Mothers, Fathers and Nations

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

1 Corinthians 13:11

When I was a young, beginning even before I was a teen I started to run away. By the time I was fourteen I was deemed a habitual delinquent by the juvenile court system. I was also considered past redemption by many. At the age of fourteen, I was removed from my parents’ custody and placed in foster care, shortly thereafter I ran for the last time. I have written some parts of my story in Broken Chains, it might explain why I was a runaway, why I was a Juvenile Delinquent.

There was a time, many years ago when many told me, including judges and my own mother they didn’t expect me to see twenty-one they certainly didn’t expect me to ‘make anything of myself’.

I say all this because I did make it to twenty-one and beyond, today I am a grown woman; I am alive with a loving though slightly dysfunctional family. With two sons, grandchildren, friends, a decent career, my own home and mostly the things I want in life when I want them. I have books to read, a good education; I have seen the world (even if I complain about travel). I have been most fortunate, surviving heartbreak and violence in my life to become ‘Victorious’.

This isn’t the story of me; this is about a mother’s heart. I thought it was important to say first where I came from, to say first someone in fact many someone’s saw my promise and gave me a chance, thus I am here.

My two sons were a gift. I did not bring them into the world but I married their father when they were barely potty trained. At the ripe ages of two and five, they were already handfuls, already opinionated and full of themselves as little human beings. Our first run in after my marriage happened the first weekend they came to stay, with Number One Son hands on hips and head twisting side to side like a cobra spitting, “I don’t have to do what you say you aren’t my mother”.

I glanced at their father sitting calming and silently on the couch behind me and realized at that moment this would be the weft of our relationship, especially with regard to his sons. Staring at these two small humans, I realized I had the opportunity to shape lives, it was frightening and my heart hit my throat. I knelt down in front of them so I could look Number One Son in the eye, “You are right, I am not your mother but in this house your father does what I say and so will you. In this house, you will not smart mouth me. You will say Yes Mam’ and No Mam’, Please and Thank You. In this house I will tear a knot in that narrow butt if you smart off to me again.”

By the end of that first weekend, both of those boys had been swatted and stood in a corner. Number One Son never was swatted again, ever; though he found a few corners to his liking over the years. Number Two Son on the other hand, he was me all over. When my mother use to say to me, ‘some day you will have a daughter and she will be just like you, then you will reap what you sow’, honestly I thought I had dodged that bullet, until Number Two Son, he was my Waterloo. During my marriage to their father, their mother and I made a pact, to raise them with love. We didn’t always agree on tactics, but we did agree on one thing we wanted these young men to survive to adulthood.

 

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It is thirty-two years later, water has passed under the bridge, I divorced their father seventeen years ago. In that divorce the best thing I got was custody of my youngest son, no one fought this; his place in my home was secured with love. At the time he was just turning seventeen, he and I had a unique relationship. While his brother was the child of my mind, he was the child of my heart and soul. His mother and I agreed the best place for him was with me. His father did not want him, walked away without a backward glance.

My two sons were by no means angels, they weren’t devils either, like so many they were simply teenagers. They weren’t complete delinquents though Number Two Son certainly worked hard at achieving this goal. Certainly if you saw them during their teen years, walking down the street you might have crossed to the other side. They had their days, with tongue piercings, eye brow piercings, tattoos and sagging pants, hair midway down backs and dyed colors not intended for humans, Goth finger nails (black and dark blue were popular) and yes experimentation with marijuana and drinking that I am aware of. My sons were no angels.

Do not get me wrong, I fought hard for Number Two Son, for his safety and his sanity. Some things you can ignore, some things you can shrug off as childish; other things you yank chains and demand change. I knew too well the path he was following and I put a leash on him, marshalled every resource I had and fought hard to save him. Number One Son, he played at being ‘Cool’, but really he just wanted to grow up and be part of the crowd. He didn’t want to rock the boat; he listened and was smart enough not to be truly stupid about the choices he made.

I tell the story about my two sons because it is important, Number One Son just turned 37 this week; Number Two Son will be getting married next month. Both have good jobs, their own homes, lovely families, brilliant futures. All it took to get them here was love, patience, belief, a few tears and sometimes a whack upside the head. All it took to get them here was giving them a chance to thrive on their own, the opportunity to grow up a support system and trust.

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Though I sometimes worried about Number Two Son reaching adulthood, I never once had to worry either of them would be gunned down in the street by a rogue cop. Every child in this nation has the right to grow up and achieve their full potential. Every parent has the right to raise their child in safety, without fearing the people who are paid to protect our neighborhoods will murder their child.

Every child has the right to walk down the street in broad daylight or at night without fear. Every child in this nation has the right to an education, to hope, to a future. Every parent in this nation has the right to believe their child can be successful in life including education, work, family and home.

Every parent has the right to believe they will outlive their child. Every parent has the right to believe they won’t bury their child due to violence, especially police and vigilante violence.  We have seen far too many mothers and fathers burying their children due to violence and especially recently due to police violence against mostly unarmed young Black Men. It is hard for me to call them men, so many of them aren’t out of their teens, so many of them haven’t yet reached their majority. So many of these young ones couldn’t even tell you what they want to be when they ‘grow up’, yet they are gunned down in the street by cops or vigilantes, or by a ‘good guy’ with a gun who ‘feared’ for his life and made up a story to justify what there is no justification for.

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How did we get to this place? The media are complicit with the police painting each shooting as justified; each young person becomes a ‘thug’ and the murderer the ‘victim’, even as brokenhearted parents bury their child. When did we become so lacking in compassion, so deficient in empathy as a nation or a people. When did we lose our heart, perhaps we never had one to start with and now it is more obvious with every loss more reported on within social media and the contrast so clear.

I realize I am blessed, along with their other mother we are both blessed. We have sons who are alive, healthy and grown to adulthood. There are far too many mothers today who can only visit their sons at gravesites, who will only see their child as a teenager in photographs because that is the age he was when he was gunned down in the street. This must end and only we can end it. Every parent has the right to see their child grow to their full potential in safety. No parent should have to bury their child due to violence.

Only we can end this. Only we can stand up and demand change.

Only we can stand up and demand a change to Police behavior across the nation through better hiring practices, training, education and penalties.

Only we can stand up and demand Stand Your Ground laws be repealed nationwide.

Only we can stand up and demand changes to gun laws, nationwide.

Only we can stand up, demand the Department of Justice do their job and investigate police violence.

Only we can stand up and demand more money for education less for incarceration.

Only we can end this violence. Only we can protect our future by protecting our children, all of them.

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