On Cultivating Joy With Children (In The Face Of Injustice)

Yesterday afternoon, as my children ran through a water park to cool off from the heat wave in Brooklyn, an alert shook my phone. I sat there, a litttle slow to open it. Knowing that I was with the kids, and knowing that I didn’t have much capacity to read a full article. The kids were far, and we had a few hours of playing still on the clock. Ultimately I decided to open it.

Here’s what happened next…

In it, I read that the federal government has decided not to press criminal charges against Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who was caught on camera placing Eric Garner in an illegal chokehold, while Eric Garner shouted #icantbreath. Officer Pantaleo refused to listen and to let go, continuing to use unnecessary deadly force, resulting in his death. Eric Garner was a father, a grandfather, unarmed, non-violent, and a beloved member of his community. He was a black man. This particular case was the catalyst of the Black Lives Matter movement, with protests that I have also taken part of and supported, energetically and wholly.

No Justice.

No Peace.

Last night, I felt this tangibly in my body after the kids went down.

My urge to protest today on the streets is interrupted by said dangerous heat wave and no child care past 4 (when the protest begins). Both reasons don’t seem like enough to stop me from knowing being angry isn’t enough. Being loud isn’t enough. Writing isn’t enough. As long as there continues to be injustice for the murders on camera (and off) for black men (and women) at the hands of the police, then we don’t get to feel that peace. 5 years to the day, another grueling reminder of what we already know.

Last night, after the kids went to sleep, I kept on thinking about the conversation at my final reading at The Wing last Wednesday. The couches filled with 25 or so black mothers and myself, and we ended off on just this; When and how do I cultivate joy for my children with the reality and the news?

I loved that this particular conversation was intergenerational, and there were a couple of mothers of teenagers and grown men who could also weigh in. Without sharing too much of their personal journeys, I will say that each of them in their own way looked back and wished they fostered more of a sense of childhood in their black boys. While preparing them for the world, one had wish she just let her son be a bit more. And the other realized that while she taught him all of these other things with cops etc, he didn’t really know how to be a person of the world. All of these layers are important to discuss.

They asked me for a few of my own ways, and I thought in light of the news, it was important for me to share how I cultivate joy with my children:

  1. Every morning, they are greeted with love. I think this is hard, but also important. And I am only able to do this continually with everything I am and do, because I take some time for myself before getting them. Or try and get just enough sleep. Or, make sure my phone is off or on silent until after I drop them off to camp, school, babysitter, or otherwise. Our mornings are a bubble that I try and keep from the outside world. And even when I don’t, I try to be aware of myself and my mood in relation to their mornings. They deserve goodness in the morning. Even if and when I don’t feel good.
  2. I play music and set the bubble and enviroment. This morning, I played Nina Simone, (mostly for myself). I believe in morning affirmations, whether in talking or in music. During the school year, I played a lot of Optimistic by Sounds Of Blackness. Later today, we will have a dance party to whatever they want. I truly belive music is such a healer.
  3. I let them be who they want. And this is hard. SO HARD. Because Oak is strong-willed, and River is strong-willed and many mornings are conversations on what they want vs. what’s appropriate. I’ve learned to be fluid on what I see as appropriate and allow them the joy in being silly and confident and non-normative, at times.
  4. I let them ask questions (there are always so many) and I explain things. I talk to them, clearly and simply. I do not lie to my children to protect them. River is such a big help with this when Oak is the one asking questions! She has learned SO MUCH in public school. So much so, she is often teaching me. I think there is joy in your kids being knowledgeable. I’m not scaring them, but I do feel like in many ways I am handing them tools. As we said in my last reading, if someone says or does something to them, instead of just being able to identify if someone is mean, prejudice, racist or otherwise, they also have confident responses. These responses are so that their joy is never ever stolen by someone else. “No one can steal your joy!” is something that I often say to them.
  5. I remain an example. Listen, anger and the desire to fight and joy are not mutually exclusive. And this goes back to #1. I am their black mother. They will see things that I don’t want them to see. They will see things I do want them to see. They will see the example in my work. They will see examples in my everyday movement in our community.
  6. Finally, I let them have fun and I am part of that fun and present for it. It is a struggle to do things with kids when work and life is long and full. BUT like yesterday, after I read the alert, I turned my phone off. I gave Oak my water bottle for filling and dumping on his sister. I dipped my feet into the water. I pushed the news to the side and decided to be. And that is a privilege I am aware of. And it is a privilege I am thankful to be able to have had access to yesterday and today. To deal when I need to and can. And to be there with my children when I need to.

