How desperately, do I want to teach our kids to be lovers of this world. Interesting then, when it actually came to inviting the so-called ‘world’ into our home (without us present), how radical it first felt. For us and for our friends.
Our Muslim nanny Fatima finally started two weeks ago. She speaks our OPOL minority language, gifts me with a few spare hours in a week and relates to the munchkins so very differently. It’s been wonderful for me to have some time to look into future opportunities. It’s been an adjustment. And it’s been a breath of fresh air. Especially when papa is away on a trip. Phew.
After watching the kids last September 11, I got the chance to chat a bit more with Fatima. She was planning on laying low after babysitting. Maybe, she said, she might take a nap. Actually, maybe it would be best to stay indoors. She wondered what her short drive home would hold after receiving so much verbal abuse last year on the anniversary of 9/11. After all, last year, at a red light, someone yelled “terrorist!”, “b$%tch!” and other obscenities when they saw her head covering.
I was saddened to hear this, but in a way, not really surprised. There is a whole lot of latent baggage we carry around with us, and a whole lot of ignorance behind that knee-jerk reaction. But just think with me for a moment about how devastating those words are for our Muslim neighbors, widening the religious divide and further opening up the sore racial wound.
Fatima’s story reminded me of a friend who, when in a childcare bind, took her toddler (let’s call him Johnny) with her to work on her door to door telecommunications job. When together they opened a door and caught sight of an imposing black man, her child burst into tears. Can you blame little Johnny? The poor kid had never seen a black person before.
So then, how do we teach our kids that it should be normal to interact with an African, a Muslim, an Asian, a Jew. And from a young age?
Fast-forward to a seemingly insignificant interaction today at the park. As we arrived, a Muslim family from Sudan was sitting on a bench. Actually, the father was on the bench, rigorously filling out an application for Medicaid with his loaner pen, still scotch-taped to a disposable spoon. The veiled mother “Isa” was somehow nursing her baby girl through her djellaba, while balancing her hot pink mobile phone under her chin, and all the while chasing her older son. This pretty much looked like my life. Yes, yes, minus the djellaba and the Arabic. Ha!
Ayo watched the other 2.5 year old boy, who we later found out was named Mahmoud, play for a while. Then, he very intentionally located his shiny, red necklace in the stroller storage area. He wanted to please give the little boy his necklace: Maman, help Ayo give collier this garçon! – he insisted. After giving the little boy his prized necklace (see photo), Ayo fetched a couple of his favorite animal cookies from the stroller. As always, surprised by motherhood (didn’t he last hate to share his things?), I smiled and let the beautiful scene unfold before my eyes.
“Ask his mama if it is okay first” I told him. And, as if nothing were, Ayo slowly but courageously approached the woman dressed in a stifling black coarse wool djellaba and pretty head covering. “Garçon eat this?” (Boy eat this?) he asked Mahmoud’s mother Isa. This simple heart of a child, blind to color and head scarves, opened a significant door for MY meaningful conversation with my Muslim neighbor.
Of course and absolutely, this could have happened without Fatima’s recent interaction with our kids. At the end of the day, you can’t force kids to share willingly and you certainly can’t fabricate love for “the other” by simply inviting a nanny into a home. I guess, my point is that we cannot just conceptually desire multicultural living without living it out, and yes, modeling it in our home… in the middle of America. As Jesus followers. It is a lifestyle choice to interact with people different to us, is it not? And such is the lifestyle we want for our family. Fatima’s gift of diversity is already stretching me and equipping me to meet others like her. And, it looks like it is already transforming Ayo, Délice and papa as well…