Like many others I’ve been dipping in and out of reading and watching the news following the second impeachment trial of President Trump, the cleanup of the US Capitol after the terrorism and violence of last week, and the planning for the future with the incoming President and Vice President. All of this on top of the backdrop of COVID, remote school, and daily life.
For many of us being home means we’re also around our kids a lot more, including young adult or adult children who may have come home from college or otherwise since normal routines are disrupted at the moment. Tonight, I was joking with my youngest that she’s been in many of my work meetings. Because I often use an earpiece she only hears my side of the conversation, but I know she’s watching, as is my older kid who feigns interest but I know he is absorbing conversations and watching our actions.
During last week’s violence on the US Capitol, we didn’t hide the news from the kids, but I also don’t try to put it in their faces either. We turned on the TV news in short spurts to see what was happening, then turned it off. Yet even with this brief amount of exposure both kids understood and absorbed what was happening – the children are watching.
They are also learning how we respond.
How we act
A few years ago, I was at a youth soccer game and a fight broke out between the coaches. It was predictable – google youth coaches behaving badly and you’ll find videos of coaches calling each other out, getting into each others faces, and hopefully someone stops them before physical violence breaks out. I naively thought since this was 9 year olds playing soccer on a sunny chilly day we’d be spared the fighting. I heard the argument before I saw it, something in me knew to start creeping from the far side of the field where I was standing by myself to get closer to the sideline. At some point I physically got between two 5’11’ to 6’0” male coaches (I’m 5’1”) and yelled at them “The children are watching YOU! You have 9 year olds on the field – cut this shit out!” they both simmered down and the game went on. There was still tension all around.
After the game I tried to confront both coaches. The coach of the opposing team was willing to listen to me. He was physically taken aback when I called him out and said what I saw was toxic masculinity. He really couldn’t believe a women, or an Asian, was using that language with him. I wanted to say white toxic masculinity, but that would have been too much.
Writing this blog post and the violence of the past week made me think about this incident. The kids on that soccer field watched two white males get into each others faces. They also didn’t see any others who were closer than me step in to de-escalate the situation before it got to that point. I think the coaches did shake hands at the end of the game and I think the coach of our team apologized at the next practice, however my kid and I weren’t there since I needed space and was upset at how the coaches handled the situation. I told my kid it was my job to keep him safe, he didn’t see much of the fight but understood something had happened. Children learn how to handle conflict and resolution from watching those around them. I wonder what the other kids on the team learned that day. They didn’t learn the joy of sports or witness meaningful conflict resolution – that I know for sure. I wonder how many of their parents even talked about the fight with their kids and linked it to race, I doubt any of them.
This week I was also hearten to see people step up and step into roles where they could make a meaningful difference. My friend and colleague Vu wrote in his blog NonprofitAF how to be more thoughtful in our communications when responding to this or other tragic events. Kaitlin Kamalei of the Colorful Pages blog quickly put out this book list to help educators process the violence with their students. Kaitlin Kamalei did this after working a full-day as a teacher.
In my own living room, I listened to my kid tell her teacher what she knew about the violence. She also spoke with conviction about what she knew about the Black Lives Matter mural painted on the DC street and made a clear connection of how it was in opposition to Trump. Her teacher created the space for this conversation. I sent him a thank you email and as a way for me to support him offered to purchase books for his classroom about democracy – too late for this conversation but these conversations are ongoing.
If you haven’t had a conversation with a kid (doesn’t have to be your own) about what they know about race, violence, national politics, please do. Talk about it at a personal level — feeling included, caring for each other, etc. Also talk about it at a community level, make the connection to systemic changes — voting, education, health care, tax reform, etc. Kids need to learn how to care for others and the broader community and they need to do it with an awareness of race. If you’re not a parent or around kids, check in with someone who is in closer proximity of kids. They may need someone to talk this through with before talking to their own kids — we all have a responsibility here.
As someone reminded me today, we aren’t going to get there by doing one thing and saying “Ok we did one thing,” the question is where are you on this journey and what else can you do?*
(*POCs this question is more for our white colleagues and friends. As POCs we carry different burdens and there are times we can step back to rest, focus on our own, or just be still.)
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