My husband was gone last week for work. Two things happen when he’s away.
- I turn the house into a giant mousetrap style maze for buglers.
- My 6YO daughter sleeps in bed with me.
I don’t sleep much when she sleeps with me. She’s long and tends to kick. I know the time together is important, and so many nights, it is in the dark she bares her soul.
“Do you know who Martin Luther King Jr. is, Momma?”
“We learned about him in school.”
“Good! He was a very brave man.”
“Why did someone kill him, Momma?”
“That’s not easy to explain, my love. He was brave and said what he believed and some people didn’t like it. And a bad person killed him.”
“Why couldn’t black and brown people be treated nice like everyone else?”
“Because people were ignorant, my love. They thought there was a difference between white people and black people just because they looked different. They were wrong, but not all of them wanted to learn anything different. And then there were some tricky people who wanted black people to be treated badly.”
I could feel a little bit of her heart break. I always can when we talk about people who are mean or bad.
She crossed the bed and tucked herself underneath my arm. Her focus seemed to shift back to the beautiful pastries of the British Baking Show. The same one she always begs me to “sign her up” for. We sit in silence as the clock counts down to judging.
“Did their moms still like them?”
The question rings in my ears like a buzzer. If my heart gained a fresh crack before, now it shattered. I knew the answer, but I asked anyway.
“Who, my love?”
“Did the black kids moms still like them?”
I do not lose words. Sometimes I wish I did. That I didn’t rush in with band-aid words to immediately soothe or dismiss a hurt before it is fully understood.
But this hurt is too big for band-aids, anyway. I let my own tears come along with my answer.
“The black moms always knew better, my love. They knew how special and smart and perfect their children were. They always knew everyone else was wrong.”
She lay quiet against my chest. All her hurt across my heart, but comforted still. That is the true miracle of motherhood—the ability to grant our children refuge. A powerful gift, even if it only extends to the space within our arms.
“Are you crying mom?”
“Are you sad?”
“Are you sad because people can be mean?”
This is something we say a lot. Unfortunately, it so often fits.
“Yes. But I’m grateful, too.”
“Because I have such a kind and smart girl. And I’m proud.”
“Yes. Very. And of all the mommas, too. For knowing better. For protecting their children and keeping them safe.”
“That’s a momma’s job.”
We talk about that, too. When she’s scared at night in the dark. She can sleep, because to worry is Momma’s job.
“It is, but sometimes some momma’s jobs are harder than others.”
Her thoughts drift back to tarts and cakes. Soon the episode ends and we say goodnight.
I turn off the tv and lay beside her in the dark. I think I did OK tonight, but all the conversations coming terrify me. They are not conversations for just one day each year, but as needed, and a pit forms in my stomach I know will stay. There is a specific horror to explaining terrible things to someone so pure.
I think about all my friends and their mothers. Of how they could possibly explain the wrong. I think about all the adoptive moms and mothers of multiracial children searching for the right words for something we haven’t lived. I worry for all of them. But I don’t cry again.
Because I trust them. Because we are more the same than we are different. Because we are all mothers and I know we’ll do our jobs no matter the circumstances.
I know a mother’s love. I know it is infinite. I know it is powerful. And I know it will always find a way.
Part of protecting our children and keeping them safe is talking to them. Teaching them. Having these hard conversations. Ensuring we never again allow mistakes of the past.
There’s a poem, “The hand that rocks the cradle is the one that rules the world.” I know today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. I know today we think about a speech of dreams, but when I think about the future, that is the quote I think of.
When I think of all the mothers I know. Their hands—the black, the brown, the white—I know.
That our children, our future, our world, and it’s fate—all of those things. All of those very important things…
…are in good, good hands.
Liza Dora is the owner of the eponymous Liza Dora Books. Her writing has been in publications around the world and her books have been featured in both media and print. Read more from Liza at lizadora.com