I wrote The Value of a Black Son when my son was a year old. He’s four now. His baby features are all but gone, but he’s still super cute. He still manages to charm his teachers and classmates despite being a bit of a jerk at times. (I’m his mom. I know him, okay?) He’s a long ways away from me having to exhort him to pull his pants up and put gas in the car when he takes it somewhere and take a shower for the love of God your room smells like a petting zoo.
He’ll always be cute. But he won’t always look like a little boy.
I worry about him a lot. His sister, too. I’m a millennial parent. We worry about a lot of stuff. Parenting in the age of social media is a trip, I tell you. Even if you manage to keep your kids’ image off of it and protect their privacy (which, kudos to those of you who are able to do that because I protected my daughter’s online footprint for a grand total of 4 months before I threw up my hands in surrender), you still have to contend with articles telling you why it’s a bad idea to tell your daughter she’s beautiful and why it’s disrespectful to ask your kids “What’s wrong with you?” This, of course, is in addition to the universal parenting stuff, like making sure they have a good education and are getting proper nutrition. And that they won’t grow up and commit some heinous crime.
There are a lot of things to juggle as a parent nowadays, is all I’m saying.
So on top of all that I struggle with knowing just how much of my son’s personality I need to let develop on its own and what parts of it I should nip in the bud. He can be moody at times. I wish I could say it’s just him being four, but heck, I’m moody. That’s probably not something he’s going to outgrow. Will the world he’s growing up in allow him the grace to just be moody sometimes? Or will moody read on his Black face as menacing?
There are a lot of articles out there about not forcing our kids to interact with strangers or hug friends because we are teaching kids about consent and body autonomy and all that jazz. But what does that look like in real life? When an older individual comes up to my son, tells me how adorable he is, and asks him for a high five, and my son doesn’t want to give one, I can certainly say “Oh he’s just not in the mood to give high fives today, sorry.” I can smile really big and friendly (even though that’s not really my nature so it probably looks super fake) to make up for it, but I worry about what they think of my son and me as a mother as they walk away.
I know, I know. I shouldn’t be so concerned with other people and what they think. Forget them, right? I don’t necessarily think I have that luxury. I fear that none of us do anymore, especially people of color. It’s not like I want to raise a tool, or anything. Of course I want my children to be nice and considerate people, and for the most part they are. However it frustrates me as a mother to be raising kids in a climate where their humanity is constantly in question. In a few short years, my son will be the age of the Central Park Five when they were railroaded into confessing to a crime they didn’t commit. (And the man who will be running our country still thinks they did it even though they have been exonerated.) Will he be given the benefit of the doubt if he’s caught on a bad day or in a bad mood? Or will he have to suck it up and deal and be ultra-courteous while being stopped and frisked for no reason?
I want him to remain the carefree little boy he was in my blog post from three years ago, but I know he won’t. And as he makes the hazard-frought journey into manhood, Daddybeard and I will have to equip him for the world we brought him into. We’re trying to figure out how to do that while preserving his authentic self. It’s important.
What good is it to survive in this society if you have to do it wearing a permanent mask?