This week’s focus is inspired by the events unfolding in the news, but is not limited in its scope. There is much in life that leaves us speechless – both tragic and awe-inspiring. This week, think about the moments that leave you searching for words. Responses can be written, photographic, artistic, or musical.
The evening national news had just concluded. The entire broadcast consisted of live coverage of the Black Lives Matter protests happening around the country. Reporters conducted interviews with protestors, political figures and children struggling to understand what was happening.
The interviews that stood out for me the most were with African American mothers and fathers. I saw such profound fear in their eyes. Longstanding fear for their children’s safety – especially their sons – both young and grown. They voiced long held terrors…Will their sons return home for supper unharmed? Will they return after a run? Will they return at all? Or will they be targeted by a white member of the community or by the police just because they are black. Look what happened to George Floyd. And so many others – both male and female – like him.
Goodbye and be careful son…takes on a whole new urgency.
I turned off the TV and asked my husband:
What would it have been like if we had needed to worry about our son’s safety every time he left the house…because of the color of his skin? When he left to ride his bike. When we left him off to play basketball. Or baseball. When he drove the car to his friend’s house. Or to the mall to go shopping at Christmas. What if he got stopped in the car…or out in public…for any reason at all? What if?…
Because we did worry about his safety. About what we thought were the “usual” parental concerns. Accidents. Behavior. Illness. Choices.
But due to our privilege as white Americans, we didn’t – and we don’t – experience the searing ongoing daily unimaginable life and death worry about safety that African American parents have always lived with.
What would it have been like?
What would it still be like…?
My mind screeches to a halt. My eyes fill with tears.
At 5 months old, my daughter often found it difficult to wind down. Close her eyes and take a rest. A nap even. So many exciting happenings in her baby world. Lights. Smiles. Laughs. Talking. Music. Hugs. Books. Sunshine. Mama’s Milk. Bananas. Cereal. Baby walker exploring. Johnny Jump-Up calisthenics.
Inspired by Lens-Artists Photo Challenge #81: Find Something Red
…If you wish, you have the option of “visiting” your photo archives….Capture shots which feature the color red…
Find Something Red
When I was a young mother with a 5 year old daughter, I had my second child – a son – who was altogether different from my firstborn. No big surprise really, but even so… shockingly (to me anyway – I considered myself experienced by then) it required multitasking on an entirely new level.
One example: when we all went on outings of any kind, my son was likely to let go of my hand and run off. Or wander off. Precisely when my daughter and I were otherwise occupied. Perhaps being the big sister, she was less likely to do the same. I’m not sure why, but I was most grateful at the time.
Two children to take care of and keep safe…a whole different ball game.
This brings to mind what Dr. A, our sweet pediatrician at the time, once said to me while trying to examine my son as he slipped from my lap and tried to crawl up her leg. As I described how my parenting techniques were not always successfully transcending to child #2.
She smiled that smile reminiscent of people who don’t have children…The first kid is for practice! I think parents should just throw the first one out. Ha Ha Ha.
She was just kidding of course. Although I kind of got the point.
But back to finding something red…
In order to keep track of this very lovable – and speedy – bundle of energy (once compared to a Great Dane by his first grade teacher) outside the confines of our home, I often dressed him in something red. It helped enormously if I needed to locate him in a crowd. At a park. A store. A playground. Since he was tall for his age, a red baseball hat usually worked quite nicely as I quickly spotted his head above the rest. Red shirts and jackets? He was a Chicago Bulls…and then later…a Red Sox fan. Done!
Never one to let winter’s chill keep him from basketball practice, a red snowsuit helped me keep track of him one January day when he was 5.
A red baseball mitt lit him up on the ball field playing catch at 4 ½.
Little did I know how quickly the time would come…when those flashes of red I’d see in the crowd at a neighborhood park would be someone else’s bundle of energy streaking by.
This week, let’s think about the beliefs – personally, socially, culturally – that define our realities.
The most profound disappointment in life is when your truth is not believed.
When reality becomes distorted. By people who matter. And even by people who don’t matter.
But those close to you…that’s when the knife cuts the deepest. Because the hope hangs on. And on. And on. Maybe if this, maybe if that….then they’ll believe me.
Wait, I know that’s what happened. I was there. I heard it. I saw it.
But what if we are programmed from an early age to tell the world – or, more specifically, our world – family, friends – no everything is just fine.
My father would stare into the sad face of one of his children and chant over and over: Don’t Smile! Don’t Smile! Don’t Smile! Laughing…as he repeated his mantra. He’d crouch down and get right in front of a small unhappy face, his mouth stretched tight in a wide grin. His brown eyes, behind thick glasses, betrayed the frivolity. They were mocking. Perhaps fearful.
As if we presented the impossible possibility that one so small and helpless could struggle with an emotion so complicated, so fraught with need.
Need for compassion, understanding, some measure of support. Validation. That we mattered.
I understand now why. He had no idea how to respond. Maybe he was overwhelmed. As it reflected his own dark emotional beliefs. The message: Don’t Be Sad. Deny the Sad. It’s not okay.
Of course, it didn’t take long for our smiles to take shape. If for nothing else, to make the laughing father stop. Smiles did not match up with the eyes or heart. And especially they did not reflect our truth.
My mother, on the other hand, would ask us what we did wrong to cause this emotion that made her so uncomfortable.
Life seldom unfolds in straight lines. It’s not necessary to repeat the prompt phrase, but this week let’s think about the times when life has turned an abrupt corner, or caught us off guard.
This topic jettisons me back almost 30 years to one of those moments. Which caught me off guard…and remains clear in my memory even now.
You hear so much advice as a new parent. Or a young parent. It comes at you from every direction. Other parents. Friends. Family members. Books. Magazine articles. I’m talking pre-internet…when I was raising children.
