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Forgive me for this short story about the four year-old: I was asked to substitute teach our son's Sunday School class last Sunday. I don't think I did any permanent damage to those young minds, nothing in our midst burst into flames, and we were somehow able to avoid the lightning bolt that surely was chasing us. Mr. Lindstrom and I are enthusiastic sinners. In any case, I was still trusted with these little people. The Sunday School classes are learning as part of our Mission Month about the country of Bangladesh. Our church has a close relationship with the country and does a lot of mission work there, so members of the congregation had put together a festival where the children could experience Bangladesh. It was totally educational for me as well.
During the festival, I felt a tug on my shirt. One of the more shy children in the four year-old's class had a question. "Teacher," (I snorted quietly...) "do they have crayons in Bangladesh." Stunned, I quickly grabbed the first person I saw in a Sari. I recognized her as one of the people who had spent some time in Bangladesh, and thought she could surely answer his question. She did, (yes, she believes that some of the children do have some crayons in Bangladesh, but not nearly as many as children have here). Not to be outdone, as soon as my four year-old realized that questions were being answered, he chimed in, "I know, I know, are there rocket ships in Bangladesh?" My first instinct was to tell Woman In Sari that she did not have to answer my child's question. I stopped myself. Whether or not I think his question is a silly attention grab, it's an honest question. He's really into rockets, and for goodness sake, he's trying to make sense of this world. Why would I intervene with that?
On the ride home, he continued to pepper us with questions about Bangladesh, "are there big trucks in Bangladesh? Are there babies in Bangladesh? Do they have toilets in Bangladesh in case you need to go potty?" He was observing what he knows of our world, what he appreciates in our world, and wondering if the people of Bangladesh have all of that to appreciate. Suddenly, I was in his head, trying to understand what "another country" is, and what "the world" is, and what "another culture" is. For us these concepts are small, but for him, they are big. I began to think about how much we talk at home about other cultures. I mean, if we are eating an ethnic food (which we almost always are... because, really, what's American food?) we completely miss an opportunity to talk about another culture.
It happens that this month, the four year-old's preschool class is also taking a "trip around the world." As a parent, it is my responsibility to take this cue and seize these opportunities to expose my child to information and experiences of different cultures. We live in a culturally rich country, and in the city I live (the beautiful city of Minneapolis) we are fortunate to have many opportunities to experience other cultures, I really have no excuse. Sometimes I plod along blindly as a parent, doing what we're doing, managing the status quo - and missing wonderful opportunities to offer my children the opportunity to become compassionate and understanding people.
How do you create cultural experiences for your family? What places do you go or traditions do you have? Do you make a point of fitting other cultures into your day to day or week to week parenting?