Ever since Nora was born, I’ve been trying to give her a “lovey,” a blanket or bear or something for her to hold onto for comfort. Something that isn’t her thumb or my hair. My many attempts at choosing the comfort object have failed, however, and she prefers body parts to material objects in moments of discomfort.
Except at daycare.
At daycare she has a lovey – a “brown” baby. She gets in the car each morning, bright eyed and bushy tailed, ready to go and play with her friends and her doll. When I ask what she is going to do at school, she says, “play with the brown baby.” When I put her down on the floor of her classroom, she heads straight for the shelf where the brown baby resides overnight, picking her up and throwing her over her shoulder, where I imagine she spends the better part of the day. When we get back in the car in the afternoon, and I ask her what fun things she did that day while I was away teaching writing and literature, she says she played with her “brown baby.”
On Friday the brown baby took a trip to the washing machine. The teacher came and told Nora she was going to wash her and that she would be back on the shelf after nap time. When the teacher returned to the room after starting the laundry, Nora cuddled up close to her, “I miss the brown baby,” she said. Rubbing the teacher’s arm, Nora observed: “You’re brown.”
“Yes, I am,” said the teacher. And she sat there for a while to comfort Nora in the absence of her favorite baby.
When Miss R relayed this to me later in the afternoon, we both laughed. Nora is the kind of toddler who says what she thinks. She observed that Miss R and her daughter in Nora’s class are the the same color as her favorite baby.
As Miss R told me this story Friday afternoon, I began to wonder how Nora’s generation will “see” race. I grew up partly in a rather diverse city (and then in a completely homogeneous suburb), but I don’t remember it being as diverse as Nora’s world. I hope that a child who grows up with African-American teachers, an African-American doctor, African-American friends and a love for a special brown baby will not really even see race or color later on, that it will always be as simple and true as what she said innocently to Miss R on Friday. I hope that not only for Nora, but for all the toddlers who are growing up right now in an even more connected and tolerant age.
And because I don’t want Nora to miss her brown baby in two weeks when she isn’t at school each day, and because I am still on the quest to give Nora a comfort object at home, we went to Target today to buy our own brown baby. Nora carted her everywhere around the house and to my parents for dinner. She named her Big Sweetie.