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“You could be President,” my eight-year-old son told me.
We were leaving the California Science Center, and he was looking through his book about United States Presidents, reading me the qualifications needed to be President.
“You’re 40. You only need to be 35. You were born in the United States, and you’ve never lived in another country.”
“That’s true,” I replied. “But I still couldn’t be President.”
“Why not?” my son asked.
“Because I have no experience. Most people who are elected President have worked with laws and government before. Some have been governors or worked in Congress. I have no experience. People wouldn’t vote for me because they’d think ‘what does she know about being President?’ ”
My son was satisfied with my answer. Yet during the drive home, in between a conversation about the space shuttle and the newly discovered fact that President Coolidge had a pet raccoon, I thought about what I had told my son.
My son was born in 2008, the year President Obama was elected as our country’s first African-American President. I took it as a sign — that my biracial son was entering a different country than the one I did. When my husband and I were born in 1976, there were still many opportunities that weren’t available to women and African-Americans.
But for my son, it’s a completely different world. There are pictures of my son, wearing his onesie, sitting on our couch, and clapping along to President Obama’s Inauguration Ceremony on the television. This world, a world in which an African-American man has been President, is all he knows.
I have an old poster of the Presidents of the United States stashed away in my son’s bedroom closet. My poster (from my teaching days) stops with President George W. Bush. My poster features only white men. I told my son that never again will a poster of United Stated Presidents look like that. The current posters include a picture of an African-American man; the next poster, I optimistically told my son, will include a picture of a woman.
And he doesn’t question that in the least. For my son, it’s perfectly plausible.
But one night at dinner, we were talking about the fact that at one point in our country’s history, no one in our family would have had the right to vote or had the opportunity to be an astronaut.
“Just because Daddy’s dark. Because you’re white. Because I’m mixed dark and white. That’s so unfair,” my son said.
“You’re right. It was unfair. And we’re so lucky that it’s not like that any more,” I said.
My son was genuinely surprised to learn that women couldn’t have been Apollo astronauts and walked on the moon. He was shocked to learn that it was a big deal when NASA decided women could become astronauts.
For my son, it’s a non-issue. People are people. My husband and I are Mommy and Daddy first; the fact that we’re a white woman and a black man aren’t important to him. Likewise, when I was teaching, my son was lovingly and competently cared for by a wonderful woman (who just happens to be Muslim).
At home, one of our often-read books is Todd Parr’s It’s Okay to Be Different. I used to read it to my kindergarten students at the beginning of each school year. And though my son is a third-grader now, from time to time we still re-read the book and enjoy the bright, colorful illustrations and the simple text with the powerful message.
“It’s okay to be a different color.”
“It’s okay to come from a different place.”
“It’s okay to have different kinds of friends.”
This is how we’ve been raising our son. This is how our son sees the world.
Just as my son assumes there will always be carrots in his lunch box, milk at dinner, and a story at bedtime, I do think he takes equality for granted.
If you ask my son what he wants to be when he grows up, his answer will change based on the day’s activities. Sometimes he wants to be a firefighter. Sometimes an astronaut. Sometimes a basketball player for the Los Angeles Clippers. Sometimes a rock star. Sometimes a doctor.
There is nothing he can’t do simply because of how he looks. There is nothing he can’t be because of his DNA.
Recently I asked my son what he thought makes a good President. “How should a President behave?”
My son told me that a President needs to be “hard working,” “make fair laws,” “have good concentration,” and “be polite to others.”
I smiled at my son. “I agree.”