Parenting Verbatim

Thanks to Jordan McQueen

Thanks to Jordan McQueen

Context

It’s morning, before we leave home, and the boy comes to me with a question.

S = Son

F = Father

J = Friend at camp

 

Verbatim

S1: Daddy, is today my last day at camp?

F1: No, why do you think that?

S2: Because J said today is the last day of camp.

F2: Your friend doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

S3: He laughs.

F3: I like the way you asked me though. You can always ask me or your mother a question. Especially when your friends say something. Plus, friends don’t usually know what they’re talking about at your age.

S4: Okay, daddy. He smiles.

F4: I’m serious. It’s great that you asked me about camp. You have 3 more weeks. J was making stuff up.

 

Learning Summary

Bryce will have a whole stack of similar conversations with friends, and we have to balance the “Your friends are dumb” with the “Always ask us” with the “We have a question for you, son.”

 

All the Little Things

Thanks to Michal Kulesza & the folks at StockSnap.

Thanks to Michal Kulesza & the folks at StockSnap.

A uniform here, a purchase of pencils and shoes there. Filling out forms and naming responsible people who can pick you up in cases of emergency.

All the little things we do to prepare for your tomorrows. One small gesture and your days have form, your future a touch of shape: the path before you.

And you in the wind running and not thinking of it at all. You are free from such concerns. You are a kid trying to fly, a boy increasing his speed, a son loving everything your arms can’t yet get around. And you are wonderful.

Great Days

Martin Vorel & Stocksnap

Martin Vorel & Stocksnap

Sometimes, in the morning, before we leave the house or on our way to work–Bryce’s work is school, of course, and my work is ministry–we talk about the day we plan to have. We proclaim whether it’ll be a good day or a fun day or an excellent day or a happy day. For a while we would learn new words for our upcoming days, trading the same old terms for new ones I’d have to explain. Usually, though, Bryce goes for the simple, descriptive, and memorable.

When I started this, it was probably because of some deficit in the boy’s day just prior. I was probably responding because of some thing he did the previous afternoon that his teacher delivered on a note. “Please talk with Bryce about his…”

Then, as it stuck, the “What kind of day are we going to have?” turned into one of our little traditions. Now, when I raise the question once or twice a week, it’s a way for me to have the boy to begin thinking about his day, about his expectations for himself, about my expectations for him and about all the same for myself.

The other day Bryce said that we would all have a great day–“me, you, and Mommy”–he said as we were eating breakfast. And I accepted his words like a blessing, like a benediction, like something worth looking forward to. May his words be your expectation for your day and days.

The Calls We Make

Yesterday we made the call not to include the boy in a family matter. It was a serious matter and one that I led the way to say, in other words, “I’m not ready for him to be in on that.” At some point, it’ll come up.

It’s a normal, family thing. Relatives get sick, and one of ours is sick right now. That’s how I’ve thought to explain it to Bryce, particularly without more information.

We’re in that dismal waiting period, the period I see dozens of people in all the time where the walls are painted with unanswered questions and where the people who can find answers are hardly around. I didn’t want to tell my boy who is full of good questions these days that I didn’t know, that we don’t know.

So, I suggested what Dawn went along with, what nobody else in the family questioned: leave Bryce out of it. For now. Especially since information is where it is. At some point, he’ll naturally be in it. And I’ll be ready for that.

When Bryce Said, “I Hate White People!” (pt 2)

Dawn’s Perspective

It was the final evening of a lovely week at Grammie’s in Charlotte. Grammie makes sure we have the best time possible in her city, a city that has southern hospitality to spare. With such an inviting combination, how can anyone on vacation lose?

Grammie thought it’d be nice if we went to Maggiano’s on our last day before returning to our routines in Chicago. Somewhere between the discovery of the best artichoke dip I had ever had and bites of fried zucchini, my then 4 year old says aloud, “I hate white people.”

Mind you, our server was white as were the dinner guests at the table next to us, and the majority of the dining area. As I recall, my toddler son did not yell the shocking declaration. There was no anger in his voice. Instead, he made his announcement with a sad resolve and perhaps resignation.

The three adults at the table, myself, his father, and his grandmother were stunned to absolute silence. “Where did this come from,” I panicked internally. “Have I given him a reason to hate white people?” “Has he heard hate come from my mouth or seen it from any of my private actions?” I was literally stupefied.

My first external reaction was to vehemently dismiss his words and to protest, to chastise him for making such an “obscene” statement. “No, Bryce!,” my face grimacing. “No! You do not hate white people!” Bryce, a wonderfully expressive child, who heard my reprimand and took in the perplexed faces around him, immediately began to cry.

I then knew that chastising him was the wrong response and frankly not at all consistent with the way I had been parenting him. I’ve always encouraged Bryce to speak the truth, that there is nothing at all wrong with telling the truth about how he feels. Sometimes, I even go so far as to reward Bryce for telling the truth. This time around, because I was embarrassed by Bryce’s truth-telling, I reacted in fear.

The wisest of the bunch, our dear Grammie, naturally found the words to ask the reasonable question, “Why, Bryce? Why do you hate white people?” Bryce responded matter-of-factly, “Because they killed Martin Luther King.”  It was interesting to me that he said that “they,” white people, killed Martin Luther King. He saw fit to tie the actions of one white man to all white people…a generalization that causes me to question the role we all play in our complicity when an unjust crime occurs. Grammie’s non-verbal response was priceless. She nodded and said nothing at all.

