Some might call me a protective parent. We set up natural boundaries around things like swimming in a pool without adult supervision and we intervene when we hear the inevitable curse word or put down. Kids don't just come out of the womb knowing the rules around safety or what's ok and not ok to say out loud to other humans. We nurture their kindness and call them on their behavior when it's unacceptable. Yet, we also might be pretty progressive when compared to others in the realm of conversations we are willing to have with them.
We have often talked to them about the big questions they have... and both of my boys are deep thinkers. Petey was obsessed with anatomy and physiology at such a young age that he used the gift card from his toddler teacher to buy his all time favorite book, "The Human Body Book" which brought out a whole host of questions about (mostly) the female reproductive system, coupled with some great talks about the pulmonary system which led to the refusal to eat "aveolis" (what he heard when I said, "raviolis"). Phoenix wanted to know who the first humans were and how many people have died in wars since the start of time around that age. We read early on the stories of freedom fighters and Phoenix designed wheel chair accessible ramps and elevators in case his grandma without a limb ever came to visit.
Now, it's racism. At bedtime, the talks start. In the car, the talks start. They wonder and they want to know. Truth is, I don't. I have my strong feelings that we all need to embrace one another, but I could never explain what life is like for a black American. I can tell you that I understand there are so many layers of oppression from the past and biases and imprisonments and such- that adversity by nature can increase your risk of violating laws and lead to more violence and greater percentages of your people in prison. Much of that adversity stemming from a fear and an intentional or inadvertant "holding people in their place". Between the military intentionally recruiting from lower income brackets and the flying in of illegal drugs, our world has certainly set up a metaphorical chutes and ladders with many more chutes for people of color.
But I don't know what it means because I couldn't. I'm a white girl. I am a caring white girl- but a white girl, no less. I have faced discrimination as a white woman married to another white woman. I know what it feels to be afraid you're rights will be stripped away or never issued at all. I remember the feeling for a full two years after we "illegally" wed with a large ceremony October- the month before it was legal to get a marriage certificate in MA. The year that every news channel showed images of gays and lesbians burning in the flames of Hell as protestors rallied to try to revoke the rights just issued in our state- I walked around with a bicycle chain in my gut- one that had shards of glass instead of metal links. Everyone had an opinion on the matter and talked openly about it- many forgot as I don't look the stereotypical lesbian- that I was there, listening.
So, at bedtime, many years later, I sit with my nine year old and my twelve year old and we read. We talk. Now, it's Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes. The story, copyrighted in 2018, is about a 12 year old black boy named Jerome. He is bullied terribly in his inner city school and afraid of the drug dealers on the street, yet he is a "good boy" and loved by his popular sister and hard working poor family. He is shot and killed by a white police officer who thought a toy gun (which he would never normally carry and would be in great trouble if he did) was real. The story oscillates between chapters that are "Alive" or "Dead" and slowly tell the story about his family and community who grieve. Jerome is now a ghost and has formed an unlikely bond with the police officer's daughter who can see him and a mysterious second ghost boy- I'd tell you more, but I haven't gotten that far yet. The little girl poses questions to her father that cause him to question his own perception of the "man" he saw as dangerous... Jerome, who really is just twelve and the same height as the officer's daughter.
I don't know if I'm doing it right- and I am not entirely concerned about that. No one seems to have the answers or the path written out in neat, linear steps. I'm more concerned about staying open, curious and honest. I am more concerned about hearing the stories and re-writing the small part of the picture I can... that of mine and my family. I hope to inform my boys with a love for others and a deep trust in this inner compass- a trust so deep that when faced with the opportunity to oppress or to close a fist- they open their hand and reach out instead.
If that's all I can do right now, I am doing something important. I feel that in my heart.