We have to hide half the magazines now that LittleMan can read.

We bury the Time underneath the Highlights and the Lego Club and the Cooking Light.  We quietly tuck the headlines — about terror, about sex abuse, about disease — into our gym bags and out-of-sight.  I feel as though we exist on two intellectual planes: one, where we talk in hurried, whispered tones with other adults about the heartbreaking and incendiary news of the day, and another where we talk to our children and go swimming and see the Secret Life of Pets twice in one week, which lately feels like an exercise in pretending that the world is safe, and people are inherently good…and I’m not sure I believe either of those things right now.

I don’t like to bring politics into this space, but is it possible to be a sentient, thoughtful human today and not feel political?  Is it possible to see the news, or read a paper — or read Facebook for that matter — and not feel something, some rage, some confusion, some hopelessness, and perhaps above all else, the wish that we could source our collective reason and start to heal?  How did we come to this?

The problem is that we can’t agree on the problem.  The problem is that the problem is too big, and keeps getting bigger, a hydra fueled by hate and useless blame and ignorance and too much of some things and too little of others.  The problem is race, is poverty, is faith.  The problem is too many guns, and not enough effective legislation, and also the problem is too much legislation and the militarization of our police forces.  The problem is vengeance, is greed, is power.  The problem is that — I believe — we want to be part of a solution, but those of us who are reasonable and thoughtful and loving humans simply don’t know where to begin.  Do we march?  Do we pray?  Do we run for office, or volunteer on behalf of those who do?  Do we petition?  Do we vote?  (Yes, we vote.)  And if we do those things: Will it help?

I am struggling because I want to try to talk to my children about this life and I don’t know how to do it.  They are young, they are untainted.  They are tolerant, not because they were told to be, but because they simply…are.  They were born tolerant.  (Weren’t all of us?)  They are being raised in one of the most diverse cities in the world; they have never questioned Why Sammy has two mommies or Why Mark celebrates Hanukkah at his dad’s house and Christmas at his mom’s.  They notice, but don’t really question, that Susie was born in China but her parents aren’t Chinese.  When my son is telling me a story about school and he clarifies that he’s talking about Eric-with-the-tan-skin not Eric-with-the-brown-skin, he isn’t drawing deep-seated conclusions about the Erics’ respective characters; he’s simply offering a descriptor that will allow me to understand who the players are in this particular anecdote.  This is the world.  Some people have brown skin.  Fact.

So I think about something like Black Lives Matter, and how to explain that to my son, and I think: Isn’t that creating a problem where there isn’t one?  What would he say?  Of course Black Lives Matter, ALL lives matter, Mommy.  Why are we even talking about this?  Can I go play Legos now?  

So we don’t talk about it.  (We also don’t talk about the 49 youth who died in Florida when they were out dancing with friends, or the 84 men, women, and children crushed in the streets of Nice while celebrating — of all things — their freedom.)

But I read a pair of open letters this morning in Time: an exchange between Eddie Glaude, Chair of the Department of African American Studies at Princeton, and his son Langston, a student at Brown.  In the opening letter, the elder Glaude writes: “I find myself more often that not…wishing you were 7 years old again…I say this not because I find having an empty nest unbearable…I say it because I feel that you would be safer at home, with us.”

The implication being that the younger Glaude is no longer safe — and not in the arbitrary sense that none of us is safe, in this world of terrorists and anarchists and haters — but because he is a young, black man armed with education and opinions, and he is a target because of the color of his skin and the power of his protest.

I am not the first to write this statement, but my privilege today is that my 7-year-old son is white.  I’m not going to say he’ll never be pulled over by the police, but I can say with confidence that he won’t be pulled over for his blonde hair, pale freckled skin, blue eyes.  I’m a mom; I worry all the time, I fear so many things, but I don’t have to worry about this.  I don’t have to fear this.  And I am realizing every single day, with every single bullet, that this is a big, horrible, real fear for so very many mothers and fathers, and it simply breaks my heart.

I feel so blessed.  I feel so fortunate.  In this national context, I feel guilty for feeling these things, but I also don’t want to feel guilty; I don’t think it’s constructive.  And I don’t want my kids to feel guilty: they didn’t choose the color of their skin any more than the next child.  They have never hurt anyone.  Guilt is cheap.  Handwringing is easy.

Empathy is harder.  Responsibility is harder.  Collaboration, togetherness, community…these are all harder, but they are also essential.  I want to tell my children: You are not responsible for the sins of generations past.  But as a citizen of the world, you are responsible for making the future better.  Care for others.  Work together.  Build something better out of this.

This is why I feel a need to figure out a way to address the problems of today with my kids — an age-appropriate way, a sensitive way, a way that doesn’t scare them, that inspires them to be positive forces of change and doesn’t give them the easy out of just feeling bad about it.  We are all participants in this dialogue.

The problem is that I don’t know where to begin.


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