Yesterday, after all of the big conversations, the boys took on Mouse Trap.
LittleBrother got the board game for his birthday on Monday. I told him that after dinner, he could work on setting it up. I didn’t figure he would be able to do it by himself the first time, so I told him I would help him after I cleaned up the kitchen.
Before I could get there, BigBrother swooped in.
I imagined they would end up arguing over which piece went where… but they didn’t. They worked together to get everything set up as best they knew how. I even got to sit down and read for a few minutes while the worked hard. Eventually they called me back into the dining room.
I helped them fix a few things, and then watched as they sent the marbles flying. The joy on their faces made me smile, made me feel a bit of that joy myself.
I stepped back into his dimly lit bedroom. He sat on his bed, reading by the lamp on his nightstand.
“Hey, is my phone in here?” I just put him to bed five minutes earlier and suddenly couldn’t locate my phone.
“No. But mommy, what’s the n-word?”
We’ve talked lots about how we love everyone, even when they look different or love different or move different or act different. We’ve talked about how differences make us better, stronger; we’ve talked about how we can learn from those different from ourselves. We’ve talked about those who don’t like certain types of people for any number of non-reasons.
But I hadn’t quite delved into hate speech yet. Because I didn’t have to. Because my sons are white and no one wields the word at them with hatred or malice. It’s our privilege, shining brightly.
— __ — __ —
I remember being in fifth grade, which feels too old to say what I said. The teacher told us to take the letters of our names and make as many words as possible. I actually sat next to the only child of any color in our grade; diverse my hometown was not. When it was my turn to share my list of words, I said it.
And not just the n-word, but the n-word spelled wrong because I didn’t even know how to spell it.
I didn’t know what it meant. I didn’t know that it hurt the kid sitting next to me, though he was brave enough to tell me on the playground. My teacher told me it wasn’t appropriate, but didn’t offer any reason as to why. I obviously heard the word prior to that moment, but at that time, the race discussion went in the “colorblind” direction. So we didn’t discuss anything at home, at school. I didn’t know what I didn’t know.
Thinking of that day, even now, makes my stomach hurt.
— __ — __ —
And so that night in my son’s bedroom after bedtime, I continued our discussion on race—a lifelong one if you’re doing it the right way. I explained the ways the word
was is used to hurt black people, people with brown skin. He asked a few questions and generally accepted the discussion in an age-appropriate manner.
And then yesterday happened.
After getting the boys in bed after yesterday’s birthday celebrations, I sat down and made my way through the posts and tweets and shares coming in about the impending announcement in Ferguson. I got a sick feeling in my stomach, that same sick feeling I had when my friend explained what I really said that day in fifth grade. I wanted to believe the indictment would come down, but something deep within me knew. I knew Wilson would walk.
Over dinner this evening, the boys asked about someone no longer in our lives because of the hate she spewed about gay people. The conversation did what conversations do in our family, and meandered down a path. These two boys ask exceptional questions, especially for their age. Eventually, BigBrother brought it back to the n-word he asked me about the other night, and I went with it.
I explained about being black in America, about white privilege, about how they, as white boys with peach skin, will come by certain things in life easier than their black friends with brown skin. I pulled from posts I’ve read over the past few months, over the past few years. And I didn’t really have to do too much explaining, because they wanted to do all the explaining to me.
About how it’s wrong to follow a black boy through a store thinking he would steal something. About how it’s wrong to not like someone, even hate someone, because their skin is different. About how no one is “better” than another human being. About how we all deserve the same rights.
I absolutely shocked them when I told them that black and white people couldn’t marry each other once upon a day. BigBrother chimed in that he knew two of his friends couldn’t go to school with him if this was “back then.” I kept driving it home that while things have changed, while we can marry and go to school together, people still hate. And it’s wrong. And it will be up to them to continue working on change. They don’t understand hate; they don’t want to.
As the conversation wound down, they both said that they would stand up for someone if they saw it happen—which is more than some from my generation can say. Silence on our part spoke volumes over the past day, the past few months, the decades prior. We can make change, but we first must be willing to feel uncomfortable, to start and continue the hard conversations.
When he put his dishes in the sink, BigBrother thanked me for the big, long dinner talk -slash- history lesson. I reminded him that he could always ask and tell me anything. While they set up Mouse Trap, I went and collapsed on the couch for 15 minutes to regain my thoughts.
I don’t have answers for what happened in Ferguson, for what happened in Cleveland, for what happens day in and day out all over our country. But I do have this: I have two little boys who still don’t know how to hate. Hate is learned, and God help me, we won’t be teaching it in our home. I will do my best to continue these conversations with our sons in hopes that someday they won’t one day have to have them with their own… or their grandchildren… or their great-grandchildren.
Seven. Today you are seven. I can’t even believe it.
You’ve grown a lot this year. Physically, you grew at least four inches from the beginning of spring to the end of fall. That’s a lot of growing in a short amount of time. All that growing allowed you to ride your first big roller coaster, and I’m so thrilled I got to sit with you as we climbed that first giant hill. It also meant that you outgrew all of your pants and shirts and jammies. You’re growing so fast, I’m having trouble keeping up with you!
You also grew in lots of other ways. You learned to ride your bike. You mastered math and spelling in first grade this year. You did great things on the soccer and baseball fields. You really took your reading to new heights and work hard to find books that interest you.
What I love most about you is the way you love.
Goodness, kid. You could teach the world so much about love; you’d change everyone’s heart if you could. You offer help at any chance: with dinner, with laundry, with absolutely anything, just to be in our presence. You tell us, all day everyday, that you love us. You write us notes. You give us hugs and kisses, even in public still! You tell your teachers that you love us. It’s amazing and self-thought changing to be loved that deeply. Thanks for that.
You’re also our jokester. Oh, the things you’ll do and say for a laugh. I love the way your eyes light up when you tell a joke. I assume that someday you’ll learn the appropriate time for jokes, and the appropriate time for serious. In the mean time, I’ll try to keep a straight face while I work to teach you those lessons. Thanks for making us laugh all year long—maybe during some times when we needed it the most.
I look forward to seeing how you grow and change and love this year. I am thankful to have another chance to spin the globe as your mommy.
Thank you for being you.
I love you,
Mommy (and Daddy)
PS: You’ve lost two teeth since I took that picture!
A very happy birthday party indeed. Our boys are very loved by some really awesome people.
I just finished packing 24 little goodie bags for the boys’ birthday party tomorrow. I’m hoping 24 is enough. When you do the dual-birthday-party, you end up with double the kids in one party. Due to life and holidays and all that jazz, I don’t think we’ll have more than 24, but I have extra bags to fill just in case.
I’ve been thinking a lot about birthdays this week, with BigBrother’s special day falling this past Monday and LittleBrother’s coming up this Monday. TimeHop featured parties from the past couple of years over the week as well, reminding me what I looked like three years ago going into the boys’ birthday, the day my legs buckled in the parking lot due to the pain. A lot has changed since that party; I’ve changed a lot since that party. A lot has changed over the many years of these parties.
Birthday week always makes me turn inward, to look over the past year—the past years.
I remember my only goal seven years ago was to get through BigBrother’s second birthday party without going into labor. I was very pregnant, very achy and just coming off Level III bed rest again. And still I planned a birthday party for my oldest son, a Thomas theme. I refused to not have a party; I felt compelled to celebrate this only son of ours one last time before his brother joined the picture. By the end of the party, my shoes were off because of the swelling, but I made it.
Who is that little blonde child, leaned back with ease in my lap? Who is that barefoot and pregnant, short-haired woman?
LittleBrother was born six days after this party.
I think of the people who were at the early parties, who aren’t now—because of death, because of life, because of friendships that come and go. I think of those people who will be at the party tomorrow who weren’t at the early parties—because it took me awhile to find my feet here in Ohio, to make friends and keep them, to make meaningful connections with people who wanted to love my family through all things. I think of the times my daughter’s family was able to make it for a party, and how long that’s been now. My heart skips a beat when I think of it now, of how much it would mean to the boys, of how hard it is to make any of that work.
I think of how early parties consisted of our families and friends we had, as parents, and their children. And how it remains that way now, but with the addition of their friends they’ve made in their own spaces on their own time. Of how that will continue: their friends, their way. I offered each boy an out of the birthday party this year, but they wanted a party with their friends. And who can blame them, still and yet? I don’t throw parties with big themes to impress my friends or theirs; I throw parties because my sons think their mommy throws the best parties ever.
And so tomorrow I’ll put on my extrovert face and go do all of the extroverted things. And tomorrow night, I’ll cuddle up in the corner of the couch, and breathe the deep breaths of a mother who just threw another party. I’ll look back on pictures of this year some year in the future and remember the ninja theme, the people who stood with us while we celebrated these two boys; I will give thanks for another year, gone; another year, waiting.
For exactly one week, they look like they’re three years apart.
On paper. The birth certificate variety.
This blows their minds. Blows their minds. Completely. We’ve had various and repeated conversations about this little factoid. How they’re not really three years apart. How Mommy is two years older than Daddy for 18 days. How Uncle M is only seven years younger than Mommy for 11 days. And so on.
Just when I think they’re getting it, they ask a question that makes me shake my head and laugh.
They’ll get it someday. When BigBrother turns big ages like 16 and 18 and 21, he’ll hoard the three years over his brother’s head. Later in life, I imagine LittleBrother will point out his “agedness” at one point or another.
It’s just another part of their brotherhood. They’ll own it in their time.