Dwarves, Racism, and Hitler

 

So I’m guessing every parent of a toddler has at least one shocking moment in a mall or restaurant when the wee one points to a fat lady and says, usually loudly, “Why is she so fat?” or something similar.  Me too.

 

We walk through the Rite Aid drugstore one day, Nate fixated on the display of toy cars placed right at the entrance.

“Let’s go buddy, we need to pick up your meds.”

“Can I get just one car?”

“No, let’s go.”

“Please daddy, just one?”

“No.  But you can play with one while we stand in line.  Pick one.”  Bad move on my part of course, because now I have less than 50-50 odds of being able to separate him from the car.

We picked up the meds and got back in the check-out  line that meandered through the greeting card aisle.  Nathaniel played on the floor, blocking the aisle.  A dwarf, neatly dressed in a sport coat, turned the corner.  He neared Nathaniel.

“Nate, stand up please and let the man pass.  You’re in the way.”

Nate stands up.  He looks around.

“Who, him daddy?”  He points and says loudly, “He’s not a man.  He’s so small.”

I leap from my spot and grabbed Nate, with everyone in line either smirking or glaring at me.  The dwarf ignored us completely and walked the other way before I could apologize.

“Daddy, daddy, is he a man?  Why is he so small?  Are you mad at me?”

I gave him the quiet but firm lecture about not pointing out people’s differences.

He interrupts me.  Loudly.  “Yeah, but he’s like a baby, he’s so small.  He’s not a man, is he daddy?”

“Okay that’s enough.  Just don’t say anything more.  Not one word.  We can talk in the car.”

Burning red, I held Nate tightly in front of me and didn’t have the balls to look a single person in line in the eye.

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Then there was the time I picked Nate up from the nice little Jewish Academy I send him to.  I was playing a game on my smart phone, something to do with tanks.  Nate watched.

“Heil Hetteler,” he said and raised his right arm.

“Huh?  What did you just say?”

“Heil Hetteler,” he said raising and lowering his arm, “Heil Hetteler.”

“Are you saying “Heil Hitler?” I asked, pushing his arm down.  Was this part of some exercise at school?  No way.  It was a Jewish school, lots of songs about Shabbat and Passover, but there was no way they were teaching four-year-olds about Hitler.

“Yes, you got it daddy.  Heil Hetteler,” he said trying to raise his arm again.

“Okay, first, stop saying that and stop raising your arm.  It’s not a nice thing to say.  Second, where did you hear that?  Did you learn that at school?”

“No.  From grandpa.”

“From grandpa?  Really?  When?”

“I don’t know.  I just learned it from grandpa.”

He was about to clam up completely, which is his reaction to stressful interrogations, no doubt caused by his divorced mom and dad.  Yaay, another great parenting milestone.

I got him away from school and changed the subject, absolutely furious at my dad.  What the hell was he thinking?

That night, I approached the subject again.

“Hey buddy, remember at school today when you were saying “Heil Hitler”?  You don’t do that at school or anywhere else, do you?”

“No, I don’t.”

“Okay, because that’s not a nice thing to do.  So don’t do it again, okay?”

“Okay.  I won’t.  What does it mean daddy?”

“When did grandpa teach you to do that?”

“Well, actually . . . . that one time, the last time, when we went there and I was watching t.v. with grandpa, I saw it on tv that time.”

“Oh, so you saw it on tv?  Grandpa didn’t teach it to you?”

“No.  It was on that show about tanks and destruction we were watching.  You remember, the really old show about the war and the destruction?”

Now I remembered.  I woke up from a mid-day nap to find Nathaniel snuggled up with my dad on the couch, and old World War II show on the television.  Grandma was asleep and I thought it was really cool that Nathaniel was bonding with his grandpa.  I watched the show for a second.  There were Nazi tanks, throngs of Nazi supporters, lots of bombing, the usual History Channel World War II stuff.  It was a black and white show and while I didn’t want to interrupt a special moment of bonding, I wasn’t sure Nate should be watching.

“You guys look cute together.  What are you watching?”

“Lots of army guys and tanks and stuff.  Did you know a tank is like a monster truck with a huge gun, daddy?  It can crush stuff and destroy stuff.  It’s cool.”

“Okay, have fun,” I said and wandered away to pack up the car for the trip home to San Diego.

I suppose I was relieved that my dad wasn’t a closet Nazi and wasn’t training Nathaniel in the ways of the master race.  Nate is one-quarter East Indian, one quarter English, one quarter Italian, and one quarter Swedish or Finnish or something from his mother’s side, so I was pretty sure he didn’t qualify for master race status anyway.  Now all I have to do is figure out how deprogram him.  Maybe I can learn how by watching a little history channel.

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My doorbell rings as we’re getting ready to go grab a burger.  I open the door as Maddie goes crazy, barking madly as she always does when the doorbell rings.  An African-American teenager stands outside with a clipboard.  He wears a mismatched green shirt and tie, tennis shoes, and low-hanging slacks.

“Good morning sir.  Can you help me stay away from drugs and gangs?

“Uh, not really.  We’re on our way out.”

“But your support will help keep me and other youths from the inner city in school,” says the kid, who looks about 16 but is taller than me and outweighs me by several pounds.

“Sorry, we’re really in a hurry,” I say.

“This program will help keep youths out of gangs and away from drugs . . .”

“Sorry, some other time,” I say, closing the door, a little annoyed at being bugged at my house.

A few minutes later, we drive to McDonalds, a couple of blocks away.  It’s one of the upscale McDonalds (if that’s not an oxymoron, I don’t know what is), with couches and lounge chairs, flat-screen televisions, lattes, pasta, soups, prime rib carving stations, things like that.  Nate gets a Happy Meal.  I get some salad and a prime rib sandwich.  We sit and start to eat.

The kid from my front door walks in with another kid.  They order and sit down.  They both pull out their clipboards and start adding up sales or donations, whatever it is they are selling.  They look tired, sweaty, and a little out of place.

I pull ten bucks out of my wallet.  “Nate, I want you to take this over and give it to that boy over there.”

“Okay.  Which boy?”

“That one in the green shirt.  See him?”

Crank up the volume to a loud shout that can be heard through the entire restaurant.  “That one daddy?  The one with the black face?  The boy with the really black face and the green shirt?”

I grab Nate, shake him violently until his brain bounces off the inside of his skull and he quiets down.  Not really, I just grab him and tell him to stop.  A lot of people are looking at us, especially the now-hostile looking youths.  I bury my head in my prime rib.  Three minutes later I look up and they’re still looking at me.  Crap.

I pull another ten dollar bill out of my wallet and hand it to Nate.  I tell Nate to stay put and walk over to the table where they are sitting.

“Hi guys.”  I say to them.  “Do you remember me?” I ask the boy who came to my door.

“No.”

“You were at my house about 20 minutes ago, crazy barking dog, I was in a hurry to leave, you may not remember.”

“Oh yeah, I remember.”

“Well, we were in a hurry to get to lunch, but now that we’re here, I have some time.  So, are you guys selling something?”

“No, no, we’re not selling anything,” he says.

“So tell me about this program,” I say.  He proceeds to give me the whole spiel which I listen to while Nate comes over to join us.

“Sounds good,” I say, still not really sure what I was about to contribute to.  “Maybe this will help you guys out.”

Nate gives them the money and we walk back to the table.

“Daddy?” Much softer this time.

“Yes?”

“Did we give them money because they’re poor kids?”