In the midst of all this advice, there were times I neglected the inner barometer. My parenting radar and instincts still not fully developed.
My 3 year old son’s 8 month experience at a local daycare center was one of those times. When I should have picked up on the signs. That it wasn’t the best place for him; even at only 2 days a week.
Irritability. Anger. Clingyness. But not all the time. I increasingly felt something was off, but rationalized my uneasiness…as over-reacting to normal toddler adjustments.
Until an exchange one evening while changing his diaper. When paying attention became front and center. And a turning point for me…
I am a bad boy.
The words jarring and new…from a child who talked little. Dark green eyes glanced up at me, and then away.
I froze; his two ankles balanced between the fingers of my left hand as I tried to still their movement. He was anxious to be off the changing table. Arms and legs swinging up. Down. Sideways. Body twisting. Trying to roll over. Two damp middle fingers plunged deep in his mouth. No more words came as the sucking became rhythmic.
With my free hand, I smoothed blonde hair back from his forehead.
His eyes met mine. Sweetie…You are a Good Boy. A wonderful boy. And I love you!
I pulled the diaper up between his legs and gently held it on his belly. I let go of his legs. They scissored the air like bike pedals. Wrinkled fingers slid out of his mouth.
Bad Boy he repeated.
I leaned closer…You are the best boy in the whole world.
He strained to be upright. I pinned the diaper, pulled up the pants and stood him on the table. We were almost eye-to-eye.
I felt my outrage growing, the tears close behind….
You Are A Good Boy.
I kissed his cheek. Wrapped my arms around him. Lifted him up. He hooked his little boy legs around my waist and rested his head on my shoulder. His body finally still.
I knew there was only one place he could have heard those words…and gotten that message.
I withdrew him from the daycare center.
I quit my consulting job.
And when her biographer says of an Italian woman poet, “during some years her Muse was intermitted,” we do not wonder at the fact when he casually mentions her ten children.
Anna Garlin Spencer
HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY
especially to all you mean mothers out there…
Adorning a wall in my former home was the following calligraphy print I bought at a local craft fair in the early 1990’s.
It appealed to me with its logic, simplicity and just plain common sense…
In 1993 I was inspired to write a story about a day in my life as a mean mother. I dusted it off for this blog post (who knew?…).
CONFESSIONS OF A MEAN MOTHER 1993
There are two kinds of mothers in this world: Nice Mothers (all the other mothers in town) and Mean Mothers (me). At least that’s what I’m told by my 11 year old daughter; my first born, my pride and joy, my reason for campaigning against Ronald Reagan.
She is right. I am a Mean Mother – married to an equally Mean Father. I have explained that we owe our success to Mean School. Where else would we learn how to set up “chore charts” directing her to strip and make beds (for starters) and our 5 year old son to set the table and fold socks? Where else would we learn about bedtimes earlier than all the other kids in town? And how to set an allowance that is less than the mortgage payment?
I often hear about Nice Mothers.
All the Nice Mothers let their kids stay up late and wait on them 24 hours a day. Children lucky enough to have Nice Mothers can also eat candy and chips all day long. My daughter has many friends who have no chores and watch whatever they want on TV.
“Their mothers let them,” she declares (fathers aren’t usually given credit for this). This surprises me because I think I’ve seen a few of these mothers at Mean School.
My daughter demands proof about Mean School. My son usually accepts these things at face value; but she, being older and wiser, is suspicious.
The subject came up again one recent evening.
Daughter: “Mom, can I watch TV?”
Me: “Have you finished your homework?”
Dtr: “I’ll finish it after ‘Rocky and Bullwinkle’ is over”
Me: “Now is better.” “Remember Mean School Rule #66: ‘Children must finish all homework before viewing TV.'”
Dtr: “Mom, would you just stop with this stuff about Mean School?” It’s SO ridiculous!”
Me: “Well…don’t you think I am mean? Aren’t I doing a good job?”
“Mommmmm.” She rolls her eyes. A practically perfect eye roll.
She hates to lose an argument. “There Is No Such Thing As Mean School.” She pauses for effect. “Like, where is it?”
“Only learning-to-be-mean parents know,” I admit.
Hands on hips…”I still don’t believe you!”
I turn to my husband who is sitting on the couch with our son reading The Cat in the Hat. “Don’t you think it should be obvious that we’re going to Mean School? We insist they write Thank You notes for goodness sake! And what about the no-candy-for-snacks rule? Now that’sreal proof.”
He looks up at me, right eyebrow raised. “Well, I don’t understand why she doesn’t believe us. Maybe we should take extra classes.”
“That’s IT!” “We’re not mean enough!”
She stamps her foot. “You guys are just fooling me. I don’t care what you say. There’s no such thing and I know it!”
Our son, eager to end the discussion, defends our position.
“You’re just a butt-head,” he comments to his sister.
Ignoring him, she crosses her arms and tries again: “And anyway you aren’t that mean…..”
My husband and I look at each other in astonishment.
“All that work! All those rules! All those lists!”
“And especially all those classes…for nothing?”
“We’ll just have to try harder, that’s all,” he admits.
I nod my head in agreement as our daughter flops down in a chair with a loud sigh and another eye roll.
“Well, kids,” I promise, “Dad and I are going to do the best we can to use what we learn in Mean School no matter what other parents let their kids do. After all, we have our position in the community to think of. Remember the family motto: if your friend jumps off a bridge, will you do it too?”
Our son laughs. “Yeah, right.”
Our daughter moans. “Oh forget it.”
We, as mean as ever, continue… “Please go pick up your rooms – we can’t see the floor anymore.”
[I am happy to report we were able to boost enrollment at Mean School by recommending it to several friends. Whose children also grew up to be fine upstanding citizens with great senses of humor]