Why I bought my light-skinned daughter a dark-skinned baby doll

I remember looking through the American Girl Doll catalog as a young girl and wondering why they had Addie, the black doll.

There was one black girl I remember at my elementary school.  She was bused in from downtown for an opportunity to go to a better suburban school.  There are a few times I remember her having a very snotty nose.  I thought she was weird.

I don’t remember anything about people of color from my time in junior high school.  Probably because I didn’t look past myself very often, right mom?

In high school, I had two guy friends who were black who attended our youth group.

But really, it wasn’t until college, when I was serving as a Young Life leader at an urban high school that I can actually remember befriending people with a dark skin color.  That was the first time I had an up close view of the black community.  I visited their homes and their churches.  I learned about their families and their dreams.  It was also the first time I befriended people who were a part of a lower socioeconomic class than me.  I had done a service project or mission trip to serve people, but I’d never built real relationships with people different than me before.  I learned about what it was like to grow up in poverty and to continue to live in it.  I learned that a high school diploma was truly an accomplishment.  As I befriended these girls and their families, my love for them grew.  They are part of some of my best college memories.

In light of recent events in America, I think it’s easy to see that many people are like me.  A lot of us haven’t grown up with a clue of what it’s like to be black in America.  Sure we aren’t racist – we don’t think less of them because they are a different skin color.  We have just grown up separate from them and we haven’t looked for opportunities to go out of our way to find a way to interact.  Our paths haven’t crossed. The generations before us did a lot of hard work to fight for black rights and to stop segregation in America.  Perhaps for the last few decades we’ve lived on cruise control when it comes to the black-white relationship in America.  Over the last two years, I think it’s been made clear that it’s time to turn off cruise control and do the hard work to move forward.

Last week I went to Target to buy the first baby doll for my daughter Emerson.  She’s the cutest blonde-haired blue-eyed girl around, in my very biased opinion.  There were tons of options on the shelves.  Baby Alive was far too complicated for her age.  Several had very creepy eyes.  I wanted something that was all fabric and could be washed.  Along with something where she could practice taking care of a baby in order to get ready to be a big sister one day.  I settled on one doll in particular that met my requirements.  It came with a magnetic bottle and paci, as well as a plush toy and a little book for the doll.  Bonus! There are other outfits I can buy for it in the future.  There were two different models on the shelf: one light-skinned and one dark-skinned.  I instinctively grabbed the light-skinned blonde-haired doll.  However before I could walk away, I hesitated.

It’s a lie when people say that they don’t see color.  We all see different skin color.  Our differences are a beautiful thing when we learn to appreciate them.  Gina Torres is one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen and I love her dark coloring.  With my senses, I will acknowledge that others look different than me.  What I have trained my heart to do is to love people regardless of our differences.  What I want to train my daughter to do is to love people regardless of our differences.

I put the light-skinned doll back on the shelf and I walked out of Target with the dark-skinned one. Actually, that’s a lie.  I put the light-skinned doll back on the shelf and I walked out of Target without a doll.  I was convicted that I should buy the dark-skinned one, but I was worried people would think it was weird.  That evening I talked to JR about it and he affirmed by decision to buy the darker doll.  The next day I went back to Target, no complaints there, and bought the dark-skinned doll.

Can you guess what my sweet girl has been doing for the past week?  She has been hugging that baby doll.  She has been giving it a bottle and a paci.  She carries it around the house with her.  She loves that doll.

Emerson with doll

This doll won’t be what compels her to love people who don’t look like her all the days of her life.  I’m not naive enough to believe that.  But, I do believe that it will be part of the narrative of how we train Emerson to love people regardless of their differences.  From her earliest memories, I want her to know that we are on this earth to show God’s unconditional love to all people.  Later in life when she interacts with people who don’t look like her or think like her, I hope there is a faint memory of her love for this doll or at least a photograph of it.

In her future, it will feel complicated to figure out how to love people who aren’t like her.  How can I avoid saying something dumb to them? Are they going to like the same food as me?  Will I offend them if I do this? Right now it’s simple: she hugs that dark-skinned baby doll as tightly as she would a white one.

 

Dad’s day

When Emerson was just a few weeks old, JR and I went to lunch at one of our favorite Chinese restaurants with our precious girl asleep in her carrier.  The man sitting next to us struck up a conversation with us when he saw JR’s “Young Life” hat.  We talked briefly about ministry, DTS and our newborn.  The man finished his meal, exited the restaurant and then came back to our table with a book for JR on being a dad.  As he handed him the book he said, “Be a dad, not just a father.”  After he left, we talked about this statement and what it means to be a dad.

It seems to me that father is the term used for the role and dad is more a term of endearment.  Dads do more than just donate a sperm.  Dads provide.  Dads love.  Dads show up.  Dads forgive.  Dads encourage.  Dads teach.  Dads discipline.  Dads cheer.  Dads support.  Dads hug.  Dads play.

daddy and me blanket

I recently returned from a week of Young Life camp with teen moms.  As I listened to their stories, I was shocked by how many of their parents have completely dropped the ball on parenting.  The effects have been devastating to these teenagers.  These girls have needed their dads and most of them barely have a father.  After every week of Young Life camp I attend, I am incredibly thankful for both my parents, especially my dad.  My dad has always been active and involved in my life.  He has embodied what it means to be a dad.

