I'm thrilled today to share the second guest post in the new series of different tween and teen parenting perspectives. RoiAnn Phillips and I were both cast members in the 2013 Chicago Listen to Your Mother show. We are bonded both by that and by the title "mom of a tween girl." I'm so glad she's allowing me to share her unique perspective here.
It’s National Adoption Month, and I want to share a conversation I had with my 10 year-old daughter about race. I'm white, she's Mayan Guatemalan, and we have good conversations. Really good. Sometimes. The problem is, what I wrote (and edited, and rewrote for two and a half hours) included thoughts she’s just beginning to explore and express. I can't publish it.
So I stewed and stalled awhile.
Then I took my questions to a group of bloggers I know and trust (thank you, Listen to Your Mother!), and they offered MANY ideas for sharing the story without crossing that ever-shifting line. The most compelling to me was this:
I can share how our conversation landed with me.
My daughter and I are at lunch after buying winter boots, and we’re talking. We’re talking about school, and friends, our family who’s coming to visit, and at some point, we’re talking about race.
Now mostly, our weighty conversations leave me feeling proud, hopeful, and more deeply connected, but when she looks me in the eye this time and makes an especially keen observation, I go silent for a minute and lose my footing...
There is a canyon opening between us, wider each second that I wait to speak. I feel all at once FURIOUS that we live in a time and place where she sees this already at ten years old … PROUD that she's willing to say it out loud (and to me!) … FRIGHTENED that I will not be able to guide her through what's next, as a white parent to a child of color.
I give her what I'm sure is the wrong response. I do a lot of that lately with her. She's a tween, after all, and I'm merely mortal.
I say what I know will affirm her reality, knowing this isn't enough, knowing I need to say more, knowing I've left her hanging, not knowing how to swing back and pick her up. Not yet. Not yet. Not now.
I feel myself panic. This isn't how our conversations go.
I've told her before that I work for racial justice, social justice, equality. I’ve placed us on the same side of each battle line – those that are real and those in our heads. I’ve shown her we’re in this struggle together, fighting for a culture where we can all be whole. It may be okay that I don't say it now. Maybe. I don't know.
We continue talking and again, her face clouds, wary. She asks clarifying questions and I express myself another way. She nods.
I don't know what her nod means.
A year ago, I would have known, but not today.
This was so much easier when she was little. Writing. Parenting. All of it.
Now there are so many missteps, so many flashes of anger, so much letting go.
“What are you writing?” she asks while I’m writing this, and I feel like the kid caught with cigarettes behind the bleachers at school.
I tell her I’m writing about how to share my experience without sharing private things. How to talk about myself and the things she helps me think about without sharing what she might not want said. Only I take a long time to say this. She hears none of it, I’m certain.
The next night, I tell my nephew how much I love the sweet potato fries he’s eating, the ones his Mama made him. My daughter wrinkles her nose in silent disagreement. She does not like sweet potato fries. "Is that all that's different between us?" I ask playfully, pulling her close to me, kissing her cheek.
She laughs. "No, mom. You like spinach, too, and I don't." She dances away from me, moving her hands as she speaks.
She knows what she likes and doesn’t like. (Even if it changes every day.) She knows what I like and don’t like, too.
She's noticing where she is in the world ... and where she wants to be.
I nod, smiling bigger while she dances away.
Because when I look at it this way, I know we've got this. I’ve got this. She's got this, and I've got her. Whatever the topic, as long as we’re talking, as long as we’re open, we’ve got this.
We've got this, even when we slip or stall.
Even when the safety rope breaks. Or when the canyon widens. When the rocks fall in and we have to climb and climb to reach one another again, we've got this.
I know we do.
We've got this.
Yes, we are the same and yes, we are different. We are a family by adoption and yes, my color and hers are not the same. No, we don’t have a mom and a dad in our family. We have two moms. There are many canyons to cross. But we’re crossing them, and we’ll continue crossing them, each of us learning as we let go.
RoiAnn recommends these resources for National Adoption Month:
Read more of RoiAnn's wonderful words on her blog, Are You the Babysitter?
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