More Than a Breath

I was driving alone letting my mind wander. Fairfield to Milford on I-95. No traffic. Air conditioning on and the windows down too, just how I like it.  My mind set upon the current events of the past few months and #blacklivesmatter popped into my head. I thought to myself, “how would I feel if I had black children today?”

How would I feel if my 3 beautiful girls had to wear a hashtag to remind their neighbors and friends that they had a right to breathe?  Anxiety came quickly into my chest and throat; fear immediately after.

My kids are so much more than a breath. (Everyone’s kids are.)  They are curiosity, warm hugs,  laughter, and enthusiasm. They are thinkers, and friends, and creators. Yes their LIVES matter but what about their LIFE? I let my mind go further down the path of what ifs. What if I literally had to explain to people that my children’s very existence mattered? So I thought, what makes them “them”? How would I convey their value beyond a breath and I thought #blacklifematters…and then #blackartistsmatter; #blackwritersmatter; #blackchildrenmatter; #blackgigglesmatter; #blackplaygroundsmatter; #blackteachersmatter; #blackstudentsmatter; #blackeducationmatters; #blackcommunitiesmatter; #blacktraditionsmatter; #blacklaughtermatters; #blackpoetrymatters; #blackcookingmatters; #blacksiblingsmatter; #blackhugsmatter.  The list fired on-and-on in my mind and suddenly I felt enraged and fiercely protective of my kids.  Just by thinking of all the things I believe make my children priceless and happy and having to justify it — to remind the world “Hey, they matter! Notice them, treat them like people. Give them courtesy and respect and a fair shake at education” it began to shift me at my core. Seeing things from a parents point of view changes things.

What if, for generations, my family had been on occasion abused, silenced, or mistreated by authority and raised on anecdotes of oppression and inequity? What if that was my experience? What if when I approached an officer I didn’t feel nothing, like I do now, but instead my guard went up and my stomach tensed? What if fear set in. Whether from personal experience or anecdotal information a real fear came over me? And with fear comes instinct. Fight or flight?

Fight and you might get killed.

Flight and you might get killed.

Comply and…well you have no idea because that could go either way based on the stories you’ve been told and by complying you relinquish control.

I teach my kids to wave to cops and soldiers and say hello and thank you. We call them heroes. But I live under the assumption that everyone we see throughout our day honors and respects us for more than just a breathing body because that has always been my experience. It never occurred to me until today what it would feel like to have to justify the value of my children’s life. After all, I only know what I “know”.  I know my anecdotes and my stereotypes and I can’t allow that provincial view to be all I ever experience.

And so my mind wandered a bit more. Exit signs pass. I switch lanes. I turn off my radio.

Yes, Black lives do matter.   And black life matters too.  And I think parenting matters. Regardless of race we all want the very best for our children. So let’s start with there. We need to stop self-segregating in the suburbs, demand equal access to education funding across all of our towns and in general we need to step up our parenting by going out and getting to know all the people in our communities but also our neighboring communities.  We need to teach our kids we can come together to create vibrant, respectful, inclusive, fearless neighborhoods.   It might be clunky at first, we might all say the wrong thing or be really uncomfortable but for many people getting out of their own zip code in this state is uncomfortable. But the more we do it, the more we all learn.  Because no child should ever need a hashtag to prove their life has value. We are all so much more than just a breath.