“Will we be safe there?” My 11 year old son asked me that question as we were discussing our winter holiday travel plans, and I suppose, given that we live in the UAE, his question might make sense. In the last few years, we’ve traveled to Jordan, India, Kenya – all places that have been in the news lately as sites of violence.
Where are we going for the winter holidays, you might wonder, that would elicit such a question?
The United States.
I’ll let you think about that for a minute.
Okay, true, his question was a bit of a joke – the question of travel safety has become a running gag in our household, in part because that question is always the first thing my mother (in Illinois) always asks us.
But this time, when he asked the question, none of us laughed. He’d asked us just after the last mass shooting, the one in San Bernandino. And think about that for a minute: I have to specify for you which shooting I’m talking about. Was it the one in Colorado Springs outside Planned Parenthood, or the one in Oregon, or the one…
In other countries, when you say “mass shooting,” there simply aren’t that many to choose from because in the aftermath of the tragedy, governments have changed the laws to make such events less possible. But not in the good ol’ US of A.
When I tell people in the States where I live, there are two questions I am always asked: do I have to “cover” and “do I feel safe?” The answers are “no,” and “yes.” People who didn’t worry about me strolling home after midnight in New York’s East Village in the late 1980s now seem dreadfully concerned about my safety here, in this part of the world, as I drive off to the mall.
Part of why we chose to live abroad with our children had to do with wanting to give them a cosmopolitan perspective on the world: we wanted them to experience other cultures and learn to be open to, rather than threatened by, difference. I know that in the US it is possible to live in cosmopolitan cities—we used to live in Manhattan, where children from many nations crowded into my kids’ classrooms—but it is a different experience to live in a place where “your” culture is not the dominant.
A little while back, for instance, my older son had some friends over so that we could all go to a water park in the afternoon. When I told them it was time to get ready to go, my son said “well, we have to wait a little bit because T. is in the other room doing his prayers.” T. comes from a devout Muslim family and his mother would have been pleased to know that T. didn’t miss a prayer time just because the water park called. And for my son and his other friends, T. doing his prayers was as matter-of-fact as if he’d been changing into his swimsuit, or drinking a glass of water. Ordinary.
Like many of us, at home and abroad, I wrestle with how to explain to my children why the United States can’t simply change its gun laws and why so many people in the country seem afraid of anyone who worships at a mosque rather than a church or a temple. The explanation in both instances seems to boil down to fear: fear of change, fear of difference, fear of that-which-is-not-me.
It’s not much of an explanation, but it’s the only framework I have to explain why Donald Trump, for instance, can still be considered a candidate for the Presidency.
I know that the demagogues like Trump do not speak for all the people in the United States, and that many, many people are outraged by gun violence, but alas, the picture of the country that travels outward to the rest of the world is one of violent, gun-toting Islamophobia – and it’s scary. For me the fear rests not in the thought that Trump will ever be President because I refuse to believe that his bilious self is actually electable. I hang on to that fact as ardently as I once hung on to my belief in Santa Claus. No, my fear rests in the fact that, according to a recent poll, Trump leads the group of Republican Party presidential hopefuls, with 35.8% of the vote.
THIRTY-FIVE POINT EIGHT?
Maybe there really isn’t a Santa Claus.
How do you explain what’s happening in the United States to your children?
This is an original post by World Mom, Deborah Quinn in the United Arab Emirates.
Photo Credit to the author.
As an adoptive mother of an Ethiopian Panther, I’ve grown an extra pair of antennas when it comes to racism.
Truly, a lot of really nice people distinguish my daughter from other children, based on her color. Even if it is meant to defend her, like calling me disgusting for letting her carry the groceries, it basically still is hidden racism. Should I tell her that people believe she shouldn’t be helping me out because it reminds them of slavery while her white brother is allowed to do the same chores? I’d rather have people call me names than let them wreck my daughter’s self esteem.
