Five Minutes with Rebecca Walker
The writer of Black, White & Jewish discusses being biracial, interfaith, and selling a Bugaboo stroller on eBay
How many kids do you have and what are their names?
Oh, it's very complicated. Let's just say I have one biological son, Tenzin, who's 5. There are others but they shall remain unnamed.
Do you plan on raising your child with more than one culture and religion?
I've been a Buddhist for about 15 years, so he's being raised more Buddhist than anything else. But like so many Jews in America, I feel that my Jewishness is so much more cultural than religious. I don't think it's possible for him to grow up without some Jewishness, but he's not going to be Bar Mitzvahed, and he won't be learning Hebrew.
Were there any Jewish things that you grew up doing that you do want to do with him?
Lately, I've been peppering all of our discussions with Yiddish words. He's really into tuchus right now. He's always talking about his tuchus, my tuchus. I feel like I'm bridging an old world connection there, because my grandmother's mother was from Kiev, and she always used--from mentsch to tuchus to meshugeneh--a breadth of Yiddish words.
I think it's really only confusing to kids if the parents are confused. We're not confused about it, so we don't put a lot of heavy trips on Tenzin. His school is very mixed, and his community's very mixed. He doesn't experience it, I don't think, as confusing. It's different from when I was a kid and I was raised in such a dichotomist's world. One was so this and one was so that. His world isn't like that. He may write a book in 30 years and say, "Oh, I was so confused!" but I don't think so. Not yet anyway.
Has being a child of divorce informed the way you set up your own family dynamic?
Oh definitely. I think I'm much more committed to keeping the family together than I would have been otherwise. I think that divorce was a lot more psychologically damaging than any kind of biracial identity or interfaith identity.
Cloth or disposable diapers?
That's hilarious. Disposable, totally. Give me a break.
Did you do sleep training?
It was brutal, but we did let him cry it out. I guess the answer would be yes, but we also co-slept.
Which parenting books are on your shelf?
I threw them all away. They were all useless. Initially I was really into the attachment parenting books, but my son's temperament was just never that. He never wanted to go into the wrap, snuggly thing. He was just always demanding his independence and reaching for it so it didn't really work. And it also made me very tired. And then at some point, I just had to let go of everybody else's ideas of how to raise my kid and just try to tune into who he is and listen to his father and his feelings about it, more than any book. Though I do like Ada Calhoun's book, Instinctive Parenting. It's basically, just give them some love. Our hyper fixation on providing the perfect thing, which I spent the first three years of Tenzin's life obsessed with, is not necessarily best for their long term well-being.
How many preschools did you apply to?
I live in Maui. There are only a few schools here, so we don't have that intense application process. He's now in kindergarten. We did a visit, and we liked it and they liked us and that was it.
What's the most expensive thing you've ever bought for your kid?
Oh god, definitely his stroller, which I then sold on eBay. I bought him a Bugaboo stroller with all the trappings and it was just completely dysfunctional in our lives. The thing weighed a ton. It would be great in Europe, they've got these wide sidewalks and all the parents have that kind of stroller and I can see how it works. But when I was living in San Francisco, in New York, it was just ridiculous! So I sold that.
Are you a kveller?
Totally. Are you kidding? I kvell like crazy. So much so that I have to kind of restrain myself. Oh, you woke up this morning! Wonderful! I'm so proud of my son. It's impossible for Jewish parents not to, right? That, I think, is hardwired somehow into the Jewishness of us all. Jesus, we are the most… my father is ridiculous. And my grandmother is even more ridiculous. I think it's part of our makeup, and part of our survival, to believe in ourselves, and we get that from our parents.
--Interview by Molly Tolsky