Monday, May 19, 2014

And that's the way it is.

My boy at his bus stop

When you question me for a simple answer
I don't know what to say, no
But it's plain to see, if you stick together
You're gonna find a way, yeah

So don't surrender 'cause you can win
In this thing called love

When you want it the most there's no easy way out
When you're ready to go and your heart's left in doubt
Don't give up on your faith
Love comes to those who believe it
And that's the way it is

~ Celine Dion


She creates a space for those kids to talk about things. No, not just little kid things like Legos and Barbie dolls or Minecraft and rubber bracelets. She gives them permission to speak freely of more salient things affecting the world that they live in.

Yes. That.

So on a carpet in that room, last week she opened a dialogue with those children like she always does. But what that really means is that she carved out some time for an unplanned topic, driven by their first grade ideas and passions. Not so overly planned yet not so loosey-goosey that other things don't get done. Again, just a metaphorical window pushed up high enough for them to breathe and share.

Yes. That.

The "big Martin" he suggested they make. To which she obliged.

On this day, my baby boy raised his hand. There was something on his heart, gnawing at his seven year-old self that he needed to get out and into the open. And so, she gave Zachary the floor and, because of the magic she has already created in that room, he lifted his voice with all ears turned in his direction.

"There is this law in Georgia and in Florida and I a little bit think that it's a not good law."

That's pretty close to what he told me he said to open the conversation. And because this is not the first time I've been blessed with a child in her classroom, I know that she turned her head to him and raised her eyebrows, her nonverbal way of nudging him forward.

"Like, if you see somebody and you think they look like they might hurt you or you feel like they might be a robber or a thief or something, if you have a gun you can shoot them and you won't even go to jail. Just because you think they look like they could be a little bit, um, suspicious."

Yes. Suspicious.

He went on. "There was this boy in Florida. And he was just walking down the street minding his business and you know what? It was raining so he had on a sweatshirt but like with a hoodie. You know, a hood. And this man, he saw the boy and he thought that he looked like he was suspicious and like maybe he could be a robber or a thief. But really, he wasn't. So the man, he like chased the boy and attacked him and then they were like wrestling and stuff. But that man, he had a gun and so then he shot the boy and he DIED. And nothing happened. He didn't even go to jail."

It was raining on this day, too.

And, you know? She didn't have to say a word. Because those kids grabbed that topic and carried it right along on their own. Some were outraged and others were just sort of pensive and thinking. And, okay, we live in a fairly liberal area, but still. I love knowing that these children not only were thinking about important things but that, without having their ideas shaken or stirred, they could. So, yes. Zachary's topic grabbed their interest. Some asked questions that were quickly filled in by other children in the class who knew a bit about this, too.

"The boy, his name was Trayvon Martin," one friend said. And then she--also a first grader--commenced to let the group know a bit more about who Trayvon was specifically. All of which seemed to be accurate.

That wonderful woman who leads that wonderful space that my baby boy calls his homeroom was so in awe that she sent an email to both that little girl's parents and to Harry and me. She told us a bit of the important things our children had shared and how, from the mouths of babes, a rich discussion ensued.

Another bus stop shot

The following morning while standing at the bus stop, I asked my boy about it. I wanted to hear what he said with my own ears and answer any questions he might have. And you know? He repeated the whole story to me. He even said, "One person asked me, 'Why would they think the boy with the hoodie on was a robber or a thief?' and I just told them the truth."  And so I asked him what, indeed, that was. "That some people think that people with black skin might be a robber or a thief even if they're not. That's why it's a bad law because, like, somebody could look at my dad and think HE is a robber or a thief and just take a gun and shoot him. And they won't even go to jail."

Yes. That's what my son said. And so, like her, I said little and let him speak. And honestly, he didn't have a lot of questions, just mostly ideas that he needed to get out. "That's such a bad, bad law, Mom. And it's in Georgia, Mom. That's why I told my class because it's in Georgia where we live."

And I nodded because he's right.

"There's one thing I didn't say, though, Mama. Because I didn't want anybody to feel sad." He craned is neck to look for the bus and his little face grew serious.

"What's that, son?"

"I didn't say it but if Dad saw a man with white skin and he felt like he looked suspicious or something and then if Dad took his gun and shot THAT man then Dad WOULD go to jail. Even though that man who shot that boy in Florida didn't."

I am not kidding you. This is what my 7 year-old son told me in the morning haze as we searched for red blinking lights on a big yellow school bus. "Why do you think that, son?"

"Because," he said. "That's just the way it is."

And with that, he stepped onto Mr. Sanders' bus, waved goodbye and told me to have a great day. My eyes filled with tears as they pulled away. I'm still not sure if they were because of immense pride, immense sorrow, or both.


Happy Monday.

And thank you, Ms. R., for giving my son a place to share his truth that day and for being the same person who encouraged him to learn and sing "Lift Every Voice and Sing" in front of his class.

Now playing on my mental iPod. . . . "That's the Way it Is" as sung by Ms. Celine Dion. (Yes, she annoys me, but I've always liked this song and her voice.) I've heard this on my mental iPod ever since that conversation with my son.


  1. She is, indeed, amazing, and her students thrive under her guidance.

    1. She rules. I told her today that if my tubes weren't fried, I'd have one more just to get a chance to be in her class again. Ha. Don't get any ideas, Mom.

  2. Wow. So moved by this. Your son is a very wise and thoughtful little guy. If only all the grownups in the world had those same attributes, we wouldn't have laws like that one.

    1. Yeah, that conversation was a trip. And yes, I wish there weren't broken people out there doing broken things to people. But I also wish that some folks weren't accused of being liable to do bad things when all they're doing is living. That's the problem with being armed like that. Society can make it confusing--so confusing that a trigger gets pulled before it's clear. Kind of like when my husband got pulled over and asked to lay facedown on a major Atlanta street because they thought HIS luxury care was stolen. Yup. That kind of sucked. Especially because that same feeling is what might make someone suspicious of Harry and eventually my sons. So, yeah. I agree with Zachary--that's bad. And scary even for the grown ups that DO share Zack's attributes -- yet also his gender and race.

  3. That boy is special. Both of them are special.

    Auntie JoLai

  4. Your son's understanding of the fact that the reverse would definitely land his own hue of manhood in jail baffles me…and saddens me. My godson is blonde headed and blue eyed. I told his mom, my best friend of 14 years, "You know I'll never have to worry about his safety like I will my own future sons. I'm not even sure I want sons after this." And this girl, who was raised in the suburbs with me and gave me the gift of a godson, understood exactly what I meant.

    1. Yeah. I hear you. What's cool is that Zack's class is primarily non-black. And by non-black, I mean white. And those little kids got it. They did. I kind of have hope, man. Those kids in that class give me hope. Especially when they have teachers like the one that helped give my son the courage to say those things.


"Tell me something good. . . tell me that you like it, yeah." ~ Chaka Khan

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