I Wanna Hold Your Hand

hands times.co.ukRecently I chaperoned my son’s 1st grade class on a field trip to an art museum. We marched, two by two toward the train and two by two on the fifteen minute walk from train to museum (this is Denmark, we walk, no chartered, cushy busses for us). As we tripped along I tried to remember an appropriate marching song, like the ditties the army employs, but the only ones I could think of were inappropriate for the ears of these pink-cheeked six and seven-year-olds. At the museum they sat criss-cross applesauce and listened to a woman tell them about a picture that looked as if it had been painted with spaghetti (it was string). They painted their own canvasses while draped in black, plastic smocks. They ate lunch in the cafeteria, trading giggles and bad, 1st grade jokes and then holding hands we marched back to the train, back to school. Two by two.

It was exhausting.

It was also uplifting.

What stood out to me that day, more than the lesson on modern art, more than the cheerful marching two by two, the little one stopped to tie his shoe–more than the crumb clearing, more than the gusto with which these little ones attacked a canvas, was their ready and willing ability to partner up with whoever their teacher assigned them to.

White, Australian Mia was paired with Dominican/Chilean Thomas and English Louis was paired with Ereyne from Gabon. Bi-racial Lya with her hair in gorgeous puffed bunches was with Canadian Gillian. East European Sofie, who has two siblings, skipped along with Italian Clelia, who also has two siblings, as well as two dads. Boy with girl, black with white, daughter of same-sex parents with daughter of different sex parents. I walked, keeping them out of the bike lane and making sure their coats were buttoned and shoelaces tied. I walked and I thought.

Holding hands, this marching group of kids didn’t stop to question. They didn’t second guess or judge or label. They have not yet started to view the person on the other end of their arm as different, as ‘they’, as ‘other’.


The recent events in Ferguson, MO have been weighing heavily on my heart and soul. I have, more than once, been tempted to sit and fume via words, rant in and out of sentences, about the multi-layered racial divide in the United States. I still may. But the other day my heart sang a song of gratitude, a silent soundtrack of We Shall Overcome as I watched these little ones go happily, obliviously about their day with nary a thought as to the color or sex of the person holding their hand. They were keen to connect to one another, to have that physical contact, to skip down the road. They wanted to hold hands. It was natural to them, it felt good.

It’s an oversimplification of course, but it’s simple for one reason: because it’s the truth. These kids haven’t been taught to question whose hand is in theirs as they walk down the street. They haven’t been programmed to ‘naturally’ flock to the fellow birds of their own feather. No one has sat down with them and said, either by word or example, that you should reject your fellow human based on the color of their skin or their sex or because their parents are gay. Kids naturally group together, like to like, but ‘same’ to them is just as likely to mean similar shoelace color as it is skin color. You can change your shoelaces. You can’t change the color of your skin.

children-shadowsThey are not stupid, these first graders. They are not blind. They recognize differences: skin color, hair texture, eye color, language. They absorb those differences, question them at times, and then–here’s the key part–they move on. They move on because to them, the color of Eryene’s skin holds no more weight than Reed not liking bananas or Matthew wearing glasses. Differences that are noted and remembered, but not influential in any kind of social interaction. Imagine if your child came home and announced that he wasn’t going to play with so and so because she didn’t like apples, a completely arbitrary distinction. Is the color of someone’s skin any less arbitrary? When it becomes so, as it so often does, it is a lesson. And a lesson, by definition, is something which has been taught or learned. It is a lesson that these first graders, marching two by two, seemed to be unaware of.

The sun came out as we were walking home, a rare treat in these heavy, gray Danish days of late. Those little bodies threw long shadows onto the pavement in front of me. In shadow, you can’t differentiate between girl or boy, black or white, gay or straight. A fitting ending for the day. Tired, happy and even a little whiney, we all skip-danced back to school, holding hands with each other just because we wanted to. Because it felt good.

