Location: Sydney, Australia

I have now moved this blog to Typepad: the new address is

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

name calling

We had a lovely non-busy interval on Saturday afternoon - co-parent had gone out shopping, I lay down on the bed to rest (late night at the office party the night before) and Olle played on the floor.

He had some soft toys and after awhile I heard him being a character who said to a toy dog: "Are you a dog or are you a Muslim? Are you a dog or are you a Muslim?"

I sat up.

"What's a Muslim?" I asked him. He clearly had no idea at all. I don't think he even realised it was a type of person.

"Did you hear that word at school?" "Yes" "Who from?" "Aki"
"Does Aki say that to people he doesn't like?" "Yes"

Aki is a boy who often gets his name written on the board for misdemeanours. He is from a rougher area than our genteel, gentrified neighbourhood and is much more worldly wise than my son.

Before I had a chance to explain what a Muslim was, the phone rang. The moment passed.

This morning I told their teacher about this conversation. She was concerned. She said she would ask Aki what a Muslim is.

[I'm not sure if I should have told her - I don't want to get Aki into even more trouble than he normally is.]

I faintly recall that I have read or heard that 'Muslim' is a term of abuse in Sydney schools, in the same way that 'gay' can be. It makes sense, I suppose.

Fast-forward two days and we are having dinner and watching the school concert in the video-camera viewfinder. There is an autistic boy, Lew, in the year ahead of Olle at school. In years gone by Lew would have been described as a 'simpleton' and would not have been in an ordinary school, but now he is well integrated, thanks to a very hard-working mother and dedicated teachers.

Olle has never specifically mentioned Lew, though all the kids know each other (it's a small school). Lew was in one of the singing scenes on the video, though none of us pointed him out. Suddenly Olle started singing Summer Holiday, a song from the concert, but putting Lew's name into it: 'Lew is going on a summer holiday, Lew's not working for a week or two...' He giggled in that way that kids giggle when they are in a group making fun of someone, saying things which they think are very smart and funny and they giggle and laugh (and jeer) in unison. But his giggle sounded uncertain - he was seeking some sort of validation from us.

I didn't say anything, just changed the subject, but it was an 'aha' moment. Aha - so kids do mock Lew behind his back. I wonder if they mock him to his face. I doubt it - I think the teachers would be very careful not to let that happen. In fact, probably the kids who are actually in Lew's grade don't make fun of him, but support and accommodate him. Olle sounded like he was mimicking other kids, probably kids from his own class, kindergarten, who see Lew from afar and think it's clever, a bonding experience, to ridicule him.

I need to think about how to approach talking about these things with Olle. We have so far not had the need to talk to him about the possibility that other kids might make fun of him for having two mothers, but perhaps that is going to be the way in.


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