Stewardship & Birth & Skin Color

October 28, 2009

Dear Families,

At Tuesday’s Meeting for Worship, we took our time preparing for silence by reading, thinking, and sharing. We continued to focus on the Quaker testimony of Stewardship during Meeting for Worship in the classroom this week. We began with the question, “Who is your steward? Who takes care of you?” Everyone got to share their thoughts. Everyone named their parents. Those with siblings included their siblings. Some children included their grandparents and ancestors. Some included their pets. A few included their cousins. One included his godparents. Then we read the book entitled “On the Day You Were Born” by Debra Fisher. The emphasis was on “you,” which meant “all of you.” The book tells about how the whole world waited and celebrated their arrival into this world. There is a part that said that the earth promised to hold onto to them and not let them float away (gravity). It also told of how the animals knew of their arrival, and how the news was passed from one creature to another, from one end of the world to the other. I told them that people begin exercising stewardship towards babies while they were growing inside the bellies of the birthmother. I emphasized that this is true for all of the children in the class.

To illustrate, I shared with them stories of my two children, specifically what happened as they grew inside of me, what I did so that they grew and stayed healthy, how it felt to be carrying them, how they were like when they came out of my body. I talked about how the muscles in my body helped push my first born out of my body, and how my second child refused to turn upside down when it was time for her to exit my body. I told them how my first born entered into this world, and the children laughed when they learned that she screamed so loudly and was so red with anger when she was born. I told them that after being in a dark and cozy place for so many months, she must have felt that the hospital room was too bright for her, and she was feeling cold (she was born naked like everyone else, I added). A child then shared about how his father had wanted to walk him around the hospital but it was too cold to do so.

Then one child asked, “What does ‘birth’ mean?” Another answered immediately, “That means when the baby comes out of the mother’s tummy.” Some children wondered how babies come out and from where. A child answered, “Through the hole that your pee comes out.” So I said we have various holes on our bodies. We named the holes, starting with our nostrils. Children piped in. “Mouth.” “Your eyes.” “Our ears.” Then we said that there is the hole where one’s poop comes out, and that is not the hole through which babies come out. Then I said that there is a hole in a woman’s body, not the hole where pee comes out, but near it, that is the hole through which babies come out. We also talked about another hole – the umbilical cord when it is cut – and that hole is now sealed and is our bellybutton. A child said, “Yeah, the umbilical cord. I had that.” “I still have mine.” It is how the growing baby got food from the birth mother while still inside the belly, I added. It is cut when the baby comes out because it does not need to be connected to the birth mother anymore. The baby will now eat from his or her own mouth. That is why everyone has a belly button.

The children wanted me to tell the story of my second child, specifically how she was like when she was born. I told them that the doctor cut my belly open to take my second child out because she did not turn upside down when it was time for her to do that. Two children said that was how they came out too. I talked about how we have skin cells that are alive, and that as they grew, the cut skin of the belly and the bellybutton become sealed once more.

Towards the end of the book, the illustration showed a woman holding a baby and people and animals surrounded them. One child asked, “Is the baby adopted?” I said some children are adopted by their parents, and it is possible that the woman in the story adopted the baby. Then I asked the children to reflect on the query, “Who is your steward?” A calm, robust energy enveloped us as we sat in silence, molding our plasticene. It felt really special.

Today, we read the book, All The Colors We Are by K. Kissinger. We began by looking at our skin color. Prompted by the book, we took turns describing the color of our own skin, e.g., tan-ish, pink-ish, peach-ish. A child said, “White.” I said that there is no skin that is really white in color. We looked at what is white in the room. I then said that when people say they are white, the word “white” is really used to refer to a group of people, just like “black” might be used to refer to a group of people. “Yeah, no one really has black skin. They are brown.” Then someone said that the African dance teacher has black skin. Then another said that his skin is really dark brown and not black.

The children learned about the three ways we got our skin color: from our ancestors, the sun, and melanin. One child said, “DNA.” We defined the word ancestor, and then used the terms “ancestors” and “birth ancestors” together in subsequent readings. We learned about what melanin is, and thought about whether or not the melanin in our body is very busy or not very busy based on our skin color. Some children pointed out to the freckles they have on their skin. The melanin in those spots are very busy.

To further illustrate the premise that the place where one’s (birth) ancestors lived a long time ago has something to do with our current skin color, we located the equator on the globe and on the wall map. We had a flashlight to represent the sun. We noted that the part around the equator got more light than the surrounding areas away from the equator. We also thought about heating vents. The closer we are to heat, the warmer we feel. We located the north and south pole. We noted how little light hits that part of the globe. I then showed them where my ancestors were from, and where I grew up. We noted the distance between China (northern part) from the equator. I also showed them where the Philippines is located and talked about the general climate there, and about my Filipino friends having darker skin color than mine.

Then we got to the last part with the question, “Do you think your ancestors came from a place that was very warm and sunny, or a cooler place with less sunshine?” Each child had a turn drawing a conclusion based on their skin color. Some children named the places where they were born. Some children named the places where their ancestors were born. Most of them said that their ancestors came from a “middle” or “medium” place where it is not too warm and not too cold. One of the children said that he was born in Ecuador. We located it on the globe. We found out that it is right near the equator, and that part of Ecuador sits on the equator. That was amazing information. At the close of our discussion, I briefly told them about the continents, and identified them on the wall map.

This is certainly a beginning conversation on racial identity (and geography), and a continuing conversation on identity in general. Thank you for your support and your interest in what we do in school. The learning process is ongoing, and I am certainly learning from the children and from you.

Take care.

Lynne May

PS _ Thank you for coming to our potluck breakfast. It was a nice treat for all of us.

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