I Think I'm a Snob

Sometimes I have interactions with people that make me feel like I'm a total snob.

Yesterday when went to I pick my sons up from school, I found my 3rd grader on the playground right away. He was totally excited because there's a new boy in his class.

"And he looks like me, kinda!" my son shared.

"You mean he's black?" I asked. He answered yes... and I thought FINALLY!! My son has never had another black boy in any of his classes so this was huge news.

"And he's really nice!" my son continued.

This made me really happy because I was beginning to think his entire elementary school experience would pass without him having a black male friend who 1) attends his school, or 2) is in his class!

As my son continued to gush about this new kid, we walked to the classroom of his first grade brother, picked him up and then chatted with some people for a few minutes. Then, as we were walking back across the playground to leave the school, my son yelled out, "Hey! There he is!"

Indeed, there was the new boy, all smiles as he saw my son. They immediately struck up a conversation and my son introduced his little brother to his new classmate.

As we walked into the school, I observed a black woman at the end of the hallway with two other children. I'd never seen her before so I figured this must be the new boy's mom. And my heart sank.

The mom was wearing a doo-rag, a pair of ratty sweat pants, flip flops and what looked like a tank top with no bra underneath. Now, I don't like using the word "ghetto" because I feel like it has all sorts of connotations I don't like, but if ever there was a time I might have used it, that was it.

I felt like a 100% bonafide snob because I was thinking all sorts of judgemental, stereotypical things like, "If her son comes over to play and she comes too, is she gonna be casing the joint?" and, "If she goes out of the house looking like that, her son probably has no proper home training and might be a bad influence on my son."

We were quickly approaching her so I decided to say hello, introduce myself and my boys to her, and welcome her to the school. I did so and she told me her name in return.

And then I just had to ask, "Are you all new to the neighborhood?"

She paused before answering and then her response made me feel like more than a snob. It made me feel like a complete jerk.

"Yes, we're staying at the women's shelter."

A whole bunch of thoughts were running through my head. First of all, I had no idea we even had a women's shelter in the neighborhood. Second of all, and this really made me feel like a snobby, judgemental jerk, maybe her appearance has something to do with living in a shelter. Third, folks don't end up in shelters without something pretty bad going down in their lives so I should be more sympathetic.

I replied as warmly as I could, "Well, welcome to the neighborhood. I hope we see you around."

I told my sons, who were in full "let's make plans with this new kid" mode to say goodbye because we had to go to the store. And that was that.

The thing is, a day later I still don't know if I want my sons playing with someone whose mom comes out of the house looking like that. It's so horribly small-minded of me but there's a part of me that can't help it, and I don't know what to do about it. I know my son is going to want to play with this new kid sooner rather than later.

And, am I not going to let my son be friends with the first black boy he's had in his class since Pre-K because of this?


Ariel said…
I don't think you are a snob at all. Being cautious and aware does not make you a snob. And unfortunately we have to be careful where our children play and with whom- not for any fault of the children involved. I wouldn't let my daughter play with another kid at a woman's shelter, but I'd probably let the other child come to my house, and I'd do the pick up and drop off myself, just to have that certain amount of control. That being said- children coming from that type of environment have probably been exposed to a ton of stuff you may not want your child exposed to yet. It's no about being unsympathetic, but taking care of your own children first:(
Probably they won't stay there long, so it might not be an issue for long. Of course I don't know how long people usually stay at shelters but I think it's supposed to be temporary until they can find housing?
I guess the only thing you can do is make sure that it's on your terms so you can supervise it. It's a hard one:(
But I really don't think you are a snob:)
Ariel's comment makes a lot of sense to me. Your first commitment is always to your own children. When my kids were young, I preferred to maintain as much control as possible, no matter what circumstances their friends seemed to be from.

Since I once managed a domestic violence shelter, I can tell you that most of the women staying there had left home with nothing but their children and had to rely on the cast-off bin to clothe themselves. Perhaps that woman was embarrassed that she couldn't do her hair and covered it with the doo-rag. Maybe until you know more about her, you could arrange a play date in a park or other neutral location with both moms in attendance. (I'm assuming that she is from somewhere else and can actually appear in public w/o fear of her attacker finding her, which you certainly would not want to involve yourself and the boys in.)

I think that worrying about whether you're a snob is not a major issue in the overall scheme of things. Your main concern is providing the most rich and wholesome childhood possible for your boys, and it could be that this family's problems would impact your own if you were not watchful. Cut yourself a break, Liz. You're a good mom, doing her job.
Mes Deux Cents said…

Snob is just another way to say you have certain standards. That's a good thing.
BlackLiterature said…
No, you are going to let your kid be friends with the other young man if we wants. You'll probably be a little more watchfull and that's ok. You're their mom first, a conscious human being second.

