He had a question he'd been holding in. Two nights before he asked it, I was prompted by the Lord that it was there. So, at the end of day, just before lights go out and 7th grade brains are put on pause, I asked if he needed to ask me anything. He simply said, "Yes, what's the "N" word mean?"
Internally I was knocked back a few feet and left gasping for air. Externally, I stayed, laying on the foot of his bed, stilled and silent, reaching for Heaven's explanation. His English class is reading Tom Sawyer. Thank you Mark Twain 😔 for your classic rendition of what now is a massive need for conversation and correctness.
I shouldn't have to do this should I, in 2017? Have we not grown up yet as adults that we can't move past the past and shovel hope into our souls instead of hesitancy and judgment? We are here staring racism in the face and I am mad laying on the foot of my sweet, pure-hearted kid's bed. I am holding back tears and forced to talk deep talk to fortify protective walls, as I choke on the honest truth of what being black means for him. What I really want is to go back to talking about puberty and girls and make him swear to wear deodorant before he leaves the house again. I can't. There are too many serious conversations to have that muck up the normal ones. This is our new normal. I hate it. I know it will produce wisdom and value but I hate it.
I remember when he was 5, someone asked if he was mine and I began to talk as if I had birthed him. I realized that I had. My heart had conceived him as a child and I had been longing for him until I saw his new wet and sticky face, 10 seconds after delivery. Adoption is that for me. It was not mercy trying to showcase itself or my want for a baby. It was me loving the voice of God so deeply that when He told me about a child he loved and asked that I partner with Him in raising it, I was all in! I was asked to love and embrace and I did. I invested every ounce and was fully undone.
Now, I'm on the foot of this boy’s bed and he's asking me what the "N" word means. "The word itself means the color black," I say. “It was used by the Spanish and the Portuguese for the African people or dark-skinned people.” You see, I refuse to give him American terms and because he's learning Latin, we go for the root. This is what the word means. Not what people did to use the word in a negative context to persecute others they didn't like. I know we will end up there but I will take the slow, scenic route, (thank you very much) and make sure he gets the real check before the world one.
I remember what I felt, for the first time, from the sting of others opinions. I had adopted a child who needed a mother and I had this notion that angels would sing as we strolled into a room and people would crowd around and gasp in the same wonder I was caught up in. Yeah, no, that didn’t happen. I had just brought Justice home from the hospital. He was 7lbs of dark beautiful wonder and I was scared half out of my mind with how to be his mom. My sweet housecleaner arrived to clean our home. She wanted to see this baby I had talked so much about adopting. I brought her to the bassinet, where he lay sleeping, and she looked in pulling back quickly gasping, “Oh myyyy, are you sure you’re gonna be okay?” She said in her thick southern drawl. I assured her I was and asked why she was concerned. Her reply struck me, stung me, and felt like a dagger to my heart. “Well, you know, them kind can give you lots of trouble.” Them kind? You have got to be kidding! That is the day I knew I might spend the rest of my life living fully awake and prepared for hard conversations.
It has not been easy to face the looks of disapproval and question from people. The constant ritual at airport security when Justice and I walk in together and I hand off our tickets to the TSA agent as they look him over and ask for his name and say, “Where’s your mother, son?” I am standing there dumbfounded, right in front of them, holding his ticket and I watch as my kid points at me and then I look at the agent with the “Seriously dude?” face. I snatch our tickets back and move on.
It is not constant but it’s always there. I hate it, but it is our reality, and until people decide to parent their children, to think love and not regret, and until we become a nation known for its freedom and we stop walking around in our bondage, we will always struggle. What is in front of me is the “how to” do this the God way, which is the best way and the only way to secure a hope for our future.
I want to write a letter to Tom Sawyer and fill him in on what life looks like today. I know he is just a character in someone’s novel, but who he is shaped how people believed. I am not the activist that throws out the beauty of a classic because of the struggle of an era. I simply want us to learn in that era so we don’t keep repeating mistakes and leaving our sons and daughters with the clean-up. Our cleaning lady was dear to me and I knew her response was simply because she had grown up, like Tom, never having been taught anything different. Just before we made a state move from that house she cleaned, she told me that watching us together had changed her beliefs. She was teary eyed as she said how she would miss watching him grow up. Love can change opinion.
There is so much more to say but I wanted to say this out-loud perhaps, first. I am a mother of a gorgeous human being whose skin color just happens to be like that of deep milk chocolate. I find that stunning. I find it exciting and Godly. I see it as unifying and bridge-building. It’s family and it’s sacred.
So I lay there, on the foot of my son’s bed, and we talk and it's deep and it's real and he survives it and I survive it and I maneuver my way back to my room and sit for a long while staring at the wall. I am white, Caucasian, and I will never have to endure what my lovely young hero will. It's not a God problem, it's a people problem, It's a history problem. It's a change problem. And yes, it's a church problem too. Because I'm linked in love with this pain we can't seem to get past, I have understanding for taking a knee and holding up the signs. I get it because I live on my knees as a mother trying to weave her black son into adulthood and crush every stereotype and pull-off every label pressing down on him. What may be the difference is that my faith in God keeps me rowing solidly toward wholeness, and I keep hearing His voice say, "This boy of ours is going to change the world."
So, no worries Mark Twain. You started a conversation that God will have the last say in. 🙌🏻