To a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
Today Daddybeard told me how, when he dropped Short Stack off at day care, Short Stack’s teacher couldn’t wait to show him how well Short Stack was learning to identify the months of the year. She talked about how quickly he answered the questions, how he went off on his own to practice his letters of his own volition. It was a report of which any parent would be proud.
A few weeks earlier, the report we had gotten from the day care had been markedly different. That tale is recounted below:
Last night Locmommy called me, very upset and told me that Short Stack’s day care wrote an incident report on him for being disobedient. Let’s get some things out in the open: Short Stack can be temperamental and purposefully aloof at times (ok ok ok…temperamental a lot) but I can say with 100% certainty that he is not a disobedient child. Fast forward to this morning…I found out that the reason he didn’t “listen and do what he was told” was because he was told to go take a nap way earlier than normal and his reasoning was that “it wasn’t time yet and he wasn’t tired.” I blame myself and Locmommy here.
My children’s lives are structured. It’s structured because Soccer Diva needs things orderly for her mind to be at peace. Short Stack likes schedules and rules…why? I don’t know. I don’t understand him…he’s 4. A typical conversation consists of calling each other “Masterpants” and me telling him “I love you” and him saying “I said it already”. So he was very explicit when he told the 3rd new teacher in 4-5 months that he “was not tired yet because it was not time yet.” (He was right about the time) Because he “talked back” to her, he was written up and had to stand there while a teacher told Locmommy about how he misbehaved. I’m not a child psychologist but I can imagine that getting the impression that you’re “bad” for being/acting like a 4-year old is not very uplifting to your self-esteem.
I’m no child psychologist either, but all I could think about as the teacher read the incident report to me was what Short Stack was processing about this moment. He’s an intuitive boy, and despite me making the conscious effort not to look at him while his “charges” were being read to me, I feared that he figured out that something was wrong.
I talked to three different mothers of different ages and upbringing, but all of them black. One mother has three grown children. My son is her grandson. One of them is a few years older than me and has a daughter in graduate school, a son in in high school, and a son in middle school. One of them is the same age as me, and has a two-year-old daughter. All three of them know my son.
I told them the story of being asked to sign an incident report because my four-year-old was disobedient and “wouldn’t focus”. I didn’t have to explain to them why it bothered me; they all knew instantly. It wasn’t just that he was a four-year-old boy whose normal four-year-old behavior for some strange reason garnered the kind of response a bite from a classmate would get.
It was that he was a little black boy. And he is the only little black boy in his class.
It is possible you may think we were being hyper-sensitive. That it was unnecessary for me to have a phone conference, and Daddybeard to have an in-person meeting, with the center director about how damaging that incident report was in our eyes. The problem was that I was too familiar with the school-to-prison pipeline, and the statistics about black children being almost four times as likely to be suspended from preschool as white children. The problem was that even though we had yet to learn about the five black boys held at gunpoint by a police officer in Grand Rapids, Michigan, or the death of Jordan Edwards, their stories had already happened to other black boys in other cities, with different names.
Our son is a cutie pie, a budding pianist, a charmer when he wants to be, and stealthily brilliant, but I fear the day when none of this is enough to soften the fact that he is black and male. Try as we might, Daddybeard and I can’t always be there to go to bat for him the way we did with his center director. We know that all the good reports in the world won’t be enough if he gets caught, just once, on the wrong side of an unforgiving system.
To the hammer, everything looks like a nail. And to parents of little black boys and girls, everything looks like a promising life cut short.