Courtesy of Katie Alicea

I Asked My 4-Year-Old Son Why He Hates Daycare. His Answer Was Heartbreaking.

Ad failed to load

Last night my 4-year-old, Isaac, told me he hated his skin color.

Two weeks ago, my boys started full-time daycare after being home with a nanny. I knew there would likely be a tough time of adjustment, but Isaac seemed to be acting out in especially angry/mean/frustrated ways over the last few weeks. My husband Tony and I have been overwhelmed by his behavior. We have been talking to him about how he is feeling regarding this transition to see if there is anything he can tell us so we can help him feel less anxious. But he just pushes us away and continues to be upset and act out. I mean, he is only 4, so I realize that he isn't really mature enough to be able to process and discuss his thoughts in the same way adults do, but we still want to pursue that connection and model how to talk about our feelings with him.

After another long, hard day of acting out, I sat with him in his room for a long time at bedtime to see if he would talk to me about what is causing him to be so angry.

Ad failed to load

After spending some time reading books, he said this to me, "Mommy, I wish I wasn't here. I wish I wasn't built. I want to be turned off and disappear or be rebuilt into some different boy. I wish I didn’t exist. I want there to just be nothing."

Shocking, right? He doesn’t fully understand the concept of death, but he does understand how electronics and robots work and he was basically telling me he felt like he wanted to be turned off. I can’t explain the shock I felt at hearing him say this, but when he began to explain “why” he felt this way, I was even more shocked.

Courtesy of Katie Alicea
Ad failed to load

The first thing I did was tell him I was so sorry he was feeling that way and calmly asked him why. He sat quiet for a few seconds and then said, "Because I don't like my skin. I want to be white like you. My skin is too dark and I want to be rebuilt into a new boy with white skin."

My 4-year-old said this to me.

In the past, Isaac has pointed out that he notices differences in skin color and we try to talk about how awesome differences are and how cool it is that we aren’t all the same. So he's not new to understanding differences. In my shock, the first thing I told him was that he was perfect just the way he was and his skin is beautiful — that all skin was beautiful no matter what color. I knew this feeling had to have come from someone telling him his skin color was bad, because he has never ever said anything like this before.

Ad failed to load

And I was right.

My skin is too dark and I want to be rebuilt into a new boy with white skin.

I asked him who told him his skin color was too dark and he went on to explain that a little girl in his class had told him that she didn't want to play with him or be his friend because he wasn't white. She told him she only plays with white people and that she doesn't like dark skin and that dark skin is bad. Another boy in his class told him the same thing.

Ad failed to load

You all, my heart broke right in half and a rush of anger welled up in me as tears filled my eyes. I wanted to pick him up and put him right back in the womb where no one could ever make him hate himself so much that he wanted to not exist, or be rebuilt, or run away.

Courtesy of Katie Alicea

Four. Years. Old.

Ad failed to load

I'm going to be totally honest with you — I did not see this coming. Isaac's features are certainly unique and represent both his dad and me, but his skin is quite fair. It's not like it hadn't occurred to me that he might be treated differently because he comes from a multi-ethnic background, but it still took me aback. I did not expect my 4-year-old to tell me he was rejected because his skin was too dark.

He went on to tell me that she told him this every day and that some other kids in the class told him this as well. I did my best to talk him through all this, but I was totally unprepared to have this discussion and knew I needed to get his daddy. When Tony walked in the room, Isaac pulled the covers up over his head and hid. He refused to talk to his daddy about it and said he only wanted to talk to me. Tony gave him a quick kiss and went back downstairs.

I asked more questions to try to get as much information from Isaac as possible, and he went on to tell me that dark skin was bad and he didn't like it, except for his daddy, and that he didn't want to have dark skin and wanted to be white so he could have friends. He told me he wanted to be friends with this girl because he liked her so if he wanted to be her friend he would have to change.

Ad failed to load

In middle of our chat, Isaac walked over to the lamp by his bed and put his arms in the light and said that he liked the light because it made him feel like his skin was lighter, but he didn’t like to be under the covers where his skin looked dark.

Then it got even worse.

He told me he wanted to not exist anymore and be made into another boy or he was going to take his backpack and run away from home.

Ad failed to load
Courtesy of Katie Alicea

Four. Years. Old.

I stayed and held him for a long time telling him how much I love him and how perfect he is the way he is and that I am just so sorry for how he is feeling and what was said and how very wrong those things are that were told to him. He just told me he was so sad and didn't like people anymore.

Ad failed to load

I am so beyond upset about this right now I can barely stand it. We are going to do all we have to do to right this wrong for Isaac, but let me be really clear on this: Racism is still here. It is here and being modeled to our children.

This little girl and any of the other kids in Isaac’s class were not born disliking anyone because of their skin color. It is not her fault and I am not mad at her. But I am mad at the situation and what caused a situation like this to happen in the first place.

I can’t tell you how many people I have recently seen say they don’t hate black people. They say that hate is wrong. They say they know black people or other people of color and they don’t hate any of them.

Ad failed to load

And yet.

