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That Time I Had Beef With A Preschooler

Nobody prepares you for the brutally savage remarks that come from children.

Ariela Basson/Scary Mommy; Getty Images, Shutterstock

At my big age of 48, I assumed the threat of being bullied was far in my rearview. Since my daughter became school age, I had been so consumed with the possibility that she could be bullied the thought never occurred to me that I might be the target of bullying from one of her classmates.

You hear the stories, but nobody really prepares you for the brutally savage remarks that come from children. They don't know any better. It's not really their fault. They are new to this world, and our job as parents is to teach them how to behave in it. But still, someone should have warned me.

My daughter recently entered Pre-K. It took a couple of weeks, but I finally got an emotional grip on this new aspect of our lives. I was starting to gain a better sense of myself again. The things I used to enjoy were finding their way back on my calendar. Things like working without interruption — really doing anything without interruption — and losing myself in personal luxuries like taking the four hours to get my hair professionally braided.

Because my beautician is an artist, I still rocked those box braids when school started. But as all fantastically convenient hairstyles must end, it was time to say goodbye to the braids and let my natural hair breathe. I've been getting my hair braided for years. Whenever I take the braids out, I'm pleasantly surprised by the crinkled and coiled result of my hair being intertwined for a month or two.

I felt pretty cute when I dropped my daughter off with my wild natural coils stretched to the sky. My husband loves this look, and random women will stop me when I'm out to tell me how much they like my hair. My hairstyle was that of controlled chaos, and I enjoyed it.

As I was putting my daughter's lunchbox in its appropriate spot, one of her little classmates — let's call her Bianca — pointed at my hair and said, "You look crazy!" I was taken aback… like way aback. What made this so surprising was that Bianca was a Black girl. Had I gotten this comment from one of the little white children, it probably wouldn't have mattered much. It would have been expected. But a little Black girl? She must be familiar with what our hair can do. Are we not all sistas who do our best to uplift one another, regardless of age? Clearly, Bianca hadn't gotten the memo.

Surprise aside, I ignored Bianca and her comment and continued my day. Because honestly, what else could I do? I would be lying if I said that interaction didn't linger with me all day. This child's hair always looked like her mother had to gel and braid her locks and scalp into a ponytail daily. It resulted in a very stylish hairdo but also very arched eyebrows for a 4-year-old. I was feeling some type of way about it, mostly because I liked how my hair looked. Had this 4-year-old child just hurt my feelings?

Something else nagged at me: why did this child feel comfortable enough to speak to me in the first place? I had never talked to her before, and she had just started seeing me around. I'm Gen X raised by a Boomer in the age of “children are to be seen and not heard.” Obviously, we have evolved as conscious parenting has made its way into the conversation, but that was my knee-jerk reaction. I don't like the idea of children talking to any random adult that comes their way, in part for their own safety!

If I’m really, truly honest, though, this comment also triggered my insecurities. That middle school version of myself who was bullied was deeply affected by the comment, and she wouldn't shut up about it. As a Black woman in America, for most of my life, I had a dysfunctional relationship with my hair. If it hadn't been straightened with a hot comb, it was considered "unpresentable." From former bosses telling me that having braids was "unprofessional" to former classmates serving judgment when my hair needed a touch-up around the roots. Not to mention how mainstream media has spent decades trying to trick Black women into believing there is something wrong with the way our hair grows naturally from our head. A hot comb hadn't seen my hair for ten years, and I was proud of that fact.

And there was another powerful underlying anxiety: I was worried about my daughter being on the receiving end of some bully's misdirected aggression at school. Or just as bad, my daughter becoming a bully! If this child throws this shade at an adult stranger, she clearly doesn't respect boundaries with her peers. Suffice it to say, those three little words had me spinning out, and I hated it. How do I handle this? Do I even need to? This is probably just a one-time thing; I should have forgotten about it. I had hoped Bianca had.

Well, Bianca doubled down the next day as I was dropping my daughter off. She pointed at me, and said, "It's crazy! Crazy is here!" It seemed that ignoring her wouldn't cut it, and if I wanted to make sure I didn't get a new, unwanted nickname for the rest of the year, I had to do something.

Instead of fighting her, I decided to turn this into a teachable moment. So I knelt down and looked her dead in her eyeballs.

I wanted to say, "Who are you talking to?! You don't know me, and I don't know you. Let's keep it like that."

I wanted to say, "I'm sorry your momma hasn't taught you not to be brainwashed into thinking that we must strive to achieve the European standard of beauty. I'm sorry that she doesn't uplift you in all of your natural beauty."

I wanted to say, "Do you know how long Black women have fought and continue to fight for agency over our bodies, from the Tignon Law to the Crown Act? What we need is solidarity, not division within our own community."

But I didn't say any of that. Kindly but firmly in a G-rated manner, I told Bianca, "First of all, that's not my name. It's Mrs. Friedson. Secondly, that's not a nice thing to say to someone. You're being mean." I stood up, kissed my daughter goodbye, and continued my day.

The internal struggle was real. But in the end, I got the desired result. She never called me outside of my name again. As a matter of fact, the child has never uttered another word to me since. I keep reminding myself that I am an adult and adults do not hold grudges against children. That is until we got an invite for her birthday party that I immediately tossed in the trash. Yeah… you can call me Petty White.

Kahmeela Adams-Friedson has been called a "pop culture savant" with particular expertise in all things '80s, '90s and Horror film. After producing and hosting several podcasts dedicated to film and telling stories of women and artists of all mediums, she consistently brings delight and discovery to the art of the interview — just ask Gloria Rueben. Kahmeela has designed a career that allows her to create in multiple areas of media. Her opinions on life, film, and literature can be found on many podcasts, in the Pittsburgh City Paper, Pittsburgh Magazine, Looper and BUST Magazine, just to name a few.

If you fancy yourself a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, you can listen to her ReVisiting Sunnydale Podcast, where she and her co-host rewatch the cult classic with more mature eyes.