We finally made it out of quarrantine and into Singapore. That first day out of quarrantine felt like absolute bliss. Everything looked brighter, smelled sweeter and tasted WAY better. The whole family took in a big sigh of relief to be starting our new chapter in Asia. Not quite sure what we were going to find on the walls outside our hotel, but more than ready to find out.
With the prospect of starting a new school and a new workplace, the next thing we all began to focus on was the art of making friends.
Our youngest was going to start school the very next day so while we were busy finding a school uniform shop that was open and relatively nearby, he started getting nervous about who would play with him at recess. As his 4 year old brain nervously thought about what the first days of school in this new country would bring, friendship and acceptance were very much on his mind.
...as long as he gets to be Spiderman
Right on que, just like any mom would say, I told him that he would have the chance to make lots of friends once he started school. He wouldn’t be the only new kid in school either (this is the nice thing about a huge expat community and international schools, lots of families coming in and out-even during pandemic times). At his young age, life is really all about finding kids who understand that he's always going to want to be Spiderman but will accept any superhero character that they want to be. He's seeking for kids who are open enough to let one more into a game of tag and hopefully willing to share their toys every now and then. Luckily, he found just that and much more.
Side-eye from my daughter
Our oldest had a couple of weeks to wait until she could start school in person as her grade was thrown back into a virtual school session spurred on by rising cases for kids under 12. This made her focus more on the community of kids in our building, yet that was harder to break through due to different ages, activities each were into & how long they’ve been here. In addition, we also had Covid restrictions in place limiting everyone to groups of 2 to at one time, making opportunities to meet-up with new friends a bit more challenging.
Although the kids were worried, I hoped that they would both find their people and that it would happen faster than they knew with school, activities and a big condo full of young families. Each kid’s personality, age and penchant for being open dictated how fast they found people to play with, that then wanted to play with them too.
Funny thing is that they are both rather outgoing and social kids, but as I seem to have forgetten, just because you have other kids around, doesn’t mean you’ll have anything in common or care to play with them (I got a lot of side-eye from my daughter when I suggested she play with whatever kids were in the pool, park, playground). I think I had taken for granted all the similarities, long relationships and shared experiences they had with kids in our neighborhood and school. Those connections are what weave us together with others and this is no different for kids.
Being the only
What I wished didn’t follow us here were the issues around being one of the only Black children in their class/grade and how that would skew their experience and mine. Prior to getting married, we had purposely moved to a very diverse community in NY ( my hometown) so that our kids weren’t having the same experience my husband had growing up in Minnesota. Clearly we knew that we would be in the minority in Asia, but with so many cultures making up Singapore, thought that would somehow have this affect on the kids that “we all have unique differences" with no one held up as better or worse in this spectrum.
While there there are so many different cultures living in Singapore, it is quite remarkable when you see another Black person, as there are so few of us here and even a smaller proportion from the U.S.
This first came out in comments my daughter received in school about her hair and features. I wondered why she started inquiring about the cost & process of straightening her hair. Then she began requesting her hair in new styles besides braids or top buns to "prove her hair was long and beautiful". But learned quickly that it's because she was dealing with lots of hair touching at school (ugh!), questions from kids about her heritage and questions and self-doubts about her own looks.
While I tried to convince myself that a lot of that is just part of being the new kid, I came face to face with explicit racism from a child. A girl outwardly stated that she didn’t want to play with my daughter because she was Black. This girl told her father this right in front of me. Her father was mortified and apologized profusely, saying he didn’t raise his daughter to think that way but there it was. Impossible to ignore and only made me wonder what was being said when the grown-ups weren't around.
These were not the lessons I hoped they'd learn
Back home we had so many friends and family surrounding us each day so that we never felt out of place for long. This may sound unimportant but it was one more touchstone for our kids that suddenly wasn’t there anymore.
It goes so much deeper than seeing kids that look different from you. It goes back to the innate societal questions of what and who is being held up as valued? Are the kids seeing that all nationalities, cultures, languages are valuable in our world? Is that message coming through loud enough from us? What about from the administration? Other parents? Individual kids on the playground?
This didn’t stop our daughter from making friends, but did make me want to reinforce the beauty that lies within her Haitian-American culture so she stands proudly amoung her friends with the “long shaky hair”.
But school makes up 80% of a kids world at this stage. That’s where the social lessons happen and where girls try to learn the impossible magic trick of simultaneously trying fit in and stand out. Show me that I’m just like everyone else but also how I’m uniquely me. The conundrum is exhausting and you realize way too late that it’s completely pointless. But try telling an 8 year old this. I remember going through this phase myself for way too long. So I send her off to school each day and I spend our dinner time conversation trying to see what lessons need to get untangled.
All things said, the kids are remarkable and I'm continually impressed by how they have simply understood the assignment, rolled with the changes and are making their way. They are slowly making connections as they spend more time with their classmates, bus buddies, neighbors and meeting kids for play dates. The connections are happening, some faster than others, but it’s the long organic process of building meaningful relationships. That’s one lesson that I’m really glad they are learning.
Ok, next week let’s scuba dive into “How to make friends in your 40s without looking desperate :)”