I have a feeling this will turn into a learning experience for you and your sons
Jameil said…
wow... as a non-parent i'm going to keep my mouth shut and let some moms & dads speak up.
This is so hard. SO HARD. I've definitely had my son wanting to set up playdates with kids whose parents have raised my eyebrow, for different reasons (i.e. mom with a tattoo ON HER FACE). Sometimes, snap judgements are off, but sometimes they are based on our mama instincts.

My son has finally had another black boy in his class this year, too. I know how much that means as a mom. But . . . this does sound like some legit red flags, because her level of self-care (or lack thereof) might give you insight into her parenting style.

Maybe a playdate at a neutral location? At a park? You can get to know her better and make a more informed decision. Of course none of it will stop them from becoming buddies at school.

I don't think it makes you a snob. Just a cautious mom.
Liz Dwyer said…
I know what you mean. I guess I feel snobby about it because I was automatically making all sorts of negative assumptions about both this mom and her parenting abilities - and thus the little boy, even though he so far seems like a nice little boy. We'll see. My boys have had a few experiences with kids whose parents looked pretty normal and things ended up going south, so I should know that appearance is something but it ain't everything.

Thanks for saying I'm doing a good job! :) I'm like you were- my boys pretty much can't play at anyone's house unless I'm there too. Only at my very best friend's house. Your reasons for the doo-rag make a lot of sense to me, too. I think the park play date makes a lot of sense. I think mom's definitely from another part of town so I hope she's safe to come out.

LOL! I definitely believe in having standards, but I do think it was wrong for me to off the bat start judging the mom as being ghetto or hood, you know?

Black Literature,
I think it will, too. My son just is happy to have another black boy in his class. He told me today how they played together at recess but said he has a hard time understanding his new friend because the new boy speaks "ebonics". He said it's as hard for him to understand as Spanish!

You know you can comment without being a mom! What would you do if you were me?

It does means so much to them to have someone who looks like them at school. He's been so happy these past two days. I can see a park meet-up in our future.

I'm with you on the face tats -- if a parent has those, there's no way we're doing a playdate and I have no problem saying no to that. I wonder, what's the line between snobby and just common sense?
"I wonder, what's the line between snobby and just common sense?"

That is the big question right there.

I agree with the other comments. You're being a cautious mom. You don't know this woman. To me a snob wouldn't have spoken to her. You did.
It's human nature to judge a book by it's cover and unfortunately first impressions are usually right.

I do feel for everything that the woman has probably been through though.
Lisa Blah Blah said…
Seconding NYC/Carib Ragazza's comment: "a snob wouldn't have spoken to her. You did." We all make snap judgments about people - we're human. Part of being self-aware, which you clearly are, is when you recognize that you're making snap judgments and then you question why.

I am ALWAYS cautious when my 6-year-old wants to have a playdate with some kid whose parents I don't know well. And for the most part, I do playdates outside the house first, at a playground or out for pizza or something. It makes sense to get to know someone first before you let them into your home. Your home is your most private safe space, and you need to be comfortable with the people you invite in. I think you're being reasonable in being friendly but cautious.

P.S. I could write a whole post about the "Ebonics" thing (see your comment to Black Lit). We get so much crap (from FAMILY!) about how "proper" our child speaks. Really?!?
April said…
I know you well enough that I can say you're not a snob, and yes, you did talk to her even though your initial impression of her was not positive.
Having said that, I probably would've invited them to dinner!
I worked with a program that taught classes to people from shelters. I especially want to support women who have taken that extraordinarily difficult first step. She most likely just left a man who beat her. So my heart goes out to her.
No, you don't have to invite her into her home, but there are plenty of ways that you can let her and her son into your heart. Maybe start with finding out where you can drop off some clothes and toys to donate to the shelter. And a park play date sounds great.
Daniel said…
Los Angelista,

You already know I’d just be called “Racist” for the exact same thoughts …

But, on a personal level, I completely understand. It is the same terrible conundrum you’ve felt (and me too) about your sons and black male violence. Do we risk our personal lives and the lives of our children for the Social Cause? It is always so easy for those without personal vested interest in the life-welfare of another person at heart and mind (i.e. Parent!) to tell others what’s right and wrong to do about such difficult social problems.
All of this lays powerful background to the very real parental decisions about Where you raise a family, Who you want them influenced by, and those difficult, but very honest and necessary discussions about just where the real, direct, personal-safety/circumstantial threats will come from. All of those have their very real, ugly components.
Ones we may struggle to honesty face up to ourselves sometimes.
Kari Carlson said…
wow. i'm not sure what to say except you'll make the decision that's right for you and your kids. i like that you're not biasing your kids against getting to know the other boy on their own terms - at school. and through their impressions you can begin to learn more about the family.

i'm thinking about my own childhood and how many of my friends lived in circumstances vastly different than mine. my best friend's mom had a boyfriend who sometimes slept over when i was there. another close friend lived in the projects and sometimes i'd go there after school and we'd play board games. well, the school was in the projects, so that's wasn't abnormal. but, i have to admit i don't remember ever staying over night there. and then i had a friend who lived in a mansion down the street from the governor's house.

