Danielle was only four when she burst through the front door, having just gotten off the school bus, after preschool. Charging through the living room, she spotted me in the dining room and launched into a speech while she headed toward me. While it was comical to see such a little person behave so dramatically, her outrage seemed real enough that she had my full attention.
"They are MEAN to him!" she raged, her little fist hammering the table top for emphasis.
"Who is mean to who?" I interrupted.
"Those kids on the bus! They are MEAN to the little brown boy!" She looked up at me, hands on her hips, her eyes wide, incredulous. I knew she expected me to right this injustice immediately. It was the first one she had discovered in her very new Out In The World On Her Own adventures.
"They make fun of him and make fun of him and make fun of him." Her golden head nodded emphatically with each repetition. "They laugh at him. They copy the way he talks. They hurt his feelings!" I watched her while I listened. This was something very different for her, this little girl I knew so well. I had never seen her just this way before. I even saw flashes of anger in her green eyes.
"The way he talks...?" I prompted, as if she needed prompting. I sat down at the table and set her on my lap.
"He doesn't talk perfect, but that's just because he's a little kid!" this four-year-old elderly person informed me loudly, inches from my face. She looked directly into my eyes, needing answers. "WHY are they so MEAN?"
My husband and I had been a little apprehensive about sending her to and from preschool ("Headstart") on a bus with many of the kids so much older and bigger and tougher than she was. This was our baby of the family, our sheltered miniature princess, and it was not easy to back off and let her face the world without us for a few hours a day ... Alas, even princesses grow up.
"Do you think they might be doing that just because he's new?" I asked her.
She thought for a minute. "No. When I was new, they didn't make fun of me."
I took a deep breath. "Do you think maybe they tease him because his skin is black?"
She thought for a minute, clearly puzzled. Then she wrinkled her nose and said, "You mean brown?" I nodded and she went on: "Because he's BROWN? You don't make fun of someone just because of that!"
I told her I hoped she was right. She was learning lessons none of us should need to learn. Man's inhumanity to man ... Kid's inhumanity to kids ... Whatever the reason, people can be so cruel.
(Since we were looking into that subject, and since Danielle has a Downs' syndrome sister who rode on the same bus, I asked quietly, "Does anyone on the bus make fun of Shannon, Danielle?"
I'll never forget the look she gave me. My question threw her totally off guard. Her brow furrowed, her nose wrinkled again and she asked, "Why in the world would they make fun of Shannon?" The very idea was ludicrous. Her mother could be so silly sometimes ...
Relief was great ...
But just in case, just in case there really was a flash of racial prejudice or any other mean-streak residing in the preschool bus in our little rural neighborhood, it was necessary to take a bit of action. First, I telephoned the principal and informed him that my preschooler had come home upset because of the way a little boy was treated on the bus. I told him what she had told me, and he asked me to thank her for him, for alerting us to a possible problem, something that needed his attention. He assured me he would look into it and he appreciated Danielle's and my concern.
She was happy. We had done something.
Then, for good measure, she and I sang a song together: a song we both knew very well.
"Jesus loves the little children All the children of the world. Red and yellow Black ('AND BROWN', I threw in) and white, All are precious in His sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world."
I don't know how the principal chose to handle the problem: I don't know what he said to the kids. But rest assured Danielle kept me posted on Life on the School Bus, and there was not even one more negative incident involving the little brown boy.
A princess had seen to that.