What was great about the moment was that there was nothing to be said after Bryce’s answer.  Bryce had been learning in school about the work of Martin Luther King and about the Civil Rights Movement. He goes to a private school that is intentional about African American history as well as Christian principles. So Bryce learned that an innocent man, who used his life to challenge, oppose, and resist hateful violence, oppression, injustice, and savagery was murdered because of his race, because of his life’s work. Why wouldn’t that cause anyone to feel deeply and to have strong feelings against the perpetrator and his actions?

As Michael said in his post, we knew that Bryce didn’t hate white people. He calls his godparents, Aunt and Uncle, not because we make him, but because it’s a natural term for him…they are family. When Mommy and Daddy cannot pick him up from school, and Uncle David or Auntie Maggie shows up, he runs to them and greets them with a hug. He eats food from their hands, he shares a bed with their son, he is comforted and consoled by their hugs, and their words of love. The same is true for Aunt Sheila and Uncle Alan, and “Bonsai” and Ms. Wendy…Bryce has love for people in our lives who are white.

But the truth of that moment and what made me so proud of Bryce for saying what he said, is the courage it took for him to say how he felt. He knew it could be problematic for him to say aloud how he was feeling, hence his preface, “I don’t want God to be mad at me.” But he pressed through the baseless facade, something that I couldn’t do as an adult of 36 years, and he spoke his truth, which gave us an opportunity to clarify his feelings.

He doesn’t hate white people, he hates whatever it is that causes people to treat other people so dishonorably. I marveled at how he could make such an honest connection at his young age. It reminded me that one of the gifts of a child is to remind us what the truth really is, to face it, and to uncomfortably sit with it…something that frankly seems like the honest thing to do concerning race in this country.

When Bryce Said, “I Hate White People!”

Last December we were at dinner with Grammie, which means we were in Charlotte. Memory says that we were dishing fried zucchini and salad, dipping bread in olive oil. The boy went into a spiral that surprised us all, even him.

He started crying about how he knew that God didn’t love him and how God was going to be mad at him because he hated white people. “I hate white people,” cried my then four-year old son. I think we were all stumped for a moment, stumped the way people who talk to other people all the time get stumped when something even you didn’t see coming comes.

It was only so appropriate that two pastors were at the table. Given my boy’s confession, we were immediately put on the interior spot. “I don’t want God to mad,” he said in quick fashion as if to convince us so that we’d prevent trouble from coming. Perhaps it was God’s goodness that we were there together to hear Bryce’s comment and plea and intention.

Grammie took up the theological matter about God loving Bryce. She did it the way a pro would. Grammie’s been communicating about God’s love for more decades than I’ve been alive. She was a star even with a kid. Her explanation was simple and brief.

I looked at Dawn as if to ask without asking whether it was her or me who would pick up the rest. One of us had to deal with the part about hating white people. Now, me and Dawn have a way of teaching the boy. We share. We move toward our strengths. I was telling her the other day that she’s a better teacher to him than I am. She has more patience. But oddly, I’m better at explaining things. Where her explanations get complex for her attempts to tell him the whole story, mine are swift and simple.

She tends to answer the question, “How can I explain it all to Bryce?” I tend to think about how I can explain it to satisfy his specific question. So my wheels were turning as he made his claims about hatred. I called him over to me, telling him he wasn’t in trouble, something Dawn had already been saying. He doesn’t get in trouble for telling the truth. Of course, this is immediately tricky during moments where his truth-telling leads to a consequence for unacceptable behavior.

At dinner, he wasn’t in trouble at all. So he came to me. I told him that he didn’t hate white people. “You love Auntie Maggie and Uncle David, don’t you?” He seemed relieved but a little confused. He said he did. “Aren’t they white?” He knew they were, and he knew that they loved him too. And this simple love, this relationship between my son and a white couple became the bridge between Bryce and whatever moral crisis he was experiencing.

I wanted to keep it simple. I wanted to relieve him of his internal pain. It had to be enough to say that he didn’t, in fact, hate white people. He even loved a few of them. We were able to name several white people he loved. And it was an easy move from there to say something less major about how hating white people and saying that he hated them was okay. “Telling the truth about your feelings is good,” we said. And of course, my son doesn’t know any white people that he hates. That was great. He’s not experienced the mass of faceless sphere called “white people.” He knows particular people with specific stories and clear ties to him. And thankfully, he enjoys those relationships.

I thought about that dinner conversation last Sunday when Alan came up to me after church with tears in his eyes. Alan’s one of those people Bryce loves. He and Sheila were among the cloud of witnesses we named to remind Bryce of white people he cared for. And when me and Alan chatted about how hard it must be to talk through junk like Charleston, we were both glad that Bryce hadn’t seen the news or asked a question. Depending on his question, I may not have had a good answer, an easy or quick answer about his feelings.

A Man’s Very Systems

“In essence, the brains of new fathers had become hardwired to respond when they hear their babies’ cries.”

…Parenting instincts are often assumed to be innate, or disproportionately under the dominion of the mother, but the truth is neither parent is born with the neural structure for the role — their brains evolve for the function. And the brain isn’t shape-shifting in isolation. Researchers have a term for when neurological changes alter behaviour while the new behaviour simultaneously alters the brain — it’s called “bi-directional,” and makes sense. As our environment changes us, we change our environment.

…“Once you’re a dad, you can be a lousy dad, walk out on your children, fail to deliver for them, but from that point on, you’re a father,” he continues. “For social, psychological and even biological issues, from the moment of birth onwards, just like for the mother, the father can’t go back again — a man’s very systems have changed.”

If you’re interested, read the full piece here.