However, as I’m writing this, there is a HUGE racism debate going on in Belgium and even worse in The Netherlands, where it all started. And despite my racism antennas, I just can’t fully agree with the racism-yellers this time. Not even if they yell all the way from some United Nations office.
The debate is all about the ancestor of Santa Claus: Sinterklaas. You can read here about how Santa Claus evolved from our Sinterklaas, or Saint Nicholas, who is actually believed to be Turkish, who resides in Spain, has a white horse called Bad-Wheater-Today (Belgium) or Amerigo (The Netherlands), and celebrates his December birthday by coming over to our countries and surprising children with presents.
In the Netherlands he comes over on the evening of December 5th. Later that night, he comes to Belgium and delivers toys and sweets to be found in the children’s shoes on the morning of the 6th. It’s really a children’s celebration, full of magic and anticipation. You will bump into him just about everywhere during November.
Now, because Sinterklaas is getting old and forgetful, and has a lot of work to do within 24 hours, he has helpers. These helpers are all black, and hence all called ‘Black Peter’ (Zwarte Piet).
And that’s where all the accusative fingers point.
Indeed, this tradition can be seen as offensive. I, for a fact, believe it is partly based on a slavery and stereotype-loaded past, and a lot of people agree with me. Black Peter has long been depicted as a bit slow, barbaric (kidnapping and hitting the naughty children), dressed in clownish clothes, with stout lips and being submissive to his white boss.
Of course I agree this is an awful, insulting picture to brainwash our children with during the big Sinterklaas-Awaiting-Month-of -November. I also agree an outsider would be shocked, when he meets Sinterklaas and his Black Peters for the first time, especially if oblivious to the folklore. And I honestly understand and feel the offense people take.
For me personally, Sinterklaas has me cringing with bittersweetness ever since I found out about his racist taint. I’m not even particularly fond of the Sinterklaas tradition anymore.
However, I also don’t agree that we are teaching our children racism, nor paying ode to slavery by honoring this tradition every year. Not any more, that is.
Since the 1990’s, we have a children’s holiday special on TV portraying the real story. Children are elegantly taught Black Peter is black – and not brown/colored/african – because he came down the chimney. No more, no less. Nobody really tries to explain why his clothes didn’t get black during his journey down the chimney.
It is just part of the mystery, just like Bad-Wheater-Today walking on rooftops or Sinterklaas having this enormous book in which the good and bad behavior of every single child is listed. It doesn’t make sense, but children buy it anyway.
In this TV-special, Sinterklaas is depicted as a bit senile. In fact his Black Peters are now the smart ones, all with different names according to their function or character. A bit like the Smurfs, and everyone likes the Smurfs, right?
For the past 20+ years, this special comes on every November. Along the way, children started to grow more afraid of this very strict and grumpy old man than of his joyous, candy throwing helpers. The Black Peters became the true friends of our children. And every Belgian child you ask about Black Peter’s color now, will patiently tell you the chimney-story.
To me, this shows our tradition is evolving from, I admit, a racist past, towards a new story. Just like it evolved into Santa Claus overseas—who, by the way, appears to imprison a whole lot of innocent, little people in a Siberia-like, harsh environment without paying them for their round-the-clock labor.
Therefore, I trust society may even evolve towards a tradition of White Peters in a few more years or decades. After all, with more and more houses being built without huge chimneys, we will sooner or later find out that Peter’s color is fading, won’t we?
I’m hoping that by the time this post runs, all the petitions –pro and con–the social media frenzy, any UN investigations and any public manifestations, will be over and done with. I truly hope no-one got hurt along the way, and that both camps have reached a certain level of understanding towards each other by the time Saint Nicholas wants to celebrate his birthday.
Because, you know, my children are already expecting Sinterklaas to send one of his Peters down our chimney on the 6th of December. Especially my very dark daughter is impatiently awaiting. I’d hate to disappoint her if he decided not to come this year, because he’s afraid to be called a racist. She would definitely not understand, mainly because she doesn’t see any resemblance between Black Peter and herself.
