Sand ShovelThere’s always a first time. I was with my son at his school playground last week, taking advantage of the unseasonably warm weather to hang with the other parents and kids at the end of the day. My son wandered over to the sandbox, where another boy his age was playing. They introduced themselves in the soft, hesitant tones of children still practicing social niceties.

The other boy then asked “What’s your cousin’s name?”

My son looked puzzled, as did I. “I don’t have a cousin,” he said. (He does, of course, but not in the vicinity.)

“What’s your cousin’s name?” the boy asked again, with the persistence of the preschooler. The best I can figure is that he meant the other redhead on the playground, who is no relation except insofar as we carrot-tops all have some common genetic link back down the evolutionary tree. My son again responded in the negative.

The boy went in a different direction. “What’s your dad’s name?”

No one else heard the gong going off in my head. I kept silent, wanting to see how my son handled it. He paused for just a second to think.

“Well, that’s Mommy,” he explained, gesturing to me. “And the other one’s Momma, but she’s at work now.”

“This truck can go faster than the boat,” said the boy, picking up two of the somewhat battered toys sitting in the sand, and doing a demonstration.

Bravo, young man, I thought to my son, proud that he’d found his own answer. I was heartened, too, by the other boy’s simple acceptance of the response. Maybe they will indeed grow up into a better world.

It struck me, then, that the two of them, going to the same school and playing together with nary a raised eyebrow from parents or teachers, represented another sort of progress. My son is white, and his new friend is black. No, the world isn’t perfect yet, for either of them, but it’s a whole lot better than it was. With effort and luck, it will continue in that direction. I watched them drive trucks around, rapt in the present, unaware of either the past or future they embodied. Two boys, covered in sand and hope.