The Scary World

There are times when I look at my kids and just want to weep for them. I want them to grow up in a world of light and peace, and am instead faced every time I read the news with the horrors of the world. Somewhere along the way, the world has decided to go a bit crazy for the time being, and there’s not a lot I can do about that. My oldest saw a picture of a man holding a gun in an article I was reading about the shooting at the community college and she asked why he was holding a ‘shooter.’ I told her that sometimes, bad people use guns for bad things. She, loving her school and seeing it as her second home, responded that at least she knew she was safe when she was there. I had to tell a 4 year old what to do if her school was being shot up. That is not a conversation that should have to happen – but reality and safety trump idealism.

In the wake of Paris, it becomes even trickier. I don’t want her to see Muslims, or anyone who doesn’t look like her, and automatically think they are to be feared. I want her to know that people of all faiths can be good, and people of all faiths can be bad. I want her to continue to see the humanity in humans, not the hatred that so often invades us. I don’t want her to think that she needs to live in fear, but instead know that love and light will eventually root out many bad things. Evil hides in darkness because that’s what it needs to succeed. It’s why dictators quash any outside influence. It’s why terrorists’ biggest objective seems to be to get everyone to hate everyone else. Hate is easy – it comes to us all too naturally. Love is much more powerful, and much harder to achieve.

There’s no answer to this. There’s nothing that I can do today to stop evil. Instead, I encourage this little girl – who is a fireball of awesome – to understand the importance of other people. We talk about how everyone’s job is important and contributes to the world. We talk about people who live lives that aren’t like ours. And I hug her when things get too scary. And try to not let her see me cry for her.

The Importance of a Leaf

My oldest child is in Kindergarten, and I really like her teacher.  This happened last week.

I took Katie to a math and literacy night at her school. It was good, and she loved being read to in school at night. At one of the tables, the activity was to write your name on, color, and cut out a leaf. I handed Katie a pen and told her to write. “Are you sure you don’t want some help, honey” came a voice. “She’s good, she can write her name by herself.”

Katie colors her leaf and grabs the big scissors off the table and starts cutting. “Sweetie, you should really use the little scissors.” Katie looks at me and looks at the woman “But, the little ones hurt my hand and I…” Her voice trails off and she looks at me. “At home, she uses a grown up pair of kitchen shears – she’s fine.” The woman walks away. A few minutes later she comes back. “You look like you’re struggling. Why don’t you let me do it? I can help.” I step in, again. “She’s fine. It’s her leaf. She will do it on her own.” “But, how are you going to do everything else if she spends her time on this.” “This is her leaf. It’s her project. She’s going to do it on her own because I know she can. I know how to cut out a leaf – I don’t need to practice. I’m assuming you don’t either. It’s hers.”

The woman walks away, comes back. “You’re just working so hard on that leaf. You’re still at it – it’s been a while.” Over the course of the next ten minutes, three people offered to help her.  All of them looked frustrated with my refusal to allow it.  After the third, Katie put the scissors down, looked at me and said, “I don’t think I can do this.  It must be too hard.”  I told her that was fine, she didn’t have to finish it, but no one else would either.  She picked the scissors back up.

Katie cut the whole leaf by herself. Looking around, there were mostly adults cutting these leaves out – even when the child was in 2nd grade. But dammit, my kid did her leaf, on her own, and looked so proud at the end. She held it up to the ‘helper’ and said, “See my leaf! It’s only mine because I did it all by myself. I just took my time and was careful, and it’s MINE only.”

We have to trust that kids have capabilities or risk having them default to adults and never learn the skills needed to be independent. It was little. It was just a leaf coloring page. But, if I take it from her and do it for her, I’ve just taught her that she is unnecessary in her own projects.

Hopes

I wrote this several weeks after the South Carolina church shooting.

I am a white woman from the South. I love my Southern roots – the land, the food, the history. I have lived a comfortable and, especially being from a place where white skin means privilege, easy life. I have never had to worry that a cop would think I had committed a crime simply because I was walking down the wrong street. I have never had the experience of being followed in a store simply because the assumption was that I had no money since I was black. I have never had racial slurs hurled at me because I stole someone’s parking spot.

I have worked with groups for equality and peace. I worked for Save Darfur as a volunteer. I attended conferences about how peace could be achieved. I studied extensively about the socioeconomic impacts of HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan countries and I volunteered to try and reduce the stigma around the disease. All of my work was local, but I felt like I was making a small dent. In 2008, I worked to register voters in low income areas and I worked for the Obama campaign in my hometown of Richmond, VA. I did all of this, truly caring about the issues, behind the safety of my race. I didn’t use it to my advantage – but an advantage it was whether I wanted it or not.

I am proud of who I am – a wife and mother who is raising her daughters to be empathetic and care about content of character as the only criteria for how they judge someone.

For the first time in my life, I am experiencing feeling that I am being judged unfairly for my skin. I worry that people see me as a stars and bars loving, hate-filled racist. I worry that I am not being judged for who I am, but what people see. I worry that people are looking at me through fear, understandably I might add. While I have known people and talked to people who live this every day, I have never had to live it. It is uncomfortable, disconcerting, and scary. I feel overlooked. I feel lost. And, I might add that my feeling is minuscule compared to what black men and women have experienced every day for the entirety of this country’s existence. I feel uncomfortable, but I don’t worry that a cop will shoot me. I don’t worry that someone will walk into a house of worship and massacre me. I don’t worry that the church down the street from my parents will burn overnight. I know that my feelings, while they are there, are nothing when placed against what the African-American community has and is currently going through. I do not intend to lessen that. But for the first time, I am getting a minor lesson in the experience of what it feels like.

Maybe, just maybe, when the fires have been put out and the dust of the flag has been swept up, this is the good that will come out of this terrible time. Maybe, 10, 20, 30 years from now I can be proud not only of my roots, but my heritage – one of overcoming hatred and letting tolerance and acceptance take its place. Maybe there will be more empathy running through the country and that will be the basis that the healing will start on. Maybe, we can all come together after this and say, “I know what I felt was NOTHING in comparison to your day-to-day, but I now can somewhat understand. It isn’t fair, it isn’t comfortable, and it shouldn’t be how things work.” I know that’s a pipe dream. I know that it’s kumbya and hippie and peacelovedove. But maybe that’s a good thing. I want my kids to grow up in a world where they are judged by who they are, and so is everyone else. Maybe, just maybe, after all the hatred and horror has died down, we will be a bit closer to Dr. King’s dream.

It’s not likely, but one can hope.