I read a piece the other day about our children being made for this particular place in time. It suggested that rather than worrying about how these days will negatively impact them, we should shift our focus to the belief that they entered this world right when we needed them to...that we would all be best served not to shield them from the grotesque realities of present day America, but rather to picture them as the army that will someday lead us towards a better future. I found unexpected comfort in the idea of my babies as warriors. Perhaps because I believe far more in the vast power they hold in their tiny hearts than in any of the current powers that be.
I thought of the piece yesterday as I wrote of my young truth force and wondered as a mother who longs for the day the next generation meets us- to teach us- in these pivitol points, how best to prepare them.
At the same time Field was hiding out in his pillow fort, Louise and I were snuggled in her bed reading "The Youngest Marcher" by Cynthia Levinson. It, among other relevant books, was a Christmas gift from her Aunt Ellis. As the story of Civil Rights activist, Audrey Faye Hendricks, unfolded in 1960's Birmingham, AL, I was struck by how close to home it felt.
My mother is a product of the same Birmingham battlefield backdrop.
She was just a child, but she remembers so much of it so clearly. We were raised hearing of the preacher’s daughter who sought protection in their home when her father was threatened by the KKK, and of the tensions that flared beneath Friday night lights during the first integrated highschool football game. She remembers conversations she overheard offering clues of which side the adults in her life took. She remembers, too, the silence of those who ignored it altogether.
More than anything, she remains haunted by the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church. While 4 young girls lost their lives, and a fifth lost her sight and her sister, my mom sat safely in her church across town. So much the same between she and the victims...age, Jesus, Sunday School dresses, innocence...she knew there was only one difference that determined the fates of that day.
There is no doubt the experiences shaped who she would become as person and mother. She never scared us, but she didn't avoid sharing the harsh realities of the world with us either. She seized teachable moments and taught acceptance through age appropriate anecdotes. She guided us with intentional example.
The residual impact is clear in the way she visibly grieves girls she never knew, and in the way her voice shifts when speaking of loved ones she knows were on the wrong side of history. It's always been clear in the way she treats others and in the efforts she made to raise us to be open hearted.
It's become even clearer now in her response to current events. She is not afraid to own aged blind spots. She does not let missteps of the past keep her from moving forward in the direction of truth. She might say I am guiding her through this, but I have never stopped needing her. Even at 34, I am looking to her to help me navigate each new day. I am watching her response. I am awed by her unwavering willingness- eagerness- to grow.
I am channeling her in my efforts to do the same for Field and Louise. I will not sit my 6 and 8 year old in front of the TV to absorb recent images, but I won't shy away from my responsibility to talk to them honestly about what's happening in the world around them either. They sense something is awry. They are watching and listening to the adults in their lives. They will remember it all. They may not fully comprehend right now, but when they speak of this time decades later I want them to feel the same way I do. I want there to be no doubt in their minds where their mother stood.
I want them to remember the songs we listened to on the way to school and how they laughed every time one made mom cry. One day they will understand the tears. I want to be proud when they connect the dots of overheard phonecalls. I want them to carry the weight of the silence of some. I want them to remember the stories we discussed and the books about heroes who look nothing like them that their Aunts helped fill their shelves with.
I want their lives, not just now, but every single day, to be so full of truth and love that when the time comes for them to stand up for what's right, they will know exactly which side to fight for.
Even in what feels like the most hopeless, helpless circumstances, we have the power to determine a lot. We are informing, sometimes in the most subtle ways, how this moment will mold them. We are sending them messages they will carry throughout the rest of their lives. We better be honest with ourselves about what those messages say. We are shaping them into the leaders they will become. We better be considering the type of leadership we need.
Preparing our children to guide us in a better direction is not difficult as long as we have a clear vision of what "better" really is. We've been entrusted with building an army out of the next generation. Will our warriors be "extremists for hate or for love"? We decide now.