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“Mom, When Did the World Get Color?”

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Heritage Through the Eyes of a Ten-Year-Old
My son Nicholas amazes me on almost a daily basis. He is smart, sweet, observant, and often described as an "old soul" (you don’t generally find a 10-year-old who likes to wear suits and listen to Frank Sinatra!). He is also my reading buddy and research partner–a budding genealogist. He’s the type of kid with whom you can have a "real" conversation.  So, the other day, when he asked me when the world finally got color, I had a feeling we were in for another great talk . . . and I was right!

First, let me start with some background. In teaching our children about their heritage, or anything for that matter, we naturally look at things from our perspective. It is our story, our lesson, our views that we are sharing with them through a lens of a lifetime of past experiences. Sometimes, though, it may help to switch that perspective a bit and try to imagine it from their points of view–a clear picture without the filter of the past. When we do, we’ll find that a whole new story unfolds. Nicholas helped me learn this that day.

In sharing heritage with my children through countless pictures of our ancestors, occasions, homes, and events, and the retelling of all the stories associated with those photos, I took for granted that nearly all of them were in black and white. Obvious enough, to us–no color photography in the early 1900s. However, to my son, who is very visual, those stories began playing out in his mind in black, white, and various shades of gray. In addition to that, he likes history, old movies, and older Frank Sinatra pictures and albums, many of which are also in black and white. Looking at it from his perspective, why would he think there was color in the world prior to the mid-1900s?

After explaining to my sweet son that it was not the world that was in black and white, but only the photography and technology at that time, his sense of relief was almost palpable. He was worried that Rose, his great-great-grandmother (with whom he remarkably feels a strong connection already), and other family members from “long ago,” did not get to experience their lives in all of the beautiful colors that most of us are fortunate enough to see every day. He felt embarrassed then and apologized for thinking such a thing. I quickly told him that there was nothing to apologize for. In fact, I was astounded by the level of thought, visualization, and empathy he showed for his ancestors and his heritage.

This conversation could have easily been chuckled off and brushed aside, but instead, it got me thinking that we need to pay attention to what our children are hearing, seeing, and thinking. What is their perspective? Instead of worrying about what we are teaching them based on our own experiences, what can we learn from them? As parents, don’t we want to encourage independent thinking, creativity, and the formation of their own opinions and views? Of course, we are there to guide them and correct them, when necessary, but it can open up a whole different perspective and conversation than what we had envisioned. The stories attached to those black and white photos of our ancestors can come alive in color when we sit with our children and truly talk to them about our pasts.

There are many ways to help us start looking at more topics and experiences through our children’s eyes. Here are some tips:

  • Whether you are talking about heritage or another matter entirely, stay present. Really listen to their questions and answer them as honestly and completely as you can.
  • Listen, without judgment, and without regard to "how things should be."
  • Ask questions. A conversation with our children is so much more fun when there are at least two of us talking! Their answers will not only show you their level of interest, but also how well they are comprehending the information.
  • Keep it Relatable and Fun. Find topics that they can relate to at their age and maturity level and most of all, make it fun!

I will never forget this conversation and how much I learned from Nicholas that day. I know my world is more colorful and beautiful than I ever could have imagined because of him and his sister.

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