Hate isn’t really the biggest problem here, is it? That little girl didn't say she hated my son. She just didn't want to play with him. She realized they were different and she didn't want to spend time with someone who wasn't like her. And that was enough to make my son feel inferior. To the point where he wanted to be rebuilt and if he couldn't be, he would just run away.

After what happened in Charlottesville, we can see that there are many people who are filled with hate towards another race. People who unabashedly believe that their race is superior. It's easy to see that rhetoric and say, "That's not me. I don't hate anyone and I don't even see color."

Ad failed to load

And that's the problem. When others experience injustice, it's easy to ignore it because it doesn't affect us personally or just say, "Wow, that's terrible. I'm glad I'm not like that." And go on about our day.

But the opposite of love isn't hate. It's apathy.

Courtesy of Katie Alicea
Ad failed to load

It’s our unwillingness to truly care about what happens to people that aren’t like us. If we don’t care enough to allow deep (sometimes painful) self reflection, lay down our own need to be right or heard, move towards those who are different from us—with no other agenda other than to love and learn —and just believe what they have been telling us all for WAY too long, that there is a problem, then we are part of the problem.

Our apathy keep us and everyone around us in bondage. My shock over all this tonight only highlights the fact that I will never fully understand the pain and torment black parents in this country go through worrying for their children before they were even born and then forever after. But I did get a small taste of the experience.

And I hated it.

Ad failed to load

The word “privilege” has been thrown around so much that people immediately dismiss it, but just because folks won’t acknowledge it’s existence, doesn’t make it untrue. But I realized that because of my own privilege, I never once had to feel rejected, left out, or hated just for my skin color. I have never truly deeply hurt in my heart, mind, and body over racism until last night. Because it had never affected me so closely before. I was totally unprepared to have this talk with Isaac last night because I have spent very little time worrying about how racism and apathy will effect him. Since I don’t experience this kind of treatment—ever—I don’t think about it unless I see a news story scroll across my feed.

My shock over all this tonight only highlights the fact that I will never fully understand the pain and torment black parents in this country go through worrying for their children before they were even born and then forever after.

That is privilege.

Ad failed to load

And that privilege isn't a bad thing. It's not a dirty word or something to feel guilty about. But it is a responsibility. When I see others who don't have the same privilege as me, I can ignore it (APATHY) or advocate for them (LOVE).

Seeing the anger and hurt overflowing from my son this week—in his own way trying to handle all this in the only ways he knew how—I feel devastated for his heart. My son with the beautiful light in his heart who has never met a stranger, who loves people and will talk to anyone, has been told he isn’t enough because of the color of his skin. He wanted so badly to make new friends at his new school that he decided to hate his color and be angry to be stuck in his skin.

If you don’t have to watch someone you love with all your heart, struggle to accept their skin color and love who they are…

Ad failed to load

That is privilege.

It’s the small, mostly unspoken ways we tell our children and the rest of the world that skin color or differences in general are to be feared. That people who look, talk and think differently are dangerous. It's the times we see someone a few shades darker than us walking down the sidewalk in front of us and then quickly grab our child’s hand and hurry to cross the street. It's the times when we think our children aren’t paying attention to every. Single. Thing we say and we have no idea our children are taking that information and forming their understanding of those around them with it.

So please — please — acknowledge it. It's not about shame. It's about acknowledging that by no virtue of your own, you have something that many others don't have and will never experience. Because if you don't, your apathy will offset your love.

Ad failed to load

Tony and I are going to talk to the daycare about this, make an appointment with a therapist for Isaac so he can get some help with his feelings and be much more purposeful in talking to him about diversity, race, differences, and what really matters when it comes to friendships.

Sometimes our heart has to break wide open to unleash a well of compassion we didn't know was inside. And that compassion will flood out our apathy and move us to truly see, value, and love those who aren't like us.

This essay originally appeared on Facebook.

Ad failed to load
Must Reads

These Millennial Parents Are Taking Gender-Neutral Parenting To An Entirely New Level

A woman on the subway looks at my bulbous shape and asks, “What are you having?” I take a deep breath and throw a glance to my 5-year-old. “I’m having a baby,” I say to the woman. “No, no” the woman says laughing as she pushes further. “Are you havin…
By Madison Young

I’m Registered At Babies “R” Us, & I'm Freaking The Hell Out

Hi. My name is Abi, and I’m registered at Babies “R” Us — and I’m freaking out. This may sound silly, but after being a die-hard Toys “R” Us kid, I was so excited to register at their baby store once my husband and I finally got our big fat positive …
By Abi Berwager Schreier

My Daughter Is Obsessed With Being "Pretty" & I'm Way Past Terrified

Last week, when I picked up my daughter after school, she immediately wanted to know if I liked her hair. "Is it pretty?" she asked. Her hair was pulled up into two ponytails that were intertwined into thick, long braids. A shimmering pink and purple…
By Dina Leygerman

