Anyone who has ever come into contact with children will know that toddler + public place = embarrassment of some kind. Most of these cringe-worthy moments pass me by now; I have developed too thick a skin to even recognise when my child has committed a slight faux pas. But some things are so obviously wrong that they are impossible to ignore.
We attend a church-run toddler group each week, and on the back of the door there is a poster with a white baby and a black baby; both crawling and just wearing nappies. Back in the day when Sam’s vocabulary was limited to ‘no’, ‘more’, ‘dog’ and ‘digger’, something really quite terrible happened: he pointed to the black baby and made extremely loud monkey noises. Feeling exceptionally hot under the collar, I shushed him and hurriedly said ‘that’s not a monkey, Sam’ before hightailing it out of there.
The second time it happened, I explained that the photograph was not of a monkey; it was, in fact, of two baby boys. ‘Look how smiley those two baby boys are, Sam! Those two baby boys are crawling, just like you used to when you were a baby!’ – Still amid continuous and noisy ‘OO OO OO! AA AA AA!’s.
On the third occurrence in three consecutive weeks, I tried another tactic; ‘Sam those babies have the same hair colour – look! But they have different coloured skin. And you have the same coloured skin as your friend Jimmy, but you have very different hair. But we’re all people, aren’t we?!’
‘OO OO OO! AA AA AA!’
…Ok perhaps that one was a little advanced, but I really had no other trick up my sleeve. The strange thing is…he only ever did it for that poster; on kids TV, you can guarantee that each child featured will be from a different ethnic background (and, somewhat amusingly, the white child usually has ginger hair). TV; fine. Books; fine. The little girl who sometimes came to that very same toddler group; fine. But for some reason, this particular poster was bringing out Sam’s inner racist.
On the fourth week, when Sam’s increasingly realistic monkey noises were once again displayed at the top of his voice…I kept quiet, hoping that showing no interest at all would be the thing to discourage him.
I had to endure a couple more painful sessions until he finally grew bored. And that, I thought, was that.
…Until today, when he pointed to the poster and said; loud and proud: ‘Wot dat black monkey doing, Mummy?’
I don’t think there’s much else I can do, except to warn others of the dangers of living in an area where every bloomin person is white.
And also, when in a flustered state of extreme embarrassment, DO NOT – under any circumstances – say, in a fake jolly voice: ‘Oh do excuse my son he’s obsessed with monkeys.’ Unsurprisingly, such explanations do not alleviate the awkwardness of the situation. One of the worst things I have ever said; albeit accidentally and without any malice or meaning behind it, other than to imply that he pretends all people are monkeys…our lion game backfired when he started having nightmares; so recently we’ve been spending most of our time swinging through imaginary trees and eating imaginary bananas.
Maybe it is time to impersonate a different animal…