Sometimes what we teach them when they are little comes back to us as hope for the world they will inherit.
I cannot recall any specific moment in which I knew I was making a conscious decision to teach my child to not hate, to not discriminate, to not settle for the status quo of compliance by association when others around him displayed such tendencies toward those that were different.
It’s in the little things, I suppose. “Honey, don’t step on ants just because you can!” These are the little anecdotes that float to the surface when trying to remember the lessons taught. “Let’s see where these little guys are going. Look, do you see that one? He’s carrying a big crumb back to where he lives so he can help provide for his family.” We followed the trail of the tiny black ants to their small, sandy ant hill nestled in the crack of our sidewalk.
“Everything has a place here and we are all just trying to do the best we can. Just because they are smaller than we are doesn’t mean they don’t have lives to live, families to feed, mommies and daddies and sisters and brothers to care about. Be kind to all creatures. What if there were huge beings out there that could just step on us and wipe us out ‘just because they could’? You wouldn’t like that would you?”
Ahhhh, that’s it! I could see the wheels turning behind his hazel green eyes. He got it; he’s processing it; he’s making sense of it in his own 6-year old brain. Looking back, these are the moments in which we teach our children to be caring and responsible humans. These are the moments their world grows from including only them and their immediate family, favorite friends and toys to one which is frighteningly large and about so much more than they had ever imagined.
Our job is to teach them to balance fear of the unknown and possibly dangerous situations with taking risks, stepping outside themselves to offer knowledge, kindness and a helping hand to someone who needs it. It’s our job to teach them to not only impart their own wisdom, but to listen – really listen to the other side of a discussion, especially when the opinion of someone else is in complete disagreement to their own. It’s our job to show them the merits of an open mind.
My son is grown now, engaged to be married and living his life independent of me and my tutelage. He’s growing up in a world full of heartbreaking turmoil and he feels it deeply. He doesn’t understand why large people crush small ones just trying to make their way home to their families with a bit of food and conversation to share.
We experience many proud parent moments as they grow: trophies for games well won and lost, academic achievement awards, their happiness in finding new friends, their intimate moments of speaking gently to the family pet, and all the things that make us, as parents, swoon. It’s all the ‘awwwww, my little guy is growing up and he’s turning into such an incredible person’ moments that make all the past terrible two’s tantrums and late night feedings worth it. It’s all there. Everything we’ve worked so hard for to form the unbreakable parent/child bond.
Today, I had one of those moments as I read my son’s Facebook page status. It was regarding the issue of transgender bathrooms and all the controversy surrounding the it. This is what he said:
How is it 2016 in America and there are laws passing that discriminate against a large group of people that dictate which bathroom an individual must use, restaurants in which they’re not welcome, stores in which they’re not allowed to shop, etc.? Does this seem frighteningly familiar to anyone? Does anyone recall a man named Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr and the ideals that he fought for which cost him his life? How can this be happening again? I don’t want to be part of the generation that stood by and let this happen. I don’t want my grandchildren to ask me, “Why was it so different when you were younger?” It is 2016. Live your life, brothers. Live your life, sisters. Mothers. Fathers. Sons. Daughters. This world is not our home, we’re all just passing through. Make it a little easier for the people who share it with you and leave it a little nicer, a bit kinder, for those that come after you. After all, ain’t no time to hate. That’s the truth. Spend your time loving, never hating. Be good. Be kind. We are all born with goodness. We are all family.
I was, in the moment of reading his words, prouder than I ever have been, for he is a 31-year-old man now and this is who he has become. And while reading his words, I was transported back to that hot summer day, when he was six, and his beautiful hazel green eyes saw those ants as creatures deserving a life of freedom, a life free from fear of being crushed by someone bigger, someone different, someone who could hurt them just because. People deserve to feel secure in the knowledge they are respected for what and who they are.
Today, I learned from my son what it’s like to be a proud mother.