Yesterday my eleven year old went to a friend's house after school. I spoke to the mother on the phone, and gave my permission for her to pick up my daughter along with her own. And I looked up their address online and through the magic of the Internet, I figured out exactly where they lived in our town.
Then I went last night, right on time, to pick up my daughter. I drove up the winding road to #5, the biggest house on the block (which isn’t always a great idea from a real estate standpoint). Inside I was greeted by a soaring foyer and I could see extensive artwork on the walls far in front of me. My daughter and her friend and another girl bounded up to me with hugs and giggles. I met the impeccably dressed mother, sweet older sister and rambunctious little brother in his underwear. And when my daughter looked at me with feigned adoration and asked if she could stay the night, I said OK. I left feeling happy that she’d made another new friend among the rigors of junior high adjustments. I felt safe that she would be happy, and happy that she would be safe.
This afternoon, after my daughter had been home from her sleepover about five hours, another friend called to invite her over. This friend had spent the night here before, so I knew her, and I also knew the invitation to visit would be coming in reciprocity. So we got the address. Equal distance as the other friend, in the other direction. We drove a mere six or seven minutes and turned down a street that looked beaten up on one side and industrial on the other.
We knocked on the door and her bubbly friend, today with pink streaks in her hair, answered the door with a big smile. She called to her mom, who poked her head out and said hello and thanked me for bringing my daughter over. I said, “have fun!” We’d already arranged her pick-up time, and I went back to my car, heart pounding. She didn’t invite me in or embrace me with a smile. She gave no reassuring glance or pay too much mind to my daughter entering her house.
I wondered what my daughter would find when she ventured beyond the doorway. Certainly not two living rooms and a butler like the night before, but hopefully a kind and loving family home where she will have a lot of fun with her friend -- a girl who in my home was polite and funny, sweet and kind. I can only assume that is a reflection of her upbringing. Yet, I wished I had been able to get a sense of things -- without overstepping my bounds. She is too old for me to accompany her on play dates, and I relished the day she was old enough to go alone. But today I wished I could stay.
The tracks in our school district zig-zag through and around social stature and socio-economics, but in each little section of the community there are black and white families. Now, here's the question -- did you automatically assume and picture a white family in that big fancy house? What about the other house? Knowing that races coexist peacefully here, would you assume that the second family was black?
If you did, you were wrong.
I realized that my prejudice is colorblind, but not blind to the trappings of privilege. Was I comfortable yesterday because of the surroundings alone, or because I was made to feel comfortable? Is that bit of social polish part of being on a certain rung on the ladder? I did have a bit of a tug leaving my daughter — but did so because it’s time to do that. Just like today. But today I was left, and am still, curious what is going on, and if she is OK. How well will she fare in an environment that might be very different from her own, and why didn’t I think of that last night? We don’t have a driver or a butler or two living rooms just like we don't have a truck in the driveway or a vacant lot next door.
And I’m sure that none of this entered her mind at all. These girls are just that, girls. They are her friends, black or white, tall or short, Jewish or Christian. They’re making up dances and trying on make-up. They are giggling and laughing and talking a little about boys. They are all just being themselves.
My daughter shows me through her smiles and varied friendships that they are all much more alike than different. What I realized today is that these girls and their families are confined by the walls in which they live, only when my preconceptions shut the door and lock them in.
Amy Sue Nathanís debut novel, The Glass Wives, will be published by St. Martinís Press in Spring 2013. In addition to The Imperfect Parent, Amyís stories and essays have appeared in The Chicago Tribune, The New York Times online, The Washington Post online, The Huffington Post, Chicago Parent, Grey Sparrow Journal, Rose and Thorn Journal, Scribblers On The Roof, The Verb, Hospital Drive Journal and The Stone Hobo. She is also a freelance fiction editor, a reader for literary agents, and Secretary of the RWA-WF Chapter. In 2011 Amy launched Womenís Fiction Writers, a blog focusing on the authors, business and craft of traditionally published womenís fiction.
Amy lives near Chicago and is the mom of a son in college, a daughter in high school, and two rambunctious rescued dogs. You can follow her on Twitter @AmySueNathan where she tweets about writing, books, parenting, and chocolate.
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