Mamas on Bedrest: The Shadow Behind My Smile

March 21st, 2012

My son turned 6 years old today. I just returned from his preschool celebration and I’m a bit “misty”.

I never envisioned myself as one of “those mamas” who get misty every time their child does the slightest thing. But sitting in my son’s classroom today, listening to all his little classmates say what they like best about him, it was really a bittersweet experience. The accolades ranged from “I like his superhero T-shirt” to “He’s a really good runner” and “I like the way he plays tag.” The compliments were as sweet and as funny as the little ones themselves. And not one of those wee ones commented on the fact that my son is brown amongst a sea of pale faces.

Nagging in the back of my mind was the realization that my son won’t always be so well loved. Sitting in that Montessori classroom with the ever patient “guides” (teachers) my son exists in a different world. As the only African American child in that classroom and one of two African American children in the entire school of some 100+ students, my son is a rarity. He has learned to have patience and compassion for his “friends” and to always regard them with kindness and respect. It works so well in this environment and I wish that this Montessori way of being conveyed to the broader society at large. But as the recent shooting of 17 year old Trayvon Martin clearly demonstrates, this is not the case.

Trayvon Martin was a 17 year old boy who lived in Florida. On Sunday February 26, 2012, Trayvon went to a local convenience store to buy some Skittles and iced tea for his little brother. Walking back home, he was talking to his girlfriend when a man began chasing him as he walked through a gated community. George Zimmerman then fatally shot Trayvon Martin stating that “He was up to no good.” Although Trayon Martin was unarmed and had not provoked any altercation, Zimmerman chased and shot the teen. Investigation in this case is still pending and there has been enormous public outcry because Zimmerman has not been arrested and charged with murder.

As I sat in my son’s classroom I began to wonder, at what age should his father and I teach him the word “nigger” and what it means? Yes, there it is. That dreaded, nasty word that inflicts so much pain and rage yet is hurled at Black people with venom and hatred for no other reason than the color of our skin. Do I let him be called a nigger first or prepare him for that inevitable encounter by essentially teaching him the word? At what age do I teach my son that there will be people who will hate him with a vengeance, who may seek (an terrifyingly succeed) to harm him to the point of death? How do I teach him that he may be walking down any street in this United States of America and someone may spit on him because of the color of his skin? How do I teach him that store security clerks will follow him, question him and assume that his is “up to no good” when all he may be doing is buying me a birthday present? How do I explain to him that riding his brand new blue bike with his new “slime green” helmet may cost him his life if he rides his bike in the wrong neighborhood? How do I explain these things to a beautiful little boy when I don’t understand them myself?

Hell, give me potty training, shoe tying and learning to ride a two-wheeler any day! These skills are infinitely easier to teach than hate.

Sitting and smiling,  I squelched the fear and push back the urge to vomit. I did my best to dwell in the moment watching my son smile as he shared his birthday poster of photos from his 6 years with his friends. I squelched back thoughts of Trayvon Martin’s mother’s agony because her boy is “gone too soon” and in a senseless fashion. I choked back the anger and fear that I have, knowing that there are so many “lessons” that I need to teach my son and I feel woefully unprepared and ill equipped to teach him. And for just a moment, I wish with all my heart that I could somehow shrink him up and put him back into the secure confines of my womb where I’d know that he’d be safe.

Today is my baby boy’s birthday. His father and I shared his joy as he received love and acceptance from his classmates. The celebration will last through to the weekend culminating with a Star Wars themed birthday party. There will be much joy and laughter as my son revels in it being “his day” and “his time”. I’ll smile to and laugh at his glee. But like most African American mothers of boys, I will also be patently aware of that nagging sense of fear and the shadow it casts behind my smile.

6 responses to “Mamas on Bedrest: The Shadow Behind My Smile”

  1. Chris Heidel says:

    Darline, this post is so sad and so perfect all at the same time. Happy Birthday to your baby, and thanks for writing this.

  2. Darline says:

    Thanks so much for reading and posting a comment. Yes, it is sad. I so feel for Trayvon’s mother! No mother should lose her child so senselessly. But perhaps some good will come from all this tragedy.

  3. Oh, heartbreaking. This question knocked the breath out of me: “Do I let him be called a nigger first or prepare him for that inevitable encounter by essentially teaching him the word? ”
    I’m thankful, at least, to know that your sweet boy has a wonderful, thoughtful mama to balance out racism and the other bad stuff out there.

  4. Darline says:

    Hi Katie,
    Thanks so much for your comment and for your guidance on how best to talk with my children about such sensiitive issues.
    I greatly value your expertise!!

  5. Reyna Kelley says:

    Thank you for sharing your thoughtful insight. It’s such a challenge to navigate these waters as parents… with our instincts ranging from the desire to protect our children from the harshness of reality/ the outside world and the critical need to prepare them as best we can. Ultimately, I tend to default to preparing them for life outside the nest, our womb, our house, our neighborhood, little be little, by age and by stage… it is our duty to prepare them because we won’t always be there to protect them.

  6. Darline says:

    Thanks Reyna.
    I agree, we have to prepare our children. It’s a harsh cruel world out there and we’re not always going to be there to protect them. That realization is scary, but true. So we do our best and let them go.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *