This blog post is part of a recurring series written from the unique perspective of Westside's Front Desk Coordinator, John Romero.
Just as the clock hands struck 2:00pm, the pre-Kindergarten students gathered in their cohorts to prepare for dismissal. They were to wait the gruesome, long ten minutes for their parents to drive to the pick-up zone. That pick-up zone was special for them, I can only assume, as it was the last threshold between them and their parents, and them and their free time. Most of the time, the children sat, laughed, and exchanged the children’s version of small talk; an enfant parley, if you will. Amongst their chatting, a small banter broke out.
“You’re vegan!” said a young girl.
“No I am not!” replied a young boy.
I looked up from my work, surprised by the exchange. These children were no older than three or four.
“Yes, you are!” the young girl repeated.
“No…” replied the young boy, giggling. “On second thought, maybe I am a vegan!” he added.
The young girl and boy laughed together.
This exchange kept my attention for some time. I was awestruck by the assurance held by these two pre-kindergarteners. It was so strong, but also so volatile in nature. At this age, I doubt that the children know and understand what being a vegan truly is, not to mention why people are vegan or identify as vegan. They must have heard the word “vegan” sometime in their life, and understood it as a noun, and further, an identity marker.
To be able to explore, with respectful and, evidently, joyful banter, different parts of their identities or perceived identities with such comfort speaks many volumes. The environment provided by Westside School has allowed children to feel comfortable in exploration, and an understanding of other’s exploration. If this exchange took place in a different setting, with different individuals exchanging banter, it may not have been so wholesome or so precious.
From the front desk, and from the eyes of an adult, this made me smile and it made me feel confident in the space we provide for children at our school. We pride ourselves on providing a space of safety and unequivocal inclusivity, and this small exchange between two tiny humans who have so much growth ahead of them reminded me of that pride and of the work we do to make conversations about identities and perceived identities possible.
This exchange, on the surface, may have been entirely about reaction and an attempt to try out the word “vegan.” But, pondering more intently, there was even more at play; more that could be interpreted, and those are very important things for growth and for understanding oneself.