Today was a Little Church day, a Sunday we worshiped at the AME Zion church in town. We've been alternating weeks between that congregation and (what used to be) our usual church since mid-summer. Puppy dubbed them Big Church and Little Church based on the size of their buildings, but I'll bet most adults observing the two would think of them as "white church" and "black church."
There is an imbalance right now in our involvement between the two churches, since we've got a couple years' head start at Big Church. But our goal, in the near-term at least, is to be equally invested at them both. It's important to us that the kids see us parents giving and receiving instead of merely attending--especially at Little Church, so they can know that we're there because it's important to us, too, and not just for Firefly's sake. It's been slow-going. Todd joined a men's breakfast one weekend and bonded with a couple guys in that way he has. He has helped out in kids' church. We went to the big annual church picnic, where I got to know the family of a little girl Firefly's age and Todd somehow managed to inspire a giant game of football. We've started to learn people's names and have conversations that go beyond banal pleasantries--small things, but ones that feel like a big deal when you're getting to know a new community. Todd and I attended a fundraiser on Saturday for a local group researching the history of African-American pioneers in our state. We'd been to their events before, but this was the first time we've walked in and been able to greet people we knew. It feels like our baby steps venturing out are beginning to pay off in small ways.
There is a certain self-consciousness walking into a black church that first time as white parents with a black child in your arms, at least for me. It's easy to convince myself that everyone is looking at us and thinking that we're only there because of Firefly. But that was more or less true in the beginning, so I figured I might as well own it. And the members have been nothing but welcoming of our whole family. Not that I expected them to not be rude, but it really is a particularly warm congregation. (I've visited umpteen churches in my day, so I've got some basis for comparison.) Smaller churches often are.
We received an extra dose of that warmth today after the service. A woman came down the aisle as we were working to gather our things and hungry children. I apologized for the lot of us blocking her way and moved aside. "Oh, no," she said. "I actually came to talk to you."
She looked like she was in her mid- to late-forties. "I'm biracial," she continued, after we exchanged names. "My mom raised three of us biracial kids on her own. I've seen you here a few times now and I wanted to ask if you had any questions about how to do [Firefly's] hair. I know how hard it was for my mom."
She did a quick look and touch appraisal of Firefly's curls and deemed them well-tended (whoo). She quizzed me on a few of the basics of care and combing, I think mostly to make sure I wasn't torturing poor Firefly. We laughed about the total paradigm shift it is for women with fine, straight hair like mine (and her mom's) to deliberately work oil into hair.
We talked briefly about some of the tensions she felt growing up and what it's been like for her to live in our predominately white city. "Please, if there is ever any piece of advice or comment you'd like to say to us, feel free to just put it out there," I told her. "We won't be offended. We need people to tell us what we're doing wrong."
"I don't think it's a matter of right and wrong," she answered. "Maybe better and worse. What's most important is that love is underneath it all. I've watched you and it seems like you've got that part right. I just wanted to let you know I'm here. I've thought a lot about my experience growing up biracial and I feel like it's my mission to do something with that."
What a gift, you know? This woman saw Firefly and felt a kinship, and wanted to love on her by offering up her own experience and making sure we had our basic act together. She certainly didn't have to do that, but she chose to, and that means so much to me.
There is no grand point to this post, and I hope it doesn't come across like I'm patting us on the back. Lord knows we haven't earned the right to do that yet. These are teeny tiny steps we're taking, but ones that feel increasingly right.