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.
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