I was with the youngest children at church last Sunday when something happened that made me think about Civil Rights Day and the challenges this country has faced. One of the teachers was trying to help the children understand that God loves everyone no matter who they are, and that we should be kind to everybody even if they are different from us. She showed a picture of a little Downs Syndrome girl and asked the children if they could see any differences between her and themselves.
One little girl raised her hand. “Yes,” she said. “She’s smiling.”
“Yes, she is smiling,” the teacher replied. “But can you see anything else that makes her different from you?”
The children looked and looked and strained to see a difference. Finally, another little girl raised her hand. When the teacher called on her, she said, “She’s dressed in summer clothes instead of big, thick winter clothes.” No matter how long the teacher asked them about difference, the children could not see anything of importance.
I smiled as I thought of an experience with my own little daughter, Elliana. When she was five years old, she was invited over to play at the home of a family that was new to the area. The mother, father, and their four biological children were all Caucasian, blue-eyed, and very blond. They also had a sweet little African American daughter that they had adopted.
My wife, Donna, had grown up in Los Angeles, and had lots of friends from other races and nationalities. I lived in New York for a time and grew to love people from almost every religion and region of the world. But our children had not had any such opportunities. The culture here in Idaho is not very diverse. Donna was concerned that our daughter might be surprised at the mix in the family, and innocently say something she should not. So she simply told her that one child in the family was adopted.
“What does ‘dopted mean?” Elliana asked.
“Well, when a child is adopted into a family, they are not born to the mother of that family, but to another mother,” Donna replied. “But if that child’s mother can’t take care of them, the other family takes the child into their home and loves them as their own.”
This was not really a new concept to Elliana, as we had been foster parents before, so she smiled and said, “That is so nice.”
Elliana went over there and played most of the day. There were four girls and one boy in the family. The girls played dolls with Elliana and did lots of girl things, but when they all played soccer in the back yard, the little boy joined them. They had lunch, and cake for dessert, and all sorts of good things.
When Elliana arrived home, we asked her how it went. “It was the most fun ever,” she said. “They have real pretty dolls, and we played soccer in their great big yard.”
Then Elliana stopped and looked at her mother. “Momma, which one in their family was ‘dopted?”
“Well, did you notice that one child was a bit different from the others?” Donna asked.
Elliana thought for a moment, and then she smiled. “Oh, yes, there was one that was different.”
“And what was the difference?” Donna asked.
Donna hoped to make this a teaching moment, sharing with our daughter about how wonderfully diverse people are. But instead, we were the ones that learned. We learned that children aren’t born with ideas of differences, but it is something we build in our hearts as we grow older.
For, in answer to the question, Elliana just laughed and said, “It’s obvious, Momma. One was a boy.”