Midwestern/southern town of 100,000 people. We are never the “only” transracial family there. Still, if I saw a panicked pink mama looking for her son, I probably would not immediately recognize the small Ethiopian as being the “missing” child. Especially since there was NO chance he was upset or acting lost.
It was interesting that this librarian was so hesitant to describe his color, or even his hair. If he hadn’t turned up quickly we would have had a sea of people searching for a toddler in a red shirt. How many blond kids would have been stopped?
I guess she is color-blind. The kind of color blind that can see shirt color but not skin color. So many of us have been taught to be color-blind. So many of us are so afraid; afraid to offend, afraid to look racist, afraid to reveal our naivety, afraid to reveal the fact that we actually do notice color.
Today I was afraid. Afraid I lost my son. My brown son. My black son. You know, the one with a birthmark. Sometimes he wears a red shirt.