Daddy and me alex baptism

While I was growing up, my dad played with me.  Whenever he came home from work he would jump in with whatever I was doing.  He played make believe.  He played with toys.  He played tennis with me.  He wrestled with us.  He tickled us.  We played hide and seek for hours.  I remember thinking of him as my playmate, not just an adult.

Daddy and me selfie

I can’t remember a time where I ever doubted my dad’s love for me.  He made it clear with his words and his actions that he loved me.  He communicated his love for me over and over again.  He said, “I love you.”  He gave me hugs and kisses.  He gave me back tickles for hours.  He came to my side in the middle of the night when I yelled for him to ask for a drink of water from the cup on my nightstand.  Bless him for that.  As I have become an adult, he has called me and texted me.  Once we started living in separate cities, he took me to fancy dinners when he was in town.  He has made it a priority to see me.  I have always known that he loves me.

Daddy and me

Before I write them, I almost want to eat these words.  My former teenage self is cringing right now.  In my head, I can hear my mom saying, “You’ll thank us for this later.”  Part of me hates it, but she’s right.  My dad wasn’t afraid to tell me no.  I am so thankful for that.  Yes, he was a little easier to get a yes out of than mom; but, he still gave me rules and boundaries.  He wasn’t afraid of taking away a privilege.  He was fine not being my friend for a few hours, days or weeks.  He gave me a curfew.  He grounded me on occasion.  He yelled at me when I deserved it.  He corrected me if I mouthed off to my mother.  Much to my dismay, I did not run my house when I was a teenager.  Already with Emerson, I am learning that saying no may be one of the best ways I can love her.  My dad told me no when he knew it was going to be in my best interest for the long-term.  As an adolescent, I did not know how to always choose what was best for me.  My dad communicated his love for me by stepping in and giving me guidance and boundaries when I needed them most.

Hook em daddy and me

My father is a dad because he played, he loved and he said no.  I love him so!

 

Happy Dad’s Day!

Wedding daddy and me

 

We had a baby. Seven months later…

And just like that, in the blink of an eye, seven months passed.

 

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We had a baby.  I liked her more than I thought I would, therefore I quit my full time job.  JR decided to go to work for Raymond Harris Architects while studying for and taking the CPA exams.  I decided to go back on Young Life staff to lead YoungLives at Thomas Jefferson High School part-time.  In the whirlwind of it all, we signed another year lease at our current home because what crazy person wants to move with a two month old while both adults change jobs?  Not this crazy person.

So much of our life has changed over the past few months.  JR left a role in full time ministry.  I gained a part-time one.  I have this small child that is somewhat permanently attached to my hip.  We’ve been trying to figure out what it looks like to love the Lord and serve the Lord while the world spins particularly fast and we have very little extra margin.

This fall I met a lady named Valarie who is an empty nester.  She’s wonderful and has offered multiple times to watch Emerson for me to give me a few hours to do whatever I need.  Sometimes this has been some meetings for YoungLives.  Sometimes it’s been heading to play tennis.  One time I just sat outside and did nothing for several hours.  Valarie has used her time to love Emerson and to love me.  (Attention empty nesters, there are lots of young moms in your world willing to give you a baby fix.) She’s been a gift to our family.  On one particular Thursday, I used my free hours to go visit Donte.

JR talks to him weekly on Sunday nights.  I write letters back and forth with him weekly, as does my mom.  We communicate with him decently frequently.  But on that afternoon, he shared something with me that none of us had heard before.

“I took over leading the daily bible study, it’s pretty hard to think of new lessons to teach all the time.  I’m not sure how you and JR do it.”

Wait what?!? You’re leading a bible study in jail? How did we not know this?  Freak out began in my head.

I asked him what he was teaching on that week.  He said he was looking for stories in scripture where people were up against a wall and God came through for them.  I can see why prisoners would relate to that.

Donte has been stuck in jail awaiting trial for 11 months now.  (We are getting pretty close to trial now and we appreciate your prayers for that process.)  But, he’s been using his time stuck for God’s glory.  God and heaven and eternity are real to Donte.  He wants to make them real to other people.  He’s doing what he can, where he is right now to share God with other people.  He isn’t letting his time stuck go to waste.

It’s easy for me to feel stuck in this season.  Stuck at home during nap time.  Stuck with a little on my hip.  Stuck with no extra time to serve as a family because JR has to study.  But I don’t want my stuck time to go to waste.  Like my friend Donte, I want to do what I can, where I am right now to share God with other people.  Right now, sharing God with other people doesn’t look like changing my circumstances or finding some new margin.

It’s being proactive about building relationships with other moms who have a schedule like me.  It’s about parenting alongside teen moms and talking about Jesus’s love for them.  It’s about planting seeds of love, hope and eternity in the heart of Emerson.

God does not waste time or plans or seasons.  I don’t plan to waste mine either.