The Children’s Museum was my idea, but I thought it was a good one because I could see how Colin and his son got along without being too obvious about it. Colin and I had only been dating for a month, and the fact that this was the first time I was meeting five year old Carter was a good sign. Too many of the mothers on my caseload introduced their children to new boyfriends within hours of meeting them, and the results were often disastrous.
While Colin paid our entry fees at the front counter, I followed Carter to the entrance of the giant play room. A two story rocket dominated the room, covered in Apollo space program decals. Children dressed in shiny silver astronaut coats and helmets were climbing into the rocket and to the side, a desk with a sign that said “Mission Control” had video screens displaying the children playing inside. Carter could not wait any longer and dashed to the Mission Control desk and started punching buttons. Nothing happened, but he kept pushing them all, just incase they rewarded persistence.
“Carter, you don’t just walk up to things and start pushing buttons,” Colin said as he walked up to us at Mission Control.
“Can I go in the rocket?” Carter asked, ignoring the scolding. Colin nodded and Carter ran off to the rocket.
“He’s really bad about pushing buttons. At my mother’s last week, he kept starting the microwave while it was empty.”
I nodded. “It’s safe here, that is what it’s all about.” I moved out of the way as a child in a bright purple tee shirt almost crashed into me.
“It’s one of the summer programs,” Colin said, pointing at the purple tee shirt. “Lady at the desk said they would be only be here another thirty minutes. Looks like a bunch of hellions.”
“Oh, they are just kids, and probably excited to have so much air conditioned space to run around in.” They were running around, and I could see some sand flying in the dinosaur digging pit, but all in all, the staff in the matching purple shirts seemed to be handling them. “There are worse things than running in a children’s museum.”
Colin rubbed his nose and walked over to the rocket, looking in the windows. Carter appeared in the window and they touched hands through the glass. It reminded me of last week, I had gone to the maximum security women’s prison and saw a child touching hands with her mom through the bullet proof glass of the visiting room. Children worship their parents, whatever they have done- the line repeated throughout my training ran through my mind.
Carter tired of the rocket and set his sights on the dinosaur sand pit next. Colin and I followed over. One of the boys in the purple shirt was kneeling in the middle of the sand pit, straddling a large fake dinosaur bone and tossing sand into the air by the handful. His black curly hair looked almost gray with the sand in it. He looked about three.
“Hey, no throwing sand, “ Colin said to the child. The boy paused, then picked up a handful of sand and hurled it at Colin. None reached him, but he started moving toward the entrance of the sand pit.
I held his arm to stop him. “He’s a little kid, and his teacher is coming.”
“He needs to learn to respect people.” Colin said.
“I am sure his family is working on it. You’re not in uniform, so you don’t get respect automatically in the real world.” I smiled and tried to keep it light.
Colin snorted. “That kid is going to end up as a frequent flyer in my squad car in ten years, you mark my words.”
“Jacob! You have lost your privilege to play in the sand!” A woman in a purple tee came over to the little boy in the sand pit. She knelt down to his level and I could hear her say that since he was not following the rules, he could not play in the sand any more today. He could try again the next time they came.
“Shouldn’t be a next time,” Colin said under his breath.
Meanwhile, Carter pushed one of the little girls in a purple shirt out of the life-sized model helicopter. Surely I misheard him shout, “N—rs can’t be pilots Stupid!”
I hurried over to the little girl who was sitting on the floor, bottom lip trembling. “Are you ok, sweetie?”
A teacher from her school arrived just as I got there. The little girl stood up and hugged her teacher. “That boy pushed me and called me a n—r!”
The teacher, a woman of color herself, had a look come over her face that I had seen before. She was going into full mother bear mode. “Excuse me, young man, but is this true?”
Colin got there at the same time. “What’s the trouble?”
“This young man called my student a derogatory racial name,” the teacher said.
“I am sure she misheard him,” Colin said. “Carter would never say something anything derogatory. And he has lots of black friends at his school.”
I could feel my eyebrows shoot up to my hairline. Did he really just say that? I get that he wanted to protect his son, but really? The teacher asked for an apology, but when she didn’t get one and saw that Colin wasn’t going to force Carter to admit he has said the n word, she took the girl off to another section of the museum.
Carter jumped back on to the helicopter and started mashing the buttons. Colin smiled. “He’d make a good pilot, eh?”
“You know, that’s why they get shot, the blacks. They don’t listen, they don’t respect.”
The Children Museum was my idea. I would take families from my caseload here on family visits. The foster parents would bring the children and I would meet the mother and/or father to supervise the family time together. The neutral territory was good, sometimes the foster parents could talk to the biological family about how the children were doing, things that were not in court reports and child plans, like how Brittney learned to ride a two wheeler this week and Corey finally got over his fear of flushing down his poop in the potty. I came to the children’s museum so my families could see how other families parented, I could point out how that mom over there didn’t shout across the room to her child, but corrected the behavior quietly and without the entire place knowing that she was in trouble.
I came to the children’s museum to see how my new boyfriend got along with his son. I don’t know if I would have suggested it if I knew I would learn he was a racist.