Evie 4Comment

I’m learning that there are some things it’s just not worth sheltering a child from, because try as you might, those things will find you…and that might not be the worst thing, anyway.

Not long ago, my family enjoyed its first trip to the Galleria, the big fancy schmancy mall in Houston. We wanted to snap a picture with Santa, see the monstrous 55-foot-tall tree and the ice-skating rink, and take in the hustle and bustle of the holiday season before it ramps up to a frenzy.

But most of the hustle and bustle we took in was a little different than expected. Although the crowd’s holiday spirit was evident, so was another sentiment—one that was not so cheerful.

You see, as we approached the mall, we noticed hundreds of protesters lined up on both sides of the sidewalk and marching through the streets with police escorts, holding signs with messages like,

BLACK LIVES MATTER

H-TOWN FOR MIKE BROWN

I commented to my husband that I wasn’t sure I’d ever been this close to a protest. Boy, was there a surprise in store for me…

When we entered the mall, we discovered the protests were continuing inside. They were all peaceful, from what we saw, but they were loud and sometimes disruptive. The stores in one whole wing of the mall—your Guccis, your Pradas, etc.—just completely closed up. And when a group of protesters was coming through, shoppers just stopped and stared, including us and the kids.

There was no way we were getting out of that mall without some questions from A. I’d never seen anything like this, and she certainly hadn’t either. But just as I launched into an explanation about how these protesters were upset because people with dark skin aren’t always treated fairly (an explanation simple enough for a four-year-old, in my opinion), my husband stopped me from going into the details.

Huh?

I stood up from the spot where I’d been kneeling to explain this scene to A and listened, rather confusedly, as my husband attempted to unravel the explanation I’d just been giving by simply stating that these people were upset and wanted to let other people know.

Wait, what? Why not be honest? Why not make this a teachable moment?

Why not instill a little social consciousness at a critical moment in our country’s history? This was an important event, and I wanted our daughter to have some sense of the gravity of it.

So I asked him, “Why not tell her what’s going on?”

“Because she doesn’t need to know about all of this right now.”

“She kind of already does.”

This summer, A and I read the Felicity series of American Girl books, in which some families own slaves, and A’s questions started there. Being that she’s a smart, sensitive girl, I knew she’d be able to grasp the hypocrisy of a system of enslavement, especially based on race, so I told her the truth, and that was that. No further discussion, no embarrassing attempts to point out strangers’ race in the grocery store checkout line, nothing.

“Why did you get into all of that?” My husband was clearly getting frustrated with my history lessons.

“Because she should know.”

Because we live in a society that does treat people differently on the basis of their race, their ethnicity, their accent, their turban or hijab. Because I want our children to know, from a young age, that this frustrates me and should frustrate them, too. Because I kind of wished I were the one protesting on that day.

What do you think? Have you told your kids about what’s happening in Ferguson and other parts of the country? How much of the details are better left for an older age?

Featured image: Free Houston Press

4 thoughts on “What My Kids Know about Ferguson, and Why

  1. Evie,

    Kudos for helping A to begin to understand some very complicated situations. I remember walking down the streets of NYC in the days right after 9/11 listening a mother explain to her toddler what was going on. Obviously not a conversation anyone wants to have with a child but unavoidable at the time and location, just like your mall experience.

    I think there is definitely a good middle ground to help children understand major “in your face” issues on their level rather than letting them see first hand graphic violence/gory details on the news.

    Did you guys have any follow up discussion at home?

    1. I can’t even IMAGINE trying to find appropriate language to describe 9/11 to a child! And how many young children were affected! It’s heartbreaking.

      A friend brought up to me that I might not have had this discussion about the protests with A had we not found ourselves in the middle of them, and this is true. I’ve actually learned not to turn on the TV news or NPR in the morning, as I used to when A was younger, because there are just too many questions. “What is war?” “What are people fighting over?” “Why do they use guns?” So, so complex.

      It’s easier not to have to go into these things sometimes, but the fact of the matter is, they’re bound to come up, and I almost think it’s easier to talk to her about them now, when simple answers will usually do the trick.

  2. Wish I could get your thoughts on a number of conversations that living in a 3rd world country are going to bring up!! I admire how you have such a great way of giving your kids a simple yet honest answer.

    1. Thanks, Jennifer! I’m really looking forward to hearing about your experience living abroad. It’ll definitely be eye-opening for the kids, but you’re right that it will also present challenges in terms of how much to explain, when, and how… Good luck!

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