7 Things No One Tells You About Having A Baby In Your 20s, But I Will

I was 24 when I found out I was pregnant with my daughter. The pregnancy was a surprise, since I was on birth control (side note: antibiotics and birth control don't mix), but my partner and I decided to continue with the pregnancy and committed to m…
By Candace Ganger

Women Who Miscarry Early Deserve To Grieve — Here's How Hospitals Should Be Helping

When I lost my baby back in 2013, it was because of a very early miscarriage. Because of the little amount of time I spent being pregnant, it was though my child had never really existed, which made the next few years hard — I felt like they had been…
By Risa Kerslake

7 Things I Wish My Partner Had Said To Me In The First Hour After Giving Birth

I don't know if it was the buzz of the surrounding machines, the non-existent cry of our son as the doctors tried to resuscitate him, or the fact that I'd already been through labor and delivery once before, but I knew something was missing after I h…
By Candace Ganger

Moms’ Groups Weren’t For Me, Sorry

I go to my moms’ club everyday of the week, but not usually on weekends. My moms' group is a place I can always count on finding fellow mothers who understand the daily struggles and triumphs of parenthood and of juggling life’s responsibilities. Dep…
By Samantha Taylor

Millennial Women Are Getting Married Later Than Gen X, & The Reasons Why Are Pretty Badass

The battle of the generations seems to come up when it comes to every lifestyle or career choice people make. Women, especially, are an important demographic when it comes to analysts looking at the lifestyle choices we make or the expected milestone…
By Josie Rhodes Cook

I've Had 3 Miscarriages But *Please* Keep Telling Me About Your Pregnancy

I can feel the tension the moment my friend announces her pregnancy. I can hear the forced nonchalant attitude she's willing herself to exude as she fishes for the ultrasound. I know why I was the last to learn that she was expecting; why she keeps l…
By Danielle Campoamor

7 Early Signs You're Going To Need An Epidural, According To Experts

Even if you've constructed an elaborate birth plan, it's impossible to control every aspect of labor and delivery. Complications can occur, proactive measures might be necessary, and your mind is subject to change when those damn contractions really …
By Candace Ganger

I'm Pregnant & I Refuse To Read Any Parenting Books

I didn't read any parenting books when I was expecting my daughter, and I refuse to read any parenting books as I await my second child now. I'm the first to admit that I don't really know what I'm doing when it comes to raising my daughter. A good d…
By Marie Southard Ospina

7 Reasons Why March Babies Are Total Badasses

From the moment you become pregnant, you begin to wonder what your little one will be like. Will they look like you, your partner, or your Great Aunt Edna? Will they be the quiet, thoughtful type or arrive on this planet raring to go? It's fun to ima…
By Caroline Shannon-Karasik

12 Overnight Face Masks To Use To Wake Up Feeling Pampered AF

Spring is right around the corner, and as far as I'm concerned, the sunshine and warm breezes can't come soon enough. But now that we're about to say goodbye to winter, it's a good time to take stock of your facial skincare routine. You know, in the …
By Katie Malczyk

11 Essential Products To Pack In Your Hospital Bag, According To OB-GYNs

The minute you go into labor (or think you're going into labor), chaos ensues. You and your partner are likely to get a little frantic, just like in the movies, so you most definitely want to have a hospital bag packed before the day comes. This prec…
By Abi Berwager Schreier

7 Photos You *Must* Take In The First 6 Months Of Motherhood

In my experience, becoming a mom is like becoming an amateur photographer. There's just something about the need to capture every single coo and sorta-smile that leaves you obsessed with all things photography. I know I couldn't stop taking selfies w…
By Candace Ganger

Here's How Early An Ultrasound Can Actually Determine Your Baby's Sex

From the moment you see those two lines on a pregnancy test, there are a few markers along the way that stand out as especially exciting. Amongst them are hearing your baby's heartbeat and feeling that first, sweet little kick. And if you are finding…
By Caroline Shannon-Karasik

9 Easy Kid Foods To Turn Green, Just In Time For St. Patrick's Day

The best part about having kids is that you get your own personal crew to celebrate the holidays with, in all your color coordinating and matching glory. And with St. Patrick’s Day right around the corner, you are obviously working on turning everyth…
By Mishal Ali Zafar

Here Are Some Conditions That Might Require You To Be On Bed Rest During Pregnancy

When I worked in an office, I worked with quite a few pregnant ladies all at the same time. Something must have been in the water, because while I was there for three years, two of my coworkers got pregnant twice, and another girl was pregnant with h…
By Abi Berwager Schreier

I Didn't Follow The Pregnancy Diet Rules & My Daughter Turned Out Just Fine

My diet is an ever-changing and wholly personal thing, which is precisely why I refused to follow any pregnancy diet rules when I was expecting my daughter. For years, I've essentially practiced intuitive eating, in that I listen to my body and eat w…
By Marie Southard Ospina

5 Foods You & Your Partner Should Eat If You're Trying To Get Pregnant

When you're trying to conceive (TTC) and it's just not happening, it's easy to feel like you're doing something wrong. It can be soul-crushing to keep seeing negatives when all you really want to do is wave a positive pregnancy test in the air. So wh…
By Kate Miller