Eleven Years of Tennyson

Last week I asked my oldest son to complete a chore with me. As he jumped from foot to foot on hot concrete, flies swarmed around us. He offered, “it’s stinky over here,” and “perhaps what you need, mom, is a kitchen shears instead of garden pruners.” But he stayed with me, humming, hopping and smiling. We finished the project, high fived and walked into the shade. He put his arm around me and said, “That was fun.” I laughed as tears rose in my eyes. He noticed, “Mom—how could that possibly choke you up?”

I have witnessed him accomplish remarkable things in eleven years that made me feel proud: piano recitals, choir performances, artwork, inventions, brotherly kindness, acts of compassion. But, I have never felt more optimistic a great future lies before him than when we cut the ropes off our old baby swing together next to the stinky garbage can on a simmering summer day.

Tenny is bright and likable. He has a winsome smile and an easy way with people. He excels in school and inventing things. He is a creative and quick learner. But resilience and willingness to face adversity will do more for him than any talent born or nurtured. I summed up my tears; “I am just so happy for you.”

Which, of course, made him giggle all the more. His giggle renders me weak at the knees with love and adoration. One of my favorite advances in our relationship this year is laughing together. We suddenly seem to crack each other up. Raising Tenny has been one of the greatest gifts of my life. I was prepared to miss each stage as he grew (ok not all of them). What I was not prepared for was how much more interesting, fun and unpredictable he is at every age.

Furthermore, how could there be a pre-teen living in my house? How could he know more than me about computers? And pancake batter? Solar power? How could this be the same little guy who could not sleep anywhere but attached to his parents his first eighteen months? How could he so surprise me? I once knew him better than he knew himself. Everyday, Tenny is less and less kid and more and more his unique self.

IMG_7824We have engaged a tradition for our boys called the “Ten Year Trip.” Instead of a birthday party or gift, they will each choose (within reason) a destination. Tennyson’s selection was an overnight Amtrak trip with mom. He did not care about the destination; only that we slept at least two nights on the train. It speaks volumes of him that he selected a timeworn journey with a balance of exploration and quiet. We had a remarkably good time on our ramble from Seattle to St. Paul, he in awe of the train itself and me in awe of my companion.

This is what the five of us had to share about Tenny at his eleventh birthday dinner:

“He is a great brother.”

“He makes me feel special.”

“He is adventurous.”

“He is confident.”

“He gives great hugs.”

As he said to me earlier this year, “Do you know what I try to do? I try to be optimistic. Just let it roll. Don’t fight the current.” After eleven years of Tennyson, I am certain of one thing. No matter where or how he lands, Tenny will find adventure and purpose in every leap forward.

I will raise white allies

Being “speechless,” though a tempting option, seems wimpy today. I’m afraid to stick my head out from under my awning and into the storm.

Facebook is ripe with “I am a white ally” status updates. Why am I (secretly) judging it? If racism is everywhere, won’t any expression of solidarity help?

I am the mother of three boys that are five generations out from Civil War soldiers who fought to end slavery, four generations after World War II soldiers who fought against the Nazis, and two generations past Civil Rights Movement protestors. Generations of bloodshed.

Yet today, I’m watching Lesley McSpadden weep for the lack of justice shown to her son. And not only that, for the fear it sounds like she lived with for years that this very thing would happen to her son.

And here I am, standing under my awning, irritated, and trying to make sense of myself.

I can repost the news reports and editorials. I will attend a meeting on the Cradle to Prison Pipeline. I don’t mind calling my Congressperson. I can go to more workshops on Race. Protest. I can give money, vote for black leaders, get behind the right Legislation, stand in the street and raise my arms up, criticize the news and expand my media outlets. That is easy —  in fact, its trending among pro athletes and rock stars and editorialists and politicians and bloggers.

So what the hell is bothering me?

We will watch this trend die too, just like the generations of slaves and soldiers and black boys with Doritos in their pockets and frightening looks on their faces.

We talk about black people living up to their stereotypes and how they should change that. We don’t talk much about how white men are living up to their reputations of killing unarmed black boys, and how they should probably change that. Until someone dies. Or burns down a mall. Then its all over Facebook.

We’ve tried War, protest, movement and law: big, broad and bloody gestures at change that appear to take steps forward while incessantly falling backward. Instead, we begrudgingly progress over the generations, evolving at the molecular level. So I find myself irritated by our minuscule attempts at change today that will quietly go away when the stars move on.

Then again…racism and protest and anger and rage and disgust are trending today.

And, let’s face it, the broad and obvious steps have not delivered on change.

Perhaps taking the tiny step of posting about how we feel about it on Facebook is a catalyst for change at the molecular level: where change has always been occurring, though depressingly invisible to the naked eye. Isn’t this also where racism is stuck? Under the flesh? In the cells? In the places we can’t see except under the microscope, of say, a murder trial?

Perhaps if we can change ourselves molecule by molecule, we will evolve as a Family.

Once I saw a young, new teacher call out a black child in my son’s class for the exact same behavior my white child had just exhibited. She saw them both act. She chose one child to punish. I don’t know if it was racism that drove her, but probably, neither did she. I ignored it.

When my child brought home happy stories of Martin Luther King and said, “We’re celebrating because the dream he had came true,” I applauded his learning.

When the black college student said at my conference insisted, “as a white organization, partnering with black organizations does not increase your diversity–its racist,” I didn’t ask questions.

I can ally better. I can ask “Why?” “What about now?” And, “Then what do we do?” And I will keep doing it when the stars go back to rocking out, and the microscopes are turned off.

As a mother raising 3 boys, I need a reason to keep my head out from under my awning (its white), step into the storm and risk saying the wrong things. Be honest; we of white privilege need to find our reasons from within. Here is mine:

flagMy three boy’s lives were once threatened by an assailant that was never identified. For about a year, I lived in fear. Weeks of relocation, months of self-defense classes, years of therapy, private investigators, forensic psychologists, alarm systems, supportive neighbors, sheltering friends, a gun in our closet and an escape route planned, we started to feel better. I still wake up every morning afraid and have to remind myself we are ok. Our health changed. Our family changed. Everything changed. I do not remember most of the two years afterward. I imagine living like that everyday of my life, and at the same time fearing the very force weaponized to protect us, and I cannot call that LIFE. I would be angry. I would have a frightening look on my face. I would teach my children to run from police. I would pass down my anger.

If this is all we can offer the mothers of black boys, we are still at War, with unarmed soldiers, and a powerful resistance.

I will raise white allies.