As I stood sipping a cold and colorful beverage, I looked around at the faces that filled my daughter's 4th Birthday party and was amazed. I was amazed at the juxtaposition of her four-year-long life to that of my own 30 years before. But it wasn't about the modern advances that left me with thousands of photos of her life on my cell phone versus the dozen on bad photo paper that exist of me at the same age. And it wasn't comparing the modernly typical and picture-perfect store-bought cake at her party against the hand-frosted and lovingly baked lump of flour and sugar that was sliced for me at the same age.
It was simply about the guest list.
My daughter jumped hand-in-hand in the bounce house with her best friend, who was African American. Mind you, my daughter had no idea that her friend was a different race than her own. "She has brown skin," she described her friend on one occasion (and only after a long pause to think of anything that would set them apart.) But as a little girl in small-town Texas, I was acutely aware of the difference. In fact, I vividly remember looking out my window one night and crying when I saw a black man get out of his car at the store next door. "They're going to take over," an old neighbor lady had told me. I was too young to decipher the long-bred ignorance that fueled her fearful words, and so I was terribly scared. Yet, here was my little girl -- completely, beautifully and rightfully color blind.
On this sunny day, one of my closest friends stood beside me. A single gay dad, his son and my oldest daughter had been thick as thieves since the day they entered pre-school. He was a Southern transplant from a tiny nook in Arkansas who had "made it" in Hollywood working behind the scenes at a successful entertainment television program, and we had bonded quickly over our still-evident accents. I had never told him that the idea of a homosexual being able to adopt a child would have made my sheltered teenage stomach churn. I wouldn't have cared how "in desperate need" the foster system may have been, or that his case worker had told him that there were "parking lots full" of children looking for lasting, loving homes. I wouldn't have cared if he was a devoted and caring father with an innate ability to selflessly parent. All that would have defined this great man to the former me was that he was attracted to the same sex.
As my devout Christian friend stood between a non-believer and a Jewish guest to sing "Happy Birthday," I thought back to an exercise at church camp one year in the '80s. I stood on a chair while other children tried to pull me down. It took seconds. I was then instructed to try to bring the other children up on to the chair with me. It was impossible. The point was to prove the importance of surrounding yourself with Christian friends; that others were good for nothing but knocking you down. But the adulthood friends who surrounded me, many with varying levels of opposing beliefs to that of my own, had only served to lift me up. If anything, these wonderful people had strengthened my belief in God and humanity.
After the guests went home, I was left with deflating party balloons but a soaring new appreciation in knowing that my daughters inherently understood -- with no help from me -- a basic value "unlearned" by so many adults: just because someone may look, feel or believe differently than you, they are no less qualified to be a magnificent, valuable part of your life and the world.
Who knew I could learn so much from a 4-year-old.