The other evening my sister-in-law, Renee, came to Estes Park with her son, Deon, and her cousin, Paige. They’re from Denver and they visited with us since we were in the area. After their hour and a half drive to us, we went to dinner at a bbq place in Estes Park. Dawn found the restaurant on yelp. We drove by it the night we curved into the town, so we retraced our path to it.
When we arrived, we waited for 15 minutes before being seated near the door to the patio. It was cramped and the servers passed our table often with stacks of food for the customers on the other side of the door, almost hitting my shoulder, but I made jokes about it. We ordered a huge family platter and spent time talking about nothing and everything.
During the meal, my kid started fussing. He was hungry, then he wasn’t. I’d pick him up and bounce him around. We’d twirl in a circle and laugh. We’d sit down again. he’d moan or start to cry. Dawn would give him the pacifier. At some point in our eating, a family joined our area, sitting in a booth next to us. A couple and three children, two of whom were infants younger than my toddler. As small people do, they started making noise. I’m convinced that babies speak the same language, that they agree with each other to make noise in restaurants, to sing and scream as if in a chorus together. That’s what happened. But a curious thing followed.
Another table of diners, a different group from the couple with three, started talking about my kid. Bryce was the only baby boy. And they spoke about him. When I let him walk around, my sister-in-law heard one of the adults at the table saying something like if he falls who will be responsible. When she repeated this I started thinking aloud and out loud.
I started saying how very responsible I was and how willing I was to show that this boy was my responsibility. The radar in me for racism that had been lowered shot up like big ears. I told my family that I was going to wash my hands and that I was going to return to simply stand up. My plan was to stand and clarify who was the father and who was this kid’s protector. So I did. I heard all the other dumb statements those folks were making, trying to speak in hushed tones. I also made careful eye contact. I explained my son’s behaviors to everyone and no one. “He’s a baby,” I said. “He’s fine. He’s sleepy, and that’s what sleepy kids do.” I said this while a room full of white folks turned to my kid. Bryce wasn’t noisy. The other two infants were, but no one saw them. Except my table. We saw the white family with the two noisy infants. But everybody else saw us and Bryce. My boy went and introduced himself to the small pair of babies who knew his language. They were playful.
After eating, I announced that we were ready to leave. I was tempted to stay longer for spite. But my better man spoke. We paid. I told Deon that I’d love to hear how popular we would become upon departing.
When we left, my son did the most elegant thing. He said goodbye to everybody in that room. Everybody we walked by he spoke to, saying “bye-bye.” He did what I couldn’t. I maintained eye contact with them. I did what I thought was the protective thing, and my son, this little boy, did what I couldn’t. He spoke. He affirmed those people when I was too upset to do so.
I left that restaurant angry. We stood in the parking lot upset at what we’d heard. Dawn was visibly distraught. She hadn’t known that racism and stupidity affected how adults viewed babies. I knew it but hadn’t thought about it in a while. We left to return to the YMCA where, when we arrived, I told Dawn that we were in the best place we could be after a meal like that. We were surrounded by a campus full of white people who were very unlike those in the restaurant. When we walked into our building, down our floor to our room, a woman, a white woman, who we hadn’t met yet said to me about my son, “Oh, he’s so precious.” And when she did, those words became a shovel for the other words I’d heard about my son, jettisoning them from me.
I’m around the people of my denomination, most of whom are white, and I couldn’t be in a better place to reminded of grace and transformation. I’ve got one classy kid who could do things I couldn’t. And I’ve got one grace-filled denomination too.