This happened a couple of years ago, but I was reminded of it recently. I had taken the kids to the Henry Ford Museum one dreary weekday. At the time my oldest was three and I only had a one year old in addition to him. Winter in Michigan can drive you stir crazy, especially if you have only young kids. All of this happened in my pre-homeschooling days so I had flung myself fully into the whole “preschool mom” thing. We sang Wheels on the Bus wherever we went, making up new verses when we ran out of the classics. There were craft projects and sensory boxes and finger plays. Really, it was an early childhood my youngest kids never experienced. I like to tell myself that the littlest kids had a different, yet equally stimulating early childhood. Like “separate but equal”, and we all know history’s opinion on that.
And, speaking of, it was Black History Month. Black History Month always strikes me as funny since the word “black” has joined other words like “negro” and “colored” as historical words and “black history” has joined the United Negro College Fund and the National Association of the Advancement of Colored People as entities who refuse to change names to suit modern taste. I always liked the symmetry of black and white; “African-American” is terribly imprecise: it doesn’t refer to Americans who recently came from Africa, or Americans from North Africa, or people whose ancestors came from Africa to Canada or the Caribbean. Sadly, no one asked my opinion when we moved on from “black”.
So we come to the Henry Ford Museum that February not to learn anything about Black History Month (a 3yo and a 1yo preclude one from learning much about anything, ever) but more to look at old trains and cars and farm implements. There’s a car you can “drive” as well as a harvester and a train. It’s basically a 3 year old boy’s nirvana. So we worked our way through the museum “driving” as we went. In the center of the museum is the civil rights display whose center piece is the Rosa Parks bus. On that day there was a field trip of 3rd graders, all African-American, getting a history lesson while sitting in the bus.
Owen wanted to drive, obviously. And, since we know a song about what the driver on the bus says, he thought he’d throw that out there too. So my lily white little boy marched up to the front of that bus of African-American students learning all about Rosa Parks and loudly said “I’m the driver of the bus and you all need to move on back (move on back, move on back. The driver of the bus says move on back, all through the town!) I’m pretty sure I heard crickets chirp in the silence that followed, but that doesn’t seem likely as it was February and we were in a museum.
Instead of explaining about the song and the driving and the fact that my son was three and, despite it being black history month, he wasn’t exactly savvy enough to purposefully make a racial blunder as profound as what had just occurred…instead, I scooped him up and ran away in horror. Because I’m a good role model like that.