If you’re confused about the nature of police, black lives matter, and injustice, I really loved Elizabeth Gilbert’s response to a follower this morning.

I’d like to know, if you’re white, how are you helping stand up for injustice? And if you’re black, how are you cultivating joy?

Poem by Ross Gay

20 thoughts on “On Cultivating Joy With Children (In The Face Of Injustice)

  • Reply Farai Harreld July 17, 2019 at 7:02 pm

    Black mama here, and I do the same thing, I let my baby be wild and free, we spend a lot of time in nature. We dance ALOT. I am so conscious of raising a black girl in a world thats quick to make her into an adult/sexualize her. I am also privileged enough to homeschool her once she’s old enough. I live in the midwest and don’t really feel safe putting her in public school. I surround her with conscious, loving friendships, and give the rest up to the universe. No one can steal our joy, no matter how hard they try.

    • Reply latonya July 17, 2019 at 10:38 pm

      Thank you so much for sharing, Farai. Its always good to know how others in other parts of the U.S are doing it. Sounds truly beautiful.

      xo
      LaTonya

    • Reply Maggie Zehring July 18, 2019 at 1:49 pm

      I loved this read— it’s a great reminder of the temperature we set as the adults and parents. We’re coming out of a season of grief as foster parents and music has been a HUGE reset.

      Re: white women specifics: this is an area of continual self education. I am soaking in an IG feed and book list of influencers and folks with totally different lives than me and it is so helpful as I try to construct a broader life for my family while we live/operate in a very white community.

      Thank you for your voice, honesty, and encouragement!

    • Reply Kristi July 18, 2019 at 4:49 pm

      White mom here…I’ve intentionally educated myself about systemic racism and made sure to share what I’ve learned with my boys. We talk about justice often and we’ve taken them to places and events that focus on that. I volunteer at our local jail and my family knows that fighting injustice is a priority for our family. Thank you for sharing your heart.

  • Reply Shayla July 17, 2019 at 8:15 pm

    Great post as always. I strive to constantly cultivate joy in my home in the same ways. Music, positive energy and constantly encouraging my daughters to be themselves and express themselves. It can be hard some days to fight the chaos of the outside and keep you bubble safe but it’s beautiful when you have a home that’s constantly bubbling with joy. You’re and tremendous writer and piece has me thinking a lot. Great work.

    • Reply latonya July 17, 2019 at 11:33 pm

      Thank you for sharing, Shayla. Music truly does wonders. I appreciate. you and your sweet note.

      x
      L

      • Reply Mina July 18, 2019 at 5:05 pm

        Thank you so much for such a wonderfully written, honest candid piece. I a am a black mama of a half black/white baby girl. As I try to find my own joy after cancer and deal with the generational trauma of growing up in a single parent home, I make it a priority to give my daughter the space to discover herself .
        As a strong willed and opinionated young lady, it isn’t always easy.
        We always wake up in silence listening to the sound of nature on our sound machine and just breathe as we get ready for the inevitable rush of school mornings. We always end the day with 3 things we love about ourselves, 2 things we learned about ourselves and 1 thing we can work on for the next day.
        As a very light skinned mixed baby, I try to remind her of the beauty of the whole of her heritage. We live in a predominantly white area, so we always like to study on black women in history at least one a month. We talk about what we love about them and what we’d like emulate from them.
        But above all else, music and love. We make space for creativity and that includes a lot of character playing 😬
        If at all possible, could you suggest some of the music you play around your kids for positive sounds? Thank you

        • Reply latonya August 13, 2019 at 8:08 am

          Hey Mina,

          Of Course! I’m working on a September kid morning playlist right now. Hopefully, sharing next week.

