If you say you could have never been that mom, you are lying. Or, even worse — you have no idea how often it ALMOST did happen to you.

If you didn’t know, a little black boy fell into a gorilla exhibit at the Cincinnati Zoo. For ten minutes, he was dragged by a gorilla named Harambe before he was fatally shot and the little boy was saved. Harambe is dead. Little boy is alive. Not ideal, but child alive. Animal dead. Sounds about right if I had to choose one over the other.

But the little boy’s mother has been killed and brought back to life a million times over if the internet could have its way.

As a mother of a 4 year-old child, I weep for the mother at the receiving end of all of this judgment. She may have turned her back for only a minute, but in a crowded zoo it would have taken her longer than that lost minute to find him. We all would like to think that we would have been more attentive.

I consider myself a good parent. But the truth is that I’ve had that heart stopping moment when I’ve looked away and couldn’t find my child. And maybe that moment has been at a zoo, near a gorilla enclosure that has a space a small child can climb under.

So I give that mother the benefit of the doubt. I trust that she loves her child and watched her child and looked away for a moment and then shit just happened.

But a lot of other folks don’t give that benefit of the doubt. They especially don’t give it to mothers. ESPECIALLY not to black mothers. As if there is some truth that only women have eyes in the back and sides of their heads such that they can truly see their children from all angles at all times.

As Panama Jackson from VSB put it:

“For those of you without kids, do you know what parenting really is all about? Especially up to, say, age six? Keeping your kids alive. That’s it really. Everything is about making sure they don’t get dead. Keeping them from chasing that ball into the street. Making sure they understand to walk on sidewalks. Looking both ways before crossing the street. Not touching the stove. Not walking out the door without a parent. Always holding hands with an adult. ALWAYS walking in front of me so that I can see you, etc.”

When I can’t SEE Ahmad, I’m asking, “Where is Ahmad?” Because that’s how fast he can disappear and be into some mess.

And once he was outside, in the dark, looking for his dad and I didn’t know he was out there. Could have gotten hit by a car or mauled by a dog. In the 30 seconds I didn’t know where he was.

Another time, I wasn’t paying attention, and I locked him and the car keys inside the car. And he was a baby, strapped into his car seat.

Another time we were at the playground and I checked my phone real quick and then he was gone and when we found each other one minute later we were both crying.

And I have three kids, hundreds of stories for each. So like a million stories where something catastrophic could have happened to my child.

Those acting like it couldn’t have happened to them are lying. Or, even more scary — they have no idea how often it ALMOST did happen to them.

It’s mind boggling that we can’t all just call this an unfortunate accident and focus on fixing what can be fixed — making zoos so that there aren’t any ways for four year olds to climb under, over or through enclosures (or better yet, stop caging wild animals) — rather than decrying something that cannot be fixed: four year olds doing what four year olds do, parents doing their best, and shit happening no matter what.

(Black) Boys 2 (Black) Men

By Annie Holmes

About a year ago, my husband and I were talking about disciplining our children. We are raising three boys (11, 8 and 8 months). During the conversation, my husband stated, “You are raising boys. I am raising men.” As we unpacked this statement, I found that he was not diminishing my approach to parenting, but that he was drawing upon his experiences as a black man growing up in the Unites States.

We began to talk about the conversations he had with his father, that as a black daughter I was not privy to. We have had to talk with them about engaging with police. We talked about our desire to see them be strong and independent with sky high dreams and a strong education to back that up, while at the same time being vulnerable, caring, kind, social justice minded and honest. We talked about appearance, how they should carry themselves and setting priorities. We both want the same things, but our lenses are very different.

We are consciously raising black boys to be black men. We talk about it. We pray about it. And we prepare them for it. Because, we know that no matter how hard we try, how much wealth we have or what kind of car we drive, when people see our boys, they won’t see the values that have been instilled. Nor will they see their intelligence. But, Dr. King’s vision has not been realized. They will yet be judged by the color of their skin. So, while I try to do my part to change this great big world, we will continue to raise our black boys to be black men.

Annie Holmes is a wife, mother of three amazing brown boys and higher education administrator. Her work involves access, equity and inclusion in learning and workplace environments. Her true passions are family, social justice, and singing. She tends to find ways to do them all. 

Decisions, Decisions: On Teenagers

By Andrea M.

Parenting is joyful confusion 80% of the time; a multitude of if-then propositions. From preconception to college planning, we are making decisions about someone else’s life, health, happiness, actions and future. If you stop to think about the volume of decisions parents make in the span of an average childhood – even one without significant health challenges and with relative stability – it’s pretty mind boggling that we manage to get dressed and go to work, much less participate in civic and social activities.

