Chef Boy ‘R Mine’s birthday is coming up and it’s weighing heavily on my mind since I won’t get to see him. I feel entitled to tell a cute kid story.
The Boy had his first best friend during kindergarten. It was kind of karmic that his best friend was the nephew of my old high school best friend. Anyway. This little kid was nearly as cute as mine and together they were a rowdy bunch of joy. At the end of each school day all I heard was Michael this and Michael that punctuated by peals of giggles.
One day when I picked The Boy up, he slung the car door open, threw his backpack and slumped in the seat. After peering at him for a bit as he crossed his arms and batted tears away, I asked him what was wrong.
We had a fight. He’s a big dummy and we’re not friends any more.
Oh my. What happened?
And the story unfolded.
This is how I understood it, but I could be wrong. There were a lot of sobs between details.
He and Michael were teeter-tottering or jungle-gyming or something along those lines when Michael made a disparaging comment about black people. Incensed, Chef Boy ‘R Mine attempted to correct Michael’s faulty intelligence. When this did no good, The Boy pointed out to Michael that we’re all born black and some of us turn lighter shades including white and some of us stay black.
Well. I can tell you I was a bit nonplussed.
So I asked for his references on that point of fact. Turns out, it was his baby book.
Chef Boy ‘R Mine was significantly premature. In the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), there was a ton of electronic equipment as well as numerous footcandles of fluorescent lighting. I had an electronic flash on my SLR camera that kept malfunctioning, I think, because of all the equipment. My solution to the problem was to take multiple pictures at multiple aperture settings and hope for the best. It turns out that didn’t really do any good. None of the pictures depicts Child of Mine the way he looked. He was a dusky red with touches of jaundice typical of preemies.
His first few weeks were precarious and I couldn’t part with any of the photos. I took hundreds in those first few days and all of them awful. They’re duly assembled in a photo album along with the rest of Chef Boy ‘R Mine’s first year of life. He loved to look at that photo album. As soon as he was big enough to hold it by himself, he would get it, crawl on the couch, and slowly turn the pages – asking questions about when he was a baby. It was sweet.
Turns out, he thought he was born black. His dusky red came out a cocoa color in the photos. I didn’t really see that aspect – I saw my miracle baby still breathing. I knew the color in all the photos was off, but I never made the connection.
He did. It was a logical conclusion not worthy of even asking about.
So I gently told him that of course Michael was wrong to dislike someone just because they were black, but I also told him that he was wrong about everyone being born black. Try explaining to a 5-year-old the problems of a malfunctioning electronic flash in fluorescent lighting when trying to photograph a baby in a plexiglass isolette.
Anyway. Throughout the explanations, his and mine, I had to muffle laughter. He was so upset and so dreadfully serious. Ex of Mine, who wasn’t an ex yet, came home and I dragged him into the bedroom to tell him the story. Heartily amused, we both had to work hard to project ourselves as Sober Caring Parents.
We had another earnest conversation at the dinner table with The Boy. By the time we were done, he seemed much calmer and was able to sleep in his customary dead-to-the-world-scare-mom-to-death way.
At this stage of life, we were living in a largely unfinished barn and experiencing significant financial stress. It’s correct to describe us as poor.
Once the child was asleep, we settled into the couch and turned on the tube. Steve Martin’s classic, The Jerk, was just starting. I had forgotten the opening bit – I hadn’t seen the movie in years. We were there just in time to hear, I was born a poor black child.
The ensuing hysteria was epic. We laughed until we cried; we clung onto each as waves of laughter convulsed us. When one of us would settle down, gasping for breath, the other one would break into another set of hearty guffaws and the hysteria began again. At one time, we rolled off the sofa, sprawled on the floor and stamped our feet in laughter. Only because The Boy sleeps like a dead person did we not wake him up.
We were still laughing the next day.
And so was Chef Boy ‘R Mine since he and Michael resolved their differences and resumed best-friendship.
The Boy’s explanation of racial differences is funny, but it’s also rather adroit. We are all born the same, but its life’s experiences that make us different. We’re a multitude of colors and that shouldn’t have a bearing on our lives, but it does. I like my boy’s attitude about it all. He didn’t think he was luckier for having been born, more or less, “white” – he thought no more of it than he did of the fact that he’d been born bald and now he had hair. It was just something that happened like his having brown eyes when Mom and Dad’s were green and blue, respectively.
Damn, he was a cute kid – that little white boy who was born a poor black child. I miss him and it looks like I won’t see him on his birthday this year. I’ve only missed one other and I wasn’t happy about that either.
His birth was far and away the best day of my life. Hands down. He won’t be here, but I’ll celebrate anyway.
Damn he was cute. I miss him. Oh, wait. I already said that.
I miss him.