My two oldest boys took a trip to Texas this summer. It was their second time flying to Grandma’s without an adult. Last year (their first time) I was nervous… but it was a good nervous. It was a ‘my babies are growing up’ kind of nervous.
We talked about wearing their seat belts and using their manners. I made sure they had everyone’s phone numbers just in case they got lost playing in Grandma’s neighborhood. I did the usual ‘mom run-down.’
But this year we had a much different conversation… a more serious conversation.
We talked about how to stay safe around police officers, even if they were only asking for help. I taught them how to hold their hands palms up and to the side, and to never reach in their pockets. And for God’s sake, don’t run up to them, even in an emergency. Some officers will shoot first and ask questions later… when it’s too late.
We talked about “sucking it up” if someone made a racist comment to them while they ride their bikes in the neighborhood. They’ve always joked about what they would do if someone disrespected them in that way.
“I would put ’em in a full-nelson while DJ gives ’em a wedgy.”
“I would karate chop ’em while Ty brings the pain.”
I’d usually just chuckle a little and roll my eyes when they came up with these scenarios; They were just so silly. But they had no idea what it would really feel like to be disrespected and discriminated against, so we had to talk about it.
I explained to them, in no uncertain terms, how abrasive and bold people in our country had become. Yes, I know, racism has always been around. But in the past year, people stopped trying to hide it. It’s like race relations have been set back 50 years. People are literally wearing their bigotry on their shirts. So I told them how they might appear to people.
“You don’t look like kids anymore. You look grown up. You look like you’re up to no-good. You look like a bad hombre and a thug. You look like trouble. Some people will see the color of your skin and act like it has poisoned your bodies. They won’t care that you’re on honor roll, or that you help babysit your brothers.
So if a person disrespects you, as much as it burns on the inside, just walk away. You can’t control how they feel; It’s not up to you to change their minds. More and more people are carrying guns… and using them. Your only job is to keep yourself safe. At the end of the day, that’s all that counts.”
My kids have been raised in a protective bubble. They already know that the world is full of good, loving people. They’ve grown up believing police officers are here to help and protect them when they need it.
They’re oblivious to all that’s wrong in the world. They don’t watch the news. They don’t know the KKK had a rally in a neighboring town last week. They haven’t seen the brawls on the airlines. And they’ve never seen the Facebook videos of innocent men being murdered by police officers with no consequences.
So it’s my job to teach, educate, and prepare them. Just like I teach them to be respectful and do well in school, I will also teach them how to survive. No, these aren’t the conversations I envisioned having with my twelve year old children. I thought we would at least get to girls before we got to guns. But this has been an extraordinary year, full of violence and bigotry. Maybe we’ll get to the girls next year.