          xo
          L

  • Reply Rachel July 17, 2019 at 9:30 pm

    As a white mother of white children I have tried to explain to my kids that they have the privilege of looking like people who other people want to help. The police (and others) will likely look at them with trust and without suspicion. And I have told them that won’t be true for some of their friends. They have to use their privilege to protect their friends. Even if it means some trouble for them, stand up for friends who risk so much more. But what do I do myself? I admit I struggle to find ways to offer the help I ask them to give. I wonder about the line between ally and “saviour”

    • Reply latonya July 18, 2019 at 7:34 am

      Thank you for sharing, Rachel.

      xo

    • Reply latonya July 18, 2019 at 7:40 am

      Oh, I wanted to add that I do think its important to let there be a clear distinction that it is not the fault or the burden of the black friends if white people do not trust or treat brown and black people with suspicion or well.As far as a line between ally and savior, I really love everything my friend, Erin shares in regards to this. https://readingmytealeaves.com/2018/10/habit-shift-listen-to-black-women.html she has great comments suggesting books as well.

  • Reply Michelle July 17, 2019 at 11:12 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing this post. I’m a white-bodied mother of two white-bodied children. I work earnestly on myself – spirit and mind so yay I can be an example and teacher of being better. We talk a lot about being kind, world citizens that uphold equity and equality for all people, especially for people who have not or are not experiencing that. We say prayers, talk about virtues, and do service for others. We read a lot of social-justice-minded books. We surround ourselves with like-minded people that reflect the community we want our children to nurture in this world.

    • Reply latonya July 18, 2019 at 7:33 am

      Thamk you, Michelle. It sounds like there is some church or something in there and glad to hear that you have found service and equality and equity part of all of that. And if you’re white, I think it is so important to surround yourself with link-minded people. One of the most dissapointing things I see or have heard from friends, is their willingness to stay in the company of those that don’t reflect their values or who display predjudice and bias and racism. I think its always important to keep having conversations with these kinds of people who don’t think like you, but to not have them be part of your immediate community if you do not agree with them.

  • Reply Meaghan July 18, 2019 at 3:16 am

    I am a brown mother, to three brown boys. I try to wake up before them each morning, so I too can greet them with all my love and full attention. I hold each of their faces in my hands, and tell them- “I am so happy to see you this morning.” I diffuse an oil blend. specific to each day of the week and play music to set the tone for the day. Internally, I struggle with wanting to shield them from the world, because it is so evil with unsteadiness. I don’t want the cruelty of reality to inflict what they see when they look in a mirror. I haven’t found the balance between teaching and exposing and shielding. All I can do is focus on my three boys, who will grow up into men and hope they feel free to choose their own path, without stepping on anyone else and unabashedly so.

    • Reply latonya July 18, 2019 at 7:25 am

      Thank you for sharing, Meaghan. i totally understand that finding that balance is hard.Your way of cultivating joy is beautiful and I’m going to hold my kids’ faces in my hands a bit more from now on.

      L

  • Reply annton July 18, 2019 at 5:51 am

    Thank you for this.

    • Reply latonya July 18, 2019 at 7:23 am

      Thank. you for reading

  • Reply steph July 18, 2019 at 11:26 am

    this is such a beautiful post, Latonya. thank you. im hispanic and i think caring for yourself or taking time to enjoy things is sometimes seen as lazy/indulgent but i try to take care of myself so i can give more/better to others. mostly with nature, writing, learning … fully experiencing life because i know i am lucky to have this privilege – these are small ways i cultivate joy: https://tps-steph.blogspot.com/2019/05/0037-25-ways-to-treat-yo-self.html

  • Reply b.evy-marie July 18, 2019 at 2:51 pm

    Thank you for such beautiful and honest words. I’ve been finding joy by keeping a small collection of books by black women at my desk alongside a rose geranium plant and cut lavender in a vase. One could say it’s a desk altar of sorts.

  • Reply Erin July 19, 2019 at 10:20 am

    Love this and you so much! For my part (white mother with white children), I’m mostly working on getting uncomfortable and staying with that discomfort—in making myself see systems of injustice that I benefit from, in calling them out, in striving not to normalize or ignore or wish them away. I encounter so many white people who are terrified of shaking up the status quo, who refuse to talk about injustice or racism or inequities for fear, it seems, that calling that out might hurt the oppressor. I’m working everyday to teach my white kids that we live in a racist and inequitable world but that we can be active participants in changing that. Learning alongside them.

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