Monday, December 9, 2013

Black and White Language

At the last Summer Olympics, NBC's running anthem was Phillip Phillips, "Home".  They played it non-stop.  It's a cool song, and appropriate, but like any cool song, after you've listened to it a few dozen times, it starts to get old. 

My recollection is that initially Lily liked "Home".  We even downloaded it to play on her ipod.  But when we played the song and Lily saw Phillip Phillips album cover come up, it terrified her.  She recoiled from it, backpedaling and warding it off with a shaking hand.  Here's the offending cover art:
I have no idea what the issue with this image is, but she does not like it.  She associated the song with "America" and uncomfortable side effect of this was that anytime the song played, she would loudly proclaim, "I no like America!  I hate America!" 

So on occasion Lily would blurt out that she hated our country, and while it amused me it also made me a little nervous.

This past weekend I picked her up from her dance class.  She loves dance class, but the pick up process in the hallway is cramped and crowded.  People jostle for position, picking up backpacks, putting on sweats or jeans, or snow boots or whatever.  While trying to talk to the instructor, and being introduced to the new BSC and TSS I was also attempting to transition her to the bathroom so we could change or at least have a potty break before heading to McDonald's for lunch.

One of her classmates was sitting on the bench next to Lily, I guess maybe too close for Lily's comfort.  Honestly, she had lots of room, but I think it was just a bit much all at once.  Lily's reaction to this was to tell the little girl, "I don't like the girl.  I want the girl to leave."  As the mother watched, I attempted half-heartedly to "cover" for Lily with, "Oh, Lily you know you like her, you just don't like putting on your shoes," or something to that effect.  Lily countered with, "I don't like that girl," and honestly I was just too flustered with the whole process to even attempt to engage the mother with any sort of face-saving on Lily's behalf or peace offering to the little girl, who did not react in any overt way whatsoever to any of it.

I don't know, I guess that was a daddy blunder, but I just couldn't process which thing to take care of first, and so I responded by getting her out of the hallway, quickly changing her shoes, saying goodbye to her grandparents, gathering her things and getting her into the bathroom.  I felt bad leaving this weird..."I don't like that girl" thing lingering, but I just have to have faith that the mother understands how a special needs dance class can bring a unique mixture of ...offensive/touching moments into close concert with each other and pray she "gets it."  We'll make peace next week.

Okay, put that in your back pocket for now.  Sometimes Lily doesn't like things, and she tells you, loudly, and she doesn't understand how it might be interpreted.  Please don't take the leap that suggests to you that it means she lacks empathy.  It's not about empathy.  It's about expressive speech.  She didn't like the girl sitting so close to her but lacked the words to say, "please scoot over."  It was just pissing her off, so she expressed it in a manner that made sense to her.

Alright, meanwhile...

Upstairs and white.  Lily has trouble with upstairs/downstairs.  I get it.  It's got to be difficult to put it together.  I wish I could understand how the human mind does it.  When you're standing at the top looking down, then the main floor is downstairs.  When you're standing in the basement looking up, the main floor is upstairs.  Climbing or descending isn't even a thing with her really.  She just goes upstairs.  And you as her caregiver need to understand that upstairs means downstairs depending upon where she is, and where it is she wants to go. 

I don't know if the upstairs/downstairs thing is similar to the autistic pronoun issue.  It reminds me of that.  Lily does that as well.  She uses "you" or "she" for "I", and sometime "I" for "you".  For example, She holds in her hand a sippy cup.  Her arm is outstretched.  She says to you, "I want to hold."  She pushes it toward you.  She wants you to hold it.  You can get that from the context, but sometimes she isn't pushing it toward you.  "I want leave", in the context of the bathroom may be her asking you to give her some privacy.  As a related sidebar, there are a couple fantastic posts about autism and processing pronouns, but the concept of you/me, I/you, my/your reminds me a little of this perspective shift.  If you have the time I really recommend both of the links:

Jon Brock:
Bec Oakley:
(with CARTOONS!!!!)

But I digress.  Upstairs/ and white.  She is typically really good with colors, but for some reason she has issues with black and white.  She often identifies the color black as white.  I know I kind of went astray talking about the upstairs/downstairs thing, but really it was to try to lend context that some things we have just been dealing with for a while, word concepts that seem easy to some people Lily struggles with.  Up/down black/white even yes/no to an should be simple, right?  It's not though, and so we gently nudge her in the right direction when she opens the door to the basement and says she wants to go upstairs when she means downstairs. 

"You want to go downstairs, Lily," we say.  Or you mean "black" we say, when she's pointing to something black but calling it white.

Lily watches dance recital videos every day.  (I swear to god I'm getting to my point.  If you made it this far I applaud you.)  She identifies the recitals based on the colors of their covers.  We have:

Rainbow Recital:  2009
Pink Recital:  2010
Purple Recital:  2011
Orange Recital:  2012.

She also identifies the dances by the color of the costumes.  There are some dances she has no interest in and asks us to skip over.  Some dances she asks for specifically. "I want to see red girls," she requests, and I dutifully skip to the spanish dance where the girls are dressed in red dresses.  We're almost to the point where I know the track number of each dance so that when she asks for "yellow girls" I know that it is the 38th track on the "rainbow" recital.
Lily before dance class, practicing her pirouettes with pink girls.

We were watching a dance that we often skip.  Four girls in black costumes danced to a contemporary background song.

"I don't like white girls," Lily said.

I groaned.  This was my cue to skip to the next dance.  I began to automatically correct her, "No Lily, you don't like bl-..." and froze.  Did I really want my filter-less 8 year-old loudly proclaiming her dislike of "black girls"? 

(envisions) "I don't like black girls.  I no like them.  I hate black girls.  I want black girls to leave."

I'm not positive where to even start on that one.   I mean, I guess really it's pretty intuitive, get white and black and just work with her on the colors.  Before I started to correct her though, and realized how my correction made me sound like I was indoctrinating her into some white supremacist organization , it wasn't really in my top 10 list of things to work with her on.  Except that...I really can't have her saying that she doesn't like black boys/girls because nobody who would require that explanation would believe that it wasn't something she didn't pick up from listening to her racist parents.

I can picture the scene..."Oh, she doesn't mean mean black people, she means the outfit they're wearing, and um...she...doesn't know the color white from black."

Suuure that's what she meant you racist bastard.

I'm confident that we'll get this all squared away, after all, she no longer tells us she hate America, now it's been corrected to Phillip Phillips.


  1. I no like the long blog post!

    Did I say it right? You're just going to have to ask Lily!

    (P.S. She looks like an angel in her leotard)

  2. Good luck trying to hide your racist parenting in public!

    1. Thank you, I really appre-...hey, wait a minute...