Ok, let’s back up. When my kids went to school in Georgia, a large number of their classmates were black. Or Negro. Or African-American, or whatever is deemed “correct” these days. In Kindergarten, Brayden received an Barbie invitation to a birthday party for a classmate whose family we didn’t know. I was going to Target to buy a Barbie doll for the little girl when it occurred to me that there was a good chance this little girl might prefer a darker-skinned Barbie. So I called Brayden into the room and asked her, “Hey, is Monica black?” not realizing how literal children can take our comments. Brayden looked at me like I had grown another head and said, “Uh, no, she’s brown.” And so to this day, that’s what Blaine and the kids and I call brown people …. Brown. It’s not intended to be anything more than an identifier, just like my kids call people with blonde hair “Blondies”, or like they might identify a child by their height or freckles or if they wear glasses. No malice, no intent … just, “That’s Omar. He’s the new brown boy on my team.” Matter of fact, and end of discussion.
Kellen ran off to practice, and a gentleman with a heavy Spanish accent (which I later found out was Venezuelan) walked up to me a few minutes later and asked a question about the fields. While I’m not on a first-name basis with all the other parents yet, I do recognize most of them, and I knew I had never seen this gentleman before. Because I’m
I said, “Oh, Kellen told me they had a new boy named Omar on the team and that he’s a really good player …. He was so excited to have him try out.” And this dad and I started talking, and he was incredibly nice, and funny, and friendly. And I was thoroughly enjoying our conversation.
He asked me which boy was my son, and I pointed to Kellen and said, “Right there, the boy in the red shorts ….” And at exactly that moment, Kellen tripped over a blade of grass, with no-one anywhere near him, and fell flat on his face. And I burst out laughing and said, “The highly coordinated one who doesn’t understand gravity.” And he laughed too, in a kind way.
Then another gentleman, this guy a total whitey-tighty like me, walked up and introduced himself. And he was just as funny and friendly and nice as the first guy. And they were talking about “their” house and “their” business, and it took just a nano-second for the A-ha! light bulb to go on over my head.
I’ll admit, I was very curious about them. I mean, how do a Venezuelan guy and a white guy wind up as life partners in Oklahoma with a brown son named Omar? I mean, who *wouldn’t* be curious??
But more than that, I was acutely aware that I didn’t want to say anything stupid or offensive. I have no problem with gay people (Remember? Spent much of my twenties dancing in the local gay bars) and it goes without saying that I’m pro-adoption. So while I would have loved to have heard their story, I was determined not to give any indication that anything was out of the norm, or say or do anything to make them uncomfortable.
As the practice wore on, they were talking about how nervous their son was about the tryouts. So I started watching, and even though I know next to nothing about soccer, even I could tell the boy was very good. So I made several helpful comments about how well he was doing ….. “Oh, look, Omar just scored a goal!” … and “How long has Omar played soccer?” …. And “Omar seems like a really great defender!” Etc. And because I genuinely liked them and wanted to be friendly, I asked even more stuff, “Where does Omar go to school?” and “What other hobbies does Omar have?” I don’t know, maybe I was just so glad to have another newbie-parent there besides myself that I was pathetic in my attempts to be social, but it really did come from the heart.
At the end of the practice, the team manager came up and said to the dads, “Congratulations, we’re not sure if it will be the A team or B team, but the coach wants to offer Lamar a spot.” And the dads smiled and said thanks.
And I sat there a second and said, “Wait. Who? Lamar? Who’s Lamar?”
And the first dad said, “That’s our son …. Lamar.”
And I was all embarrassed and awkward, “Lamar? Lamar???? And I’ve been calling him OMAR this whole time??? Why didn’t either of you correct me???”
And they sort of smiled at one another, and then said to me, “You were being so nice, we didn’t have the heart.”
So basically, I sat there for an hour and a half, determined not to make them uncomfortable, or say anything stupid, but called their son by the wrong name the entire time. About a bazillion times. Clearly, I’m a moron.
But I’m totally blaming Kellen for this one --- I’m telling you, he SAID Omar!