We were excited to invite Erica, one of our Echo Youth staff, to write another blog post for us, and she sent us this great story.
The smell of freshly wrapped and fried egg rolls was my constant companion last Thursday evening. I was a table-length away from the confident hands of Vietnamese parents who served no less than 200 egg rolls in an hour’s time at our elementary school carnival. The food table was near the karaoke stage, providing live entertainment as I served hot dogs to anyone with 3 tickets to spend on the ballpark classic.
It was like sensory overload in HD as the food aromas layered upon each other and mingled with the sounds of Rhianna, Pharrell and the Cha Cha Slide. One of the best karaoke performers was a bright-eyed, confident boy who couldn’t contain his excitement as he questioned, “What Does the Fox Say?” His mom waited for him at the end of the stage and they danced their way to the cotton candy booth, her sashaying made more dramatic by her flowing hijab.
This was our last carnival at the elementary school our three kids have attended for a span of 9 years. They spent over 1,200 hours per year in the classrooms and hallways of the place that shaped some of their earliest memories and friendships.
The school is within a mile of our house and we chose it because of the proximity, the cultural variety of students and adults, and a gut feeling that our kids would be well-cared for and empowered. The school didn’t stand out academically, but we were hoping the environment would provide what we couldn’t at home – diversity of thought, experience, language and perspective. We wanted them to see curiosity in faces that were many shades of brown and recognize kindness in eyes that were different from the round blues and greens in our family.
Through their elementary years, we tried to walk alongside our kids as they navigated the bumpy terrain of making and keeping friends. Almost always as the only white, middle class kids in their classes, there were additional twists and turns as I tried to communicate birthday party details to parents who were proficient in languages other than English or who practiced different traditions for their family celebrations.
We had countless conversations with our kids about things they were learning from, and about, their friends. Each of them can name a short list of guys and gals who helped them in some way during those important years. Friends who made them feel like they belonged, drew out their silly sides or encouraged them to try something new. Our kids did the same for them. These are jackpot qualities for any friend, but we considered them more valuable in the long run because of the inter-cultural nature of the exchanges.
Starting a few years ago, our older kids moved from elementary school to a nearby middle and high school. In the same school district and neighborhood, these school communities also represent a broad range of cultural backgrounds.
But their friends don’t anymore.
The diversity of their social environment we so intentionally tried to create in their early years seems largely absent as they make more independent choices. When playing on a bigger playground, they have gravitated towards people who are a lot more like them. Their friends’ names are similar to our own, accents are imperceptible, and our kids have a lot more life experiences in common with their current crowd. Their newer friends seem kind and polite, but we worry our kids’ perspectives might start to narrow if they get too comfortable with like-mindedness.
When I think of the proverb “train your children in the ways of the Lord and as they get older they’ll stick with it,” (my paraphrase) I want to claim it as a prescription or a promise, of which it is neither. It’s a reminder that what kids experience in childhood has profound meaning and will shape their future. It’s that simple and that daunting.
We’re trusting God with the developing minds and hearts of our kids, especially as they move further into independence. And we’re grateful for the nine years of memories at a school that helped reinforce ideas and values we think are important. We might need to go back to the Carnival next year as visitors, although the egg rolls and karaoke will make it feel like home.