18 thoughts on “I Wanna Hold Your Hand

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    1. It was nice to write it. After spending several days trying to untangle my own thoughts and feelings about race it was a nice sight to see. You can learn a lot from these kids, if only you open your eyes.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. What a beautiful picture that must have been to see all those kids like that 🙂

    One of the thoughts that went through my mind when were went to the National Archives when M was in 8th grade was how many kids in that class would not have been there if not for the Emancipation Proclamation, one of the documents we got to see.

    We can learn a lot from kids, for sure.


    1. Yes. It was like President Obama telling Ruby Bridges (as they viewed the painting of her) that he wouldn’t be there if it weren’t for her. I love that story. I love your story too. There is so much work to be done. So very much work to be done. Wouldn’t it be nice if these kids who are holding hands now never knew any differently, if they just kept it going? What a world it would be.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. We all need to hold hands, to feel that connect, to feel the warmth of the person next to us, eating lunch with us, riding on the train next to us. It’s important to know that those people are people, just like us. The kids get it. It yes screwed up somewhere down the line, but at seven, they still know it.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. We humans are taught, first and foremost, to classify. It’s why we form impressions in an instant and refuse to undo them. I wrote a comment on another site today that bears repeating………I have almost five decades of life experiences that form my opinions and worldview, but that doesn’t make me right. I don’t have the right to negate the life experiences of others, simply because I don’t agree with them. We are too closed off and categorized (as Americans. I can’t say that about ex-pats, because their very nature is to expose themselves to people who aren’t like them.) I’m the most imperfect person I know, but I’m proud to say I have close friends who vote differently, who advocate differently, and who see the world differently than I do, and I don’t care one bit.


    1. Andra, classify is a word I was searching for yesterday and couldn’t grasp. The shoelace analogy in the piece is not made up, I read it as part of a study they did with kids. Children do like to classify and band together, but their categories are a lot less damaging than the ones we as adults use to classify ‘other’. I guess that is the big difference. You are totally right–not one of us have the right to negate the experience of another, and though I also have friends who vote differently and see the world differently, I would go one step further and say that it is ok to respectfully disrespect those who choose to condemn others based on their skin color or sexual orientation, sex or gender construct, or any other of a myriad of things. We are all free to form opinions, but denying others (or in the case of the US religious far right, or any fundamentalist group really) rights or freedoms based on your own experience is not only negating theirs, it is plain wrong. I feel strongly that those people who hate and deny forfeit my respect.


  3. It’s definitely a special age. My son is just finishing 4th Grade, and I’m worried he is right at the tail end of that kind of acceptance of others younger kids have. From stray comments I hear around the school, 5th and 6th graders start to really notice any differences among the other students. It’s a lesson to us all, though, you’re right. Young kids can teach us a lot about living in harmony. It’s a pity as adults we so often lose that innocence. But that’s why you have kids, I guess. To remind you of that innocence.


    1. I have a 5th grader now and they do notice differences, but the differences can be as arbitrary as the apple example above. As Andra stated, correctly I think, children like to classify–as do adults–it helps us make sense of the world. I also think it is okay to notice and talk about difference, it is unnatural not to. What we all need to strive to keep teaching them is that it is never okay to ostracize or deny or hate based on those classifications or differences. I like your reasoning of why we have kids, to remind us of innocence. It’s true. We spend so much time trying to shape them into functioning members of society, drilling them to be polite, use their manners, be respectful. All good things, of course, but sometimes I think by doing that we give them less credit than they are due. (Remind me of that next time my son uses his shirt as a napkin, please ;-). )


    1. I did wonder as I was writing if it was unique to the international school, where children by definition come into contact with more diversity than they would normally. I do think it is more pronounced, but I believe in my heart that young children possess a unique ability to see the world in a different way and that while they eventually drift off into groups and classifications of their own accord, that unless someone teaches them that ‘different’ is bad they see is as just that: ‘different’. In any event, thanks for reading and commenting!


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