Ben has finally learned his colors. For nearly two months now, he’s been naming them all mostly correctly, and now there are nuances which include gray, black and white. This achievement is celebrated by me and his teachers, and also by him.
He teases me: “Mamma, what color is this car?”
I puzzle a minute, playing along,then say, tentatively, “red?”
“Greaaaat,” he intones, patronizingly and in perfect mockery of my mother-proud voice, “you know your colors. High five, mamma.”
But here’s the fact: now he is noticing our colors. Last night, we were lying together as we always do after reading books in his top bunk. He was silent a long time, studying my face. “Your hair is gray,” he said, softly.
“Yes, it is.”
“My hair is black, mamma.” Yes, it is.
His favorite book recently is “A Mother for Choco” in which a whimsically yellow, fat-cheeked baby bird finds a perfect mother in Mrs. Bear, who looks nothing like him. It’s a book about differences and needs, and how even people with big physical differences can love and comfort, and mother, each other.
“I want to be Choco’s mother,” says Ben.
“K “ I say, wondering where this is leading.
“I mean, I will be Choco’s daddy, you be his momma.”
“OK,” I say “sounds like a plan.” The differences between boys and girls, mommies and daddies. He knows it’s only about penises and vaginas, so far.
Ben calls us a family. Momma, Ben and Lily. He says, "I have a Daddy. He's in New York. He's from Africa." It's the myth he's created around the truth I have told him, that his daddy was from Detroit,and I don't know where he is right now.
He holds his hand next to mine, palms up. That way, they look alike. “Look, Momma, my hand is almost as big as yours.”
“Yes," I say, “and they look the same."
“Yes,” he says, “yellow.”
I wonder, high yellow? When will he learn that term?
He turns his hand over, then with his other hand, reaches to turn mine over. “Look, momma, our hands.” He doesn’t say anything more.
“Yes,” I say, “Aren’t they beautiful?”
“Noooo,” he says, and I hold my breath. “They are COOL mamma, not beautiful.”
Right, cool. “Yeah,” I say, “like chocolate and vanilla!” I wonder if I should have said anything, but I want to make room for the conversation which I fantasize is on his mind.
He laughs. “No,” he says, “brown and yellow!”
When he was just two, my brother-in-law's brother and his family visited from Mississppi. Their daughter, Kate, who was all of four then, was fascinated with Ben. At Thanksgiving dinner, she wandered over to me. Ben was on my lap. She put her snow white hand under Ben's dark chocolate one, and said, "Miss Cindy," in the sweetest southern drawl, "isn't that a beautiful sight?"
I don’t want him to live in a colorblind world. I want him to know his colors, our colors. I want him to know that looking different doesn’t mean anything except looking different.
Tonight at the grocery store, he asks for chocolate ice cream. He’s never used the term before, just, “that kind” before, usually strawberry or mint (which he dubbed “too tasty.”)
As I write this tonight, I look at his art on our dining room wall. It’s changing. There are “guys” now, with eyes like moons and legs coming from their heads. And smiles. And one guy with tears coming out of his eyes. And my favorite, a mountain and a village. He calls it “Promise Mountain.”
I promise you my son, we will celebrate and honor our differences, and we will always, always be a family.
And it is great that you know your colors, even though your momma winces at what more you will be taught by the world about them.