It began with something ordinary. My husband and I took our two children, Ava (who is a 6 year old girl) and Isaiah (a 3 year old boy) to an indoor Bounce Zone to play. Ava saw another little girl around her age and the two of them became fast friends. They played, they held hands, they ran around together. Until her mother noticed. She made a beeline to her daughter, took her by the hand, led her away from Ava and told her she couldn't play with her. She wasn't allowed to play with my daughter.
I stood in shocked silence as I listened to the rest of the conversation. She told her daughter she was supposed to play with another little girl instead. A little girl who incidentally looked just like she did. You see, my children are of a mixed lineage. I am white, my husband is black.
I was totally dumbfounded hearing this. I couldn't believe it. It was like I heard what she said but my brain rejected the information and spit it back out because it was crazy. Is it possible there was another reason that her daughter wasn't "allowed" to play with mine? Maybe. But that isn't what my strong gut feelings were telling me about the situation. Through conversation since then with other women, I realize that there also were non-verbal cues that also caused me to come to this conclusion. It was the body language, the way she said what she did. The way she purposely was never looking at me, never making eye contact. She always had her cheek turned away. She took her daughter physically away from mine, placed her next to an "approved" friend, and sat back down.
A few minutes later the little girl brought her approved friend over to Ava. The three of them began playing. The mother noticed of course. She again made path straight to her daughter and this time addressed all 3 girls including mine. I wasn't quite close enough to hear the majority of it, so I was only able to watch. Right after, I asked Ava what happened. Here is my 6 year old's interpretation of what this mother said: "She said she couldn't play with me anymore. She was bossy to me, too. I felt uncomfortable around her. I don't know her. I don't even know her name or where she lives, she shouldn't be bossing me around. She was mean. I should have told her to stop being so mean to me."
My heart breaks for Ava. Her intuition also clearly told her that this woman was uncommonly bad, she was uncomfortable for a reason. And this brings up another important issue: Allowing our kids to feel and to learn their intuition, their gut-feeling, their inner protective voice. I was unfortunately taught to suppress mine, and in my early 20's I learned the hard way that our intuition should not be overruled or second-guessed by our reasoning.
It wasn't really my mother's fault, I don't blame her. It happened over the course of my childhood and adolescence. From teachers disbelief about threats I had received from "scary boys" in the first grade, to a minister who told me I had "trust issues" with men and that it meant I needed to feel uncomfortable in order to learn it was ok - while he hugged me with an erection. All of that bulls*** poisoned my mind against myself, and it wasn't until years later, after much worse had happened, that I learned the crucial value of intuition. If I can help it, I won't let this be my daughter's story.
And so, when she tells me that a grown up, or anyone for that matter, makes her feel uncomfortable it is a big deal that neither one of us will ignore. She knows she should come and tell me or Daddy and that we will always believe and protect her. Because I will, dammit.
The main reason I did not physically step in when the mother took her daughter away the second time is because my gut feeling told me she was the type who would pick a physical fight in a moment's notice. That is not good or healthy for anyone. If my daughter's safety were in question, it would have been a different thing, but this was a fight I couldn't win. A fight against prejudice. But my daughter will know that the villain in this is the girl's mother, it is not because of Ava or anything she did or anything that she is. She is a beautiful, kind, smart little girl. She will always know it.
Please don't teach your children to suppress their instincts in the interest of being polite. It they feel uncomfortable, let them feel it, don't force them to override that feeling and do something like hug a creepy relative or talk to a neighbor they don't want to. It does so much harm! It is not innocent, it is not minor. It is a big deal.
Have you ever experienced anything like this on the playground? What can we do to teach our children how to listen to their intuition?