I’m confident Sinterklaas will make it, though. We are both alike, Sinterklaas and me. We’re already used to people calling us racist slave handlers. And we both know better than that.
Did you know about Santa Claus’s European past? How would you feel if he had black helpers instead of elves?
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by K10K from The Penguin and The Panther.
The picture in this post is credited to Sinterklaas Himself, who published it on Wikipedia, while undercover as Gaby Kooiman, under GNU Free Documentation License.
I arrived at the doorway of my daughter’s pre-school classroom to pick her up. We made eye contact and I could see that she was very excited. I knelt down to her level as she ran over to me and happily announced, “Mommy! I met the tooth fairy today!” “You met the tooth fairy?” I incredulously replied. “Yes! She wears glasses and wings, and a blue dress,” my daughter replied. One of her teachers walked over smiling having overheard our conversation. She explained that the Tooth Fairy, from the Center for Pediatric Dentistry, had in fact come to visit the children and talked to them about the importance of taking care of their teeth by brushing every day and not eating too many sugary sweets.
That was the first time my daughter had ever heard of the tooth fairy, but she quickly took to the idea and I could tell that she was already eagerly looking forward to the day she would lose her first tooth.
For readers who may not be familiar with the tooth fairy, you may ask…why? Well, a couple of the older children in her class had already lost a tooth. They informed her that after a tooth comes out, if she puts it under her pillow at bedtime, the tooth fairy will come while she is sleeping, take the tooth, and leave her some money in return.
Sometimes I feel guilty about perpetuating things like Santa Claus and leprechauns, but when I see how much fun it is (both for me and my girls), I quickly change my mind. I have to admit though, on this particular day, I wasn’t ready to start thinking about another character. I mean, the girl didn’t even have any wiggly teeth yet!
To add to this, since I was raised with Hispanic culture, my tooth fairy was a little different. In my home, when you lost a tooth, you still put it under your pillow at bed time, and when you woke up, it was gone and money was under your pillow in its place. But the money did not come from the tooth fairy. It came from Ratón Pérez. Yes, that’s right, a mouse. I told my daughter about Ratón Pérez, but she did not believe me. She said, “A mouse? Really mommy? Why would a mouse want your tooth?” (I thought to myself…why would a fairy want your tooth? I don’t know!) I said, “Yes, really. You should talk to Abuelita, she’ll tell you about Ratón Pérez.” She did ask my mom the next time she talked to her, and my mom confirmed, that yes, he comes to take your tooth. (more…)
As the holidays approach, we asked our World Moms Blog writers to…
“…tell us about a holiday/cultural tradition that you are excited
about sharing with your child(ren) this year.”
Check out what some of our World Moms had to say…
Kyla P’an of Massachusetts, USA writes:
“There are two things I get really excited about each year:
1. setting out our family creche. We add one piece each night until Christmas Eve, saving the baby. On Christmas morning, baby Jesus magically appears and the kids get excited about discovering him there.
2. Advent calendars, my mom has devotedly given me an advent calendar every year of my life for the past 39 years and now she sends them to my kids too…this year we have a chocolate one and a Playmobile one to look forward to.” (more…)
On Christmas Day 2005, I was mistaken for Santa Claus. I was pregnant, one week past my due date, and as big as a whale. The previous night there had been unusual activity on the part of the baby, and knowing that our own OB/GYN was on call at the hospital, we decided to go in on Christmas morning to be checked out. After I’d spent some time hooked up to various monitors and gadgets, the verdict was that I should be induced.
I suspect that the baby was fine, but that my hubby-to-be had a quiet pleading word with the doctor (“Pleeeeeeease, Doctor! You’ve gotta get this baby out of her! She’s so big that she’s taking up all the space in the bed, and she’s been behaving like an antichrist for the last two weeks!) (more…)