When it’s time to discuss difficult and sensitive topics with my 9 year old son and 7 year old daughter my first response is normally to tell the truth. This often means I keep it vague and abstract, but I’m sure not to lie.
Kids know about unfairness. Kids know about meanness. Kids know about lying.
We talk about how small minded people who have power and authority often abuse it. How people who are hurting inside are often compelled to hurt others. How it’s important to act with kindness integrity in order to combat darkness and injustice.
And there is a part of me that wants to protect their immature, innocent, untainted psyches. To let them be children. In letting them have a full range of experiences and adventures my hope is that I’m teaching them about life. Life is often about struggle, yes, but it is also about triumph, joy and delight. I want to engender a sense of wonder, fascination and curiosity about the world. And, of course, I want them to be kind.
Back in December I came across this Washington Post piece by Stacey Patton, In America, Black Children Don’t Get to Be Children. Inspired by the strength of her writing and my own indignation as a mother I wrote the following.
On December 13th, 2014 I took my kids to see a bilingual children’s theater production.
There were actors, musicians, a colorful set.
Culture. Art. Music.
We laughed, we clapped, we sang.
I make intentional decisions to expose them to enriching activities.
When we get too busy and overwhelmed I try to remember to stop and do nothing. A pajama day.
I’m sometimes indulgent. Cookies. An extra 20 minutes of screen time. Staying up a little late on a school night.
My kids talk back, ask for more, tell me how they feel.
They feel safe to rebel, to ignore my directives, to say no.
They take Spanish classes, music lessons, swim practice, art sessions.
Play dates, time with grandma, vacations to Puerto Rico. And road trips down South to see their paternal grandparents (where they get a little straightened out from my coddling).
I want my children to be children.
And that same day was also the March for Millions. Black Lives Matter. We did that too.
My daughter was attracted to the excitement of it. My son, not so much.
He was cold and hungry (he’s always hungry) and couldn’t understand why the heck we were walking for so many blocks.
I was hesitant to go fearing that provocateurs would incite violence and that I’d be putting them at risk.
It was different when I was in my late teens and early 20s. When my sense of mortality was not so present.
When my responsibility was to myself and my studies.
When I was busy consciousness raising around the causes my peers and I were fired up about at the time.
This time around I got to relive the power of voices gathering against injustice.
To witness the effort and commitment it takes to organize a peaceful protest march.
Watching the marshals corral us into order. Feeling proud that I could share this moment with my family.
I was in awe of our collective voices, our presence.
It was vital for me to feel that again and for my children to witness it for the first time.
I want them to have a clear sense of their own humanity.
To develop their talents, their skills.
To be unquestioning of their rights.
For their fully developed humanity to recognize and respect the humanity of others.
Yes, to be spoiled and entitled and maybe a little uppity.
Demanding that they be treated with respect.
To be certain they have a right to enjoy music, culture, art.
I’m aware of our privilege.
They have not yet personally experienced the acute effects of racism (beyond the xenophobia and meanness of second and third graders).
I’ve talked back, pushed back with teachers who have forgotten what normal boyhood looks like.
I’ve been able to negotiate with a school system that demands compliance and conformity.
And we’re lucky to live in a place where I don’t fear their whole being is stifled and oppressed.
Perhaps I’m not yet at the point of panic because of what they look like, what they might be wearing or who their friends are. I haven’t had to have that talk with them just yet.
I want them to feel so fully human that any questioning or violation of their rights is so foreign, so jolting, so uncomfortable that they feel compelled to stand up and speak out.
To know injustice exists. To be compelled to create, join with others, bring beauty to the world.
I want my children to be children.