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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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