Last night, like most people in Charlotte, I watched as protests over the Keith Scott shooting turned our city into a scene from a tense and action-packed movie. I slept fitfully for a couple hours before waking up in the middle of the night - filled with anxiety and uncertainty about how I was going to explain this to my tender-hearted seven-year-old daughter.
I went to my daughter’s room. As I watched her sleep, her beloved panda sleep mask askew on her face, a feeling of tiredness, or maybe it was weariness, washed over me. I moved her stuffed animals out of the way and climbed into bed with her. I snuggled up behind my daughter and finally drifted off to sleep.
Around 6:30am she popped up and said, “Oh mama, I love that you’re in my bed. This is the best day!”
And, for a moment it was the best day. For a moment it was just the two of us, in a quiet house, sleepily hugging each other.
I stammered around and finally said, “Conley, I need to talk to you about some things that are happening in Charlotte right now.”
Her reply, “Okay, mama. Why do you have your serious voice on?”
I told her that what was going on was serious but then I tried to lighten my tone a little so that she wouldn’t be frightened. I was trying to find a delicate balance between informing my daughter of the world around her and not scaring her out of her wits. It was like threading a needle in the dark because addressing shootings and riots is not covered in What to Expect When You’re Expecting.
I explained that a man had been shot by the police and that some people were really upset about it. She immediately responded with, “Why are they upset? If the police shot him he was a bad guy. The police would only shoot someone doing something bad, right mom?”
I stifled a sob. Her worldview is so beautifully simple. The police protect us from the bad people. If the police shot someone, he had to be a bad person. At this point, I told her that we weren’t sure yet if he was doing something bad or not. Some people say that he was and others say that he wasn’t. Often it is best to have as much information as possible before we decided. In the meantime, we just needed to remember that we may not know if someone has hurt feelings about something and that we should always remember to be kind to everyone.
She asked, “Even to Sebastian (the little boy on her bus who gives her and her friends a hard time)?”
I hugged her, “Yes, even to Sebastian.”
We continued with our normal morning routine but when I put her on the bus my heart ached. It ached because I had to let her go out into a scary world when what I really wanted to do was cover her in bubble wrap and batten down our house.
When I got home my head was still swimming about how I needed to follow up with Conley this afternoon. That’s when I contacted my friend Yasmine Jeffers. Yasmine and her husband David are the parents of Jaxon, age 7 and Brody, age 4. Jaxon and Conley have been friends since preschool and he is the kind of person that I hope that she is friends with for the rest of her life.
Yasmine is African-American and she will receive her masters degree in Marriage and Family Counseling in December. As part of her clinical rotation she sees clients at CMC. I knew that she would give me eloquent insight and sage advice - and that she would give it to me straight - from her professional and personal standpoints.
I asked her what were supposed to tell our kids? She said that most importantly we needed to make sure that we talk to them in an age appropriate way.
Before he left for school, Yasmine told Jaxon that some men had been shot in America, recently one in Charlotte, and that made people really angry. She reminded him that the root of anger is most often hurt.
It’s easy to forget that - that anger most often boils up from hurt.
If someone hurts your feelings, what is your first response? Sure, we would all love to think that we are always measured and take that gold paved high road. And, maybe you do, but if you’re anything like me, you get mad, you lash out and then you feel pretty lousy for lashing out.
Yasmine also stressed that it is of the utmost importance to teach our children to be empathetic and nonjudgmental. She admitted it was something that she had to remind herself of as she watched the news of the rioting and the looting. She said that as she watched the news she found herself judging people who were destroying property and taking merchandise.
What is this accomplishing? Don’t they understand that this is hurting our community and only setting back the positive strides that are being made?
I’ve seen many people asking the same kind of questions; some of them looking for open dialogue and solutions and others simply attempting to feel superior as they sit far away from it all.
I absolutely don’t condone this kind of behavior and I certainly won’t tell my daughter that busting windows and destroying property are the right ways to handle tragic situations, but I know that these are things that can be rebuilt and replaced. I think that there are much more important things to be discussed, maybe not yet with my seven-year-old, but as a community and a nation.
Furthermore, I will try to teach her, and try to remind myself, that just because I haven’t experienced it, doesn’t mean that it isn’t an experience.
As I chatted with my crazy-smart friend this morning, I realized that talking to my child about protests in our city isn’t something that I needed to do a great deal of research on. What I need to teach her about is simply an extension of what I tell her everyday as she boards the bus: Be smart, kind, funny and good.