This self-observation really caught my attention a few months ago during a trip to Old Navy. To convince Mini Mo she needn't fear the half dozen mannequins that greeted us at the door, I walked to the one that looked like a young black girl with afro puffs and said, "Look! She's got puffs like you!" She unclenched my legs and eyed the mannequin, asking me to lift her so she could touch its puffs. From that day forward, whenever we go to any shopping center, Miyah looks for mannequins with "puffs like me!" (On our last trip to Old Navy just last week, she hugged the mannequin with the puffs. I'm so mad I didn't snap a photo.)
|I wonder what magic is waiting in |
Mini Mo's puffballs.
Her reading of similarities between herself and those around her extends beyond hair these days, though. Sure, she'll note that "Daddy's wearing flip-flops like me" or "Mommy's got a necklace like me." But she's also noticing skin tone. Just the other day, she stated out of the blue, "I'm brown," to which I replied, "That's right. You are brown." She continued, "Mommy's brown and Daddy's brown." I kept her going.
"What about your brother?"
"He's brown, too."
"What about Kayla*?"
This exchange was a clear reminder that children grow up understanding differences (and similarities) in identities early on; it's their environment that shapes how they interpret them. I was so happy that, in this case, Mini Mo's interpretation was one of simple fact--and Kayla is one of her oldest buddies. Well, old for a three-year-old.
Beyond observing her external identifiers, Mini Mo seems to be owning her power as an individual. Let me just say: I know that her stepping into her fourth year means she has a ton of ego. Truer words were never written of this child, who really seems to have been self-assured and confident from day one. But when she sees strong, confident figures in front of her, she relates to them.
Case in point: Her aunt and uncle sent her Dr. Kimberly Brown's children's book Queen Like Me: The True Story of Girls Who Changed the World for her birthday. When hearing about the wise Queen of Sheba, the Sphinx-inspiring Nefertari and the determined Nzinga--along with Harriet Tubman, Coretta Scott King, Mary McCleod Bethune and many others--she kept wanting me to repeat these women's names. It was like she needed to be sure she got them down. She then agreed with the book's refrain that each one was "a queen like me."
Sure, she's a kid who loves books and beautiful images like any other kid, but Mini Mo's increasing literacy surrounding her identity and those of others leaves me happy about the messages she's internalizing at this young age and at this historical moment. Would she have been able to see a mannequin with afro puffs even ten years ago? Doubt it.
As she grows older and becomes increasingly aware of forces that might counter these messages, it may be harder for our family--and her teachers, I hope--to maintain them. But we're planting seeds, and I'm confident they'll bear good fruit. Besides, Mini Mo also seems to have an affinity for truth...like me.
*Not the cutie's real name