As children get older then they’re allowed to stretch their reasoning and spread their wings, make some decisions of their own. Rather than being active in the deciding, parents of older kids tend to take on more of a teammate role, hopeful that previous examples will serve as helpful directions on the path forward. When children want to make decisions that don’t always align with our perceptions of what’s right or in long term best interests then we often want to be substituted into the game of life, confident that our experience will bring about the best outcome. It’s hard to not jump in and fix (or at least rearrange) especially when you feel that the choices your child makes will increase their chances of being hurt or disappointed. We all talk about tough love and the value of shows like” Beyond Scared Straight” but deep down? We’d all trade out next breath if it would secure a pain-free existence for our kids.

Continuing with the parent as teammate thinking, sometimes we have to show leadership by allowing our kids to know they’re supported even in decisions that we don’t necessarily agree with. Your teenager wants to travel to Ferguson in support of the ongoing protests there. As a parent, you see the potential for arrest, physical danger, and general discomfort. You want answers to practical questions – where will you sleep? What if it snows? Your idealistic son wants to change the world and he swears he’ll wear layers, knows to invoke his right to remain silent (and then shut up!) should the need arise. Your daughter is anemic and wants to be a vegetarian because slaughtering animals is inhumane. She feels strongly about this even though she’s fainted as a result of her imbalanced diet of flavored water, Takis and salad.

We want our kids to pursue their dreams! We also want them to turn in homework and bring dishes out of their bedrooms before mold grows. It’s frustrating sometimes to be reasonable and understanding when you’ve said the same thing 10 times – this month. We also have to recognize that their decision making abilities aren’t the same as ours. Not because they don’t listen or are hardheaded or willful or stubborn…but because they are at different stages of development. They don’t have the benefit of having made the (many!) mistakes we have recovered from. It’s worth remembering that physiologically, different parts of the brain mature at different times. We have to be mindful of looking at children’s decisions through adult eyes because even as they may grow physically to tower over us, children are still growing intellectually and in their ability to reason and view situations from various angles is limited. More information on teenage brains can be found here.

That’s parenthood…feeding and clothing and protecting a living embodiment our of hearts, leaving us vulnerable to exquisite pain and infinite joy as shown in a single tear or hear in a tiny giggle.

I’m a mom of teenagers…and a 7 year old who, according to her testimony, went to medical school for 9 years. I didn’t have to pay for it so I’m cool with Dr. O. She loves science and surgery and I love her. My teens keep me thinking about the future, possibilities…and just how much limits can stretch. I’m a consultant and business person and volunteer. I hope that all those dimensions shine through as I share my singular Cocoa Mama experience. 

Rising to the Occasion Every Day: On Raising a Child with a Disability

By Suzi Walcott

On blogs and sites dedicated to raising children with disabilities, there is no shortage of inspiring stories of how our babies overcome tremendous odds to reach the “inchstones” that make us proud.  When a non-ambulatory child finally walks after many years of hard work, physical therapy and sheer determination, we all celebrate together.  When a non-verbal child is finally able to make her needs known somehow, we pore over every detail, hoping one day we will be able to recreate this story with our own little ones.  When a child given a limited lifespan exceeds it, we are in awe of God, our kids, and yes, even ourselves- because good care is often the difference between life and death for the medically fragile child.

Yet we know deep down that we are no different than anyone else, but that like all parents, we have risen to these occasions.  We rise to the momentous, but also to the small, to the everyday and the mundane.  The baths are harder- our kids may be resistant, or afraid, or unable to assist us and requiring specialized equipment.  Feeding can be tricky.  Some of us have kids fed through tubes, IV’s and various other devices which keep them alive but also complicate their lives, as well as our own.   For some of us, we’ve had to figure out alternatives for seating at home and away from home…sleeping arrangements…child care.  Everything is different, everything has an added layer of complication.  Trips and vacations often simply cannot happen.  Travel needs to be arranged months in advance.  Even going to church or to a restaurant as a family presents extra issues which can often seem insurmountable.  How do you change a nine year olds diaper in a restaurant ladies room, for instance?  Infant changing tables are too small and the floor is too dirty…I could go on and on, but the idea is clear.

Though the blogs like to highlight the highs, the lows are just as important and worthy of mention.  My seven year old loves music.  She doesn’t speak, but she is able to hum tunes in fairly good pitch.  Sometimes, when music really excites her, she screams in delight.  Screaming and humming, as well as other vocalizations, is quite simply how my daughter communicates and interacts with the world.  In the absence of speech, she has these methods.

Yet, one day her inclusion music teacher had asked that she be removed from music class for singing along with the other children.  Her noises, the woman opined, were a distraction and were impeding the education of the other students.

