My wife and I were driving downtown the other day when my four year old daughter suddenly interrupted us with an alarming question from the backseat. It was the kind of question that parents dread being asked. The sort of question that usually makes you stop what you are doing so you can sit down in front of your child and “get real” for a few minutes. The kind you train for, and plan out, like a bomb expert planning how to defuse a homemade explosive, knowing that when the time comes you will only have seconds to clip the correct series of wires before the whole thing goes up in flames. Right now you are directing a trickle of water, but quickly these small ideas will become raging rivers.
“Why is that man black?” she asked.
My wife and I were taken aback. The little girl’s sweet, innocent voice hung in the air for a moment while the seconds ticked down dangerously fast. We looked at each other and struggled to come up with a response. Here were were, pulling through an intersection in bumper to bumper traffic with no way to stop and sit down with anyone. No way of “getting real” for a moment. So, we did the best we could with what we had. We picked up a pair of scissors and started cutting.
“What man are you talking about?” we asked.
“Back there where we turned. The man was black. But that man should be white, right? That’s weird isn’t it?”
We shook our heads. My wife turned around to face the back seat, “No, sweetie,” she said. “That’s not weird. People are all kinds of different colors. Your Daddy is white, but there are a lot of people that are not. Don’t you remember? We know lots of people that are all different colors.”
The little girl was confused and chewed her lip. She turned to look out the side window. “Okay, yeah.” She said, obviously not understanding what we were saying, “But I think that man was supposed to be white.”
“That man was exactly the color God wanted him to be, Sweetheart.”
Lydia nodded, staring thoughtfully into the distance. “Well… I think God should have made him white, that way those people could cross the street.”
The explosion rocked the car sending glass and debris in every direction. The body of the vehicle disintegrated in a blinding and instantaneous light. The steering wheel flipped 80 feet up in the air and came down spinning on top of my head. I hung frozen in mid air, sitting in an invisible car, hair standing straight up, eyes wide with the stunned realization of what was really going on. “Okay, wait a second. Are you talking about the man on the sign at that intersection back there? The man that lights up and looks like he is walking?”
“Yes!” Her eyes lit up, “You said that we can’t cross the street unless he is white! That one was black so how could people cross the street?”
My wife and I shared a cooperative sigh of relief and exasperation. The smoke slowly started to clear.
Parenting is an impossible puzzle. A confusing box of wire all coiled around each other with a slowly ticking timer and a brick of dynamite at the bottom. You wipe the sweat from your forehead, pick up the wire cutters, take a deep breath, plan your movements carefully, and then dive head first into the box. But you know the truth. The truth is, it doesn’t matter what wire you cut. The whole adorable thing is just going to blow up in your face and there isn’t anything you can possibly do to stop it.