my parents seemed to let me play wherever, with whomever. i don't know if that was good or bad. in some ways, i'm grateful, because i feel comfortable in a lot of different situations. but, in other ways, i wonder if my parents were coming from a naive place or if i was just unaware of the considerations that went into giving me the freedom i felt i had.

i also think, though, that the standard in our family was clear, demonstrated through the culture my parents created in the household. so, i think, no matter what circumstances the other kids are living in - you are in a position to help your kids navigate and understand that every family has different standards and what yours standards are. you also have such a great influence when it comes to them developing decision-making skills, that i wouldn't worry about them making poor or dangerous decisions for the sake of fitting in.
curlykidz said…
I'm a bleeding heart liberal so I probably would have done what April said she would have done... extended the invitation that day.

My heart really ached when I read your story because I felt both sides of it. I moved to a historically black neighborhood because I didn't want my kids to be the only black kids in their class. You said your son has already observed that the other little boy is very nice; I've found that very nice children usually have very nice parents :)

She may not be in the neighborhood for long, but give her and her son a chance. I would definitely err on the side of caution and keep an eye on things, but I'd still give her a chance. I found myself very suddenly single about 18 months ago when my (now) ex and I were having a stupid argument and he verbally threatened me with a gun. In nine years I had never been afraid of him, even though he was more than a foot taller than me and outweighed me by at least a hundred pounds. He had never put his hands on me, had never threatened to put his hands on me, and I would have called anybody who told me one day he would a liar. He left that night, but if he hadn't I would have. I wouldn't have taken anything but my children with me, who had never been exposed to "that kind of environment."
Liz Dwyer said…
True, a real snob wouldn't have even said hi. Thanks, you make me feel better! :)

Brown English Muffin,
I feel for her, too. I have no idea what she's been thru but I feel for her.

My son wants to invite the other boy over for a sleepover already! LOL! I was like, um, can we start with hanging out at the park first?

I feel you on the "proper" thing. Someone back home told me my son talks like a valley girl. "No one would ever know he's black at all!" My son also thinks he's solved the reason he has a hard time understanding the other boy - it's because they're from New Orleans. He says they just moved here.

The program you worked with sounds great. I don't know about cooking her dinner -- I don't want to poison the poor woman! :) My goal right now is just to find her after school again and talk to her more and see if I can set up a time for the boys to play at the park. I think I'll better be able to gauge things from a second interaction.

I know. It reminds me of a conversation I had years ago where someone told me to stop making my children pay for my personal politics because they felt like I put the kids in situations and in neighborhoods I shouldn't. -- And the thing is, I'm sending my kids to a 90% low-income public school because that's my neighborhood school, but the reality is that doesn't mean I want them hanging out with some of the kids. Sigh, I don't know what I think.

I know what you mean, but I do worry about them making poor decisions to fit in. It's weird but as confident as they are, they have their insecurities and I know they're very aware, especially my eldest, of being different & sticking out like sore thumbs in our neighborhood.

So sorry to hear about the situation you were in. Glad you were able to get away safely. I would never have done what April did because I'm waay too paranoid. (This is also why I was never good at dating. I quite simply could not make myself go somewhere with someone I barely knew. I figure that's how people end up dead!) - I don't know about nice kids having nice parents. My son had a friend in kindergarten and they turned out to be swingers who were into black magic and the wife was apparently trying to cast spells on me so I'd want to sleep with her. (I'm totally serious!), Anyway, seeing as how my son says they're from New Orleans, she definitely may not be here long.
nick said…
Sorry, only just caught up with this post, Blogger was playing tricks on me. But for the record, I have to agree with the others and say I don't think you're in any way a snob, you're just being cautious about who your kids hang out with. Which is very understandable considering the horrifying things some families are into, and how little you know about someone you've only just met.
Lola Gets said…
I am not a parent, but I am a snob. Yes, in that moment you were being a snob, but because you are enlightened enough to recognize that, youre not a complete snob, lol.

Take it from a girl who was homeless when she was 10, it aint easy being a homeless kid. I think this new friendship would mean a lot to this new boy, and both boys would learn a lot from each other.

I know youre gonna do the right thing, just keep up apprised!
curlykidz said…
"where someone told me to stop making my children pay for my personal politics because they felt like I put the kids in situations and in neighborhoods I shouldn't."

I have a feeling a lot of people would like to say this to me but just don't have the nerve.
Liz Dwyer said…
Some families are definitely in to some off the wall stuff. I never think I can be too careful anymore. You really really never know.

I can't even imagine being a homeless kid. It's got to be unbelievably tough. I'm glad my son is in the same class as this boy because my son is really warm and loving -- I think he's the welcoming face the other boy probably needs right now.
Liz Dwyer said…
Whether they ever work up the courage to say it or not, we can only do what we think is best. I try to teach my sons that we're all people even if we're in different circumstances, so you're not any better or worse than someone else. It's just hard for ME to remember that sometimes.

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