A revolving "free" to a 16-year old means: being picked up early on Mondays, sleeping in Tuesdays, long lunches on Wednesdays... and so on. "Free" means I am just settling in to work and he is back home, or he is calling to be picked up for lunch, or he is texting because he is bored, or worse – he is home early – flopping on the couch and demanding snacks like a pissy toddler. I keep reminding him that a "free" is designed for catching up on reading – or God forbid – studying. Free for him, means less freedom for me. Less sparedom.
Last week, I had the pleasure of rousing him from his "free" sleep-in, by standing at his bedside waving a snow shovel. I was wearing pyjamas and the look that says: "Don't fuck with me." He is very familiar with that look – so out he went, half asleep – to help our sweet little neighbour Marg with her sidewalk. I went back to work, and after a half-hour or so, he arrived at the back door.
"What took you so long?" I said.
"I am Mr. Shelby's* new coloured man." the Little Bastard said with a smile.
"What?" I replied, making a face.
He dropped his soggy layers on the floor and said, "Mr. Shelby said his 'coloured man' usually takes the bus to come and shovel, so until the transit strike's over, he asked if I could shovel his walk."
The only saving grace was Jack's air quotes on the words "coloured man". Phew.
"Did he really say, "coloured man?" I asked... wincing.
"Yep" he said, chuckling, "what's for breakfast, Mammy?"
Today is Leap Day – a gimme for dreary ol' February – and time for the Gregorian calendar to catch up with the sun, or something like that. It also tacks on an extra day to Black History Month. Or African-American history month. Whatever. Time for the Mr. Shelbys of the world to catch up and recognize that Michelle Obama isn't just planting watermelons in the White House garden.
In addition to his "free", The Little Bastard is required to take one history course to fulfill his high school diploma. He chose Canadian History over Mi'kmaq Studies, Gaelic Studies, or African Canadian Studies. In a school that sadly, appears to be socioeconomically and racially divided – I would think that African Canadian studies should be mandatory.
But it isn't.
And dinosaurs still roam the Earth – because old-school thinkers like Mr. Shelby are still one chorus of "Wade in the Water" away from growing cotton in the backyard.
Respectfully, and because it is not his nature, the Little Bastard didn't say anything to Mr. Shelby. Nothing along the lines of, "Does the 'coloured man' have a name?" Or, "How bout that Asian NHL player... who woulda thought those rice pickers could skate, huh, Mr. Shelby?", all the while whistling a few bars of "Jump down, spin around, pick a bale of cotton." (Ironically, a song we were taught in kindergarten, growing up in the States.)
I think I would have poked the hooded hornet's nest a bit.
So, while it is too late to change the train of thought (definitely not the Underground Railroad) embedded in our elders – I find it sad there hasn't been one mention of Black History month in The Little Bastard's classrooms. One would think that February, with an extra day, would be a good time for discussing Uncle Tom's Cabin, or Beloved, or what's happening out in the hallway. Is that too much of a leap?
And I have to believe, that underneath his crusty racist exterior – Mr. Shelby is a kind man – he just doesn't see anything politically incorrect or malicious about calling his longtime employee "my coloured man". Although, personally – I think the word "my" is perhaps even more dangerous than the word "coloured."
So, The Little Bastard has a new taste of freedom – and he likes it. Flaunt Salon have a new line of self-tanner that works with your DNA, instead of dyeing your skin Halloween orange. If, like me, you are shackled to your desk for March break – relax, and get Jenny to apply a sun-kissed St. Tropez tan evenly and smoothly. Or, purchase a kit and self-tan your lily white ass 'til the cows come home.
I'm thinkin' maybe I'll pick some up – and if the transit strike looms on – I'll apply for a job down the block – enlightening sidewalks, one shovel load at a time.
*Names have been changed to protect the ignorant, er, innocent.