A couple weeks ago, over Spring Break, D, Romney Ann and I visited a new park here in Newberry. We had heard a lot of great things about it so we were eager to go check it out.
There were only a couple other families there during the same time as us and all of the children played so well together. D was significantly older than most of the children, but he was still having a great time. I had suggested he bring his football when we were leaving the house in case this were to happen, so he and I could throw it while RA played on the playground, and we did, but he also engaged with RA and the other kiddos really well too.
At one point Romney Ann wanted to toss the football with D, and another boy around 3 years old came over and D included him. I had said hello to the other moms and we had a little bit of the typical small talk about our children. We threw the football, we went down the slide, we swung on the swings, and played on the spinny thing (well the kids did – that was going to make me sick). It was a beautiful morning where it seemed like everyone was smiling and finding ways to have fun.
“I have to go potty, momma.” Romney Ann tells me. I look around and see there are some porta-potties set up near where we parked, not far at all from the playground. I turned to D and asked him if he needed to use the restroom too. He said no. I asked if he’d like to walk with us, or stay on the swing. He said, “I’d like to keep swinging.” At this point there were two other moms, one with two children and one with one. I had spoken to both of them and we were all laughing and commenting on how well the children played together. Without a second thought, I turned and started walking with RA who was now wiggling from holding it.
As I was walking RA across the parking lot, to the porta-potty, not even 50 yards from the playground, I turned back around. D, still swinging, was the only child of color on the playground, which was not a fact I had looked over all morning, I knew that, but in this moment it hit me in a different way. He was just swinging by himself. The flurry of thoughts that ran through my head were incredibly overwhelming and frightening. I felt this moment where I couldn’t catch my breath. Did I just put D in danger by leaving him there by himself? Would someone jump to conclusions and misinterpret his actions based on the color of his skin? Once RA and I reached the potty, I kept the door open. There were some men there working on the construction of the rest of the park, but there weren’t many people and they were pretty far away. I was able to stand in a place where she wasn’t exposed but I could keep an eye on D. The whole time, RA is asking what seemed like 1,000 questions about everything in the porta-potty like she’d never been in one, all while I’m just hoping she’ll hurry up.
She finished up, we walked back, and the kiddos played for a bit more time. Seemed like just a potty break, but what Romney Ann, D and the others couldn’t see was the sprint that my mind had just ran and I was exhausted. Let me be clear that I didn’t need to have this experience to have an unbelievable amount of heartbreak for the stories, which I fully believe, that mothers of color go through every day of their lives. I didn’t need to have this experience to know that there are so many things I haven’t had to worry about for Romney Ann that I know other mothers do for their sons and daughters. I didn’t need to have this experience that left me nauseous and short of breath. I also do not think at all that this compares to the weight of the anxiety and stress that mothers of color carry. I didn’t just “walk in their shoes,” I don’t “know what it’s like” now, I’m not woke or enlightened, I’m just broken.
One of my worries in having Romney Ann (or any children) was that if it was even fair to bring a child into this world. To bring a child into a world filled with so much brokenness, pain, and hatred. A world where I worry about my black son on a swing being seen as anything other than a child on a swing. A world where mothers carry the weight of not only raising a child, which is so damn hard, but to also have to teach them about how others see them differently and how to protect themselves from that. Honestly, there are still days I have these thoughts of it was even fair and I’m sure I will forever and while I don’t want to look past the hurt and only look for the good, I want this pain to lead to action, but I also at times, desperately need to look for the light.
The light that shines for me, the light that the darkness cannot overcome, is moments like these children playing on the playground. This reality that there is hope and it lies most beautifully in our children and their ability to make friends with anyone. There is beauty in the moments where Romney Ann sees a black man and says out loud (while initially filling me with deep embarrassment) “He look like my D, momma,” but realizing the beauty that this comparison and realization for her is one of deep love, trust, and admiration. This comment, while first makes me want to hide, then makes me smile and I’m hopeful.
I don’t have a way to tying this up in a nice bow. I wish I did. I have been filled with so much physical, emotional, and spiritual lament, especially these past few weeks, and really this past year, but this lament must lead to more. And maybe a part of my “more” is sharing my experience. Again, I know it in no way compares to the experience that is generational trauma, but if it helps just one person open their eyes to a different reality, I wonder what will come next. I’m hopeful.