Needless to say I went all the way to the top on this one- contacting the principal of the school. She was allowed back in class and such an incident never happened again.  But the hurt still remains; it’s one of the salient low points.  I’ve had many, and some have been life or death situations.  Surgeries, respiratory emergencies caused by flu and infection.  How then is this possibly a significant low point for me after what I’ve been through?  Because this simple act of removing my child in the midst of her enjoyment, denied both her equality and her humanity.  It denied her access to one of the few things that bring her joy, and that she does well, like the other kids do.

The highs are beautiful, and inspiring, and sublime.  The lows are unspeakable.  But just as you never know when the highs will grace your life, you cannot protect yourself or your child from the lows.  You don’t know if the next person you see will glare at you, or scoff at your child, or refuse to help her through a door.  You don’t know if the next bus driver will drive past your stop because he doesn’t want to take an extra five minutes to secure a wheelchair.  You don’t know if the next customer service rep will be someone who rolls their eyes at your struggle.

All you can do is pray that you will have the strength and the grace to keep loving everyone around you even when those things happen.  All you can do is to continue to believe that the world is good, and to continue to believe that your child is good, that your child is worthy.  All you can do is to remind yourself that your child is not her disability, and that you are not just a parent of a special needs child.  You are a complex, imperfect, lovable human being.

If you’ve done that as a parent of a child with disabilities, you have done well.

Suzi Walcott is a pediatric home health care nurse who specializes in working with children with disabilities.  She is married with two daughters and one on the way.  Her elder daughter is nine years old and has multiple disabilities and medical conditions.  The younger one is almost six years old and is typically developing but born with visual challenges.  Her contributions will examine the tests and triumphs of raising biracial children, specifically girls, with disabilities.

Photo courtesy of Mo via Flickr

Leave Him Alone: Microaggressions in Pre-K and Elementary School

Photo: Me! All rights reserved.

Our school district has recently started a new task force looking at minority achievement. In such a resource rich district, but also with many social inequalities, its unsurprising but still really angering that we have disparities in the rate of college readiness, standardized test scores, and simply personal experiences. The number of times I’ve heard truly devastating stories of how kids are treated based on their racial, ethnic, or linguistic background is simply appalling in a school district that touts how progressive it is.

The creation of the task force got me thinking (as always) about my family’s experiences here. My children are in the second and third grades (and another a few years behind them), and we’ve been dealing with little things — microaggressions — since we started here four years ago. Microaggressions, a term coined by Dr. Chester M. Pierce, a professor of education and psychiatry at Harvard University, in the 1970s, refers to  “everyday insults, indignities and demeaning messages sent to people of color by well-intentioned white people who are unaware of the hidden messages being sent to them.” I believe that my children’s teachers believed they were helping my kids — and my husband and I as parents. But their words and actions did a lot more harm than they realized.

Here’s a sampling of our experiences, from my point of view when they occurred:

Continue reading “Leave Him Alone: Microaggressions in Pre-K and Elementary School”

To My Prince and Queen: Do Not Be Afraid

To my children, my Prince and my Queen,

This week you returned back home from spending the summer with your grandparents. For eight weeks, you engaged in what so many of our people have done for generations: spent the summers unburdened by camps and activities in order to spend time with your extended family, surrounded by the love of folks who knew you before you even took your first breath. You learned a different way of being, likely seeing more people who look like you in eight weeks than you do the remaining weeks of the year at home. A friend called it “black camp;” over the summer, you received an immersion education in the ways of black folks.

Usually, the eight weeks are a time of rest and relaxation for your father and I.

Yet the events of this summer made this time less carefree than usual. More importantly, and in a manner far more dire, I’m scared about my ability to protect you.

Continue reading “To My Prince and Queen: Do Not Be Afraid”

Doc McStuffins Isn’t Enough

Doc McStuffins, Disney’s black doctor character, is a “crossover hit.” Sales of Doc McStuffins character products are evenly distributed by race and even gender, prompting a popular refrain about the virtues of colorblindness, as reported by the New York Times:

“‘The kids who are of color see her as an African-American girl, and that’s really big for them,’ said Chris Nee, the creator of Doc McStuffins. ‘And I think a lot of other kids don’t see her color, and that’s wonderful as well.'”

If only that were true.

People want to believe that young children do not see color. It seemingly provides us with the opportunity to intervene on young minds before racial stereotypes take hold. If young children do not see color, then we can provide multi-cultural materials to promote diversity, even when our personal lives — where we live, the conversations in which we participate, with whom we educate our kids — fail to reflect the racial equality and diversity we say we value.

What is true is that kids do “see” color because it is embedded into the very fabric of who we are as a nation. But kids, especially white children, are taught to ignore what they see, which is very different than not seeing color at all.

Continue reading “Doc McStuffins Isn’t Enough”