From Heavy Boots to Hope for my Biracial Boys

Years ago I read Jonathan Safran Foer’s book “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” set in the time of 9/11 from the perspective of a 9-year-old boy who lost his father. It was such a powerful book and one that I was glad to read, despite the tears. I have always remembered little Oskar and the way he described his intensely sad emotions as “heavy boots.” That phrase rings in my heart on many different occasions.

This week has been one of heavy boots – from the Middle East to the Ebola outbreak to the death of another African American teen and the tension that followed. I am faced with the reality of how fragile life is and how one can get comfortable expecting a “tomorrow” when there really is no guarantee of one.

There’s no tomorrow for Michael Brown. I will not pretend to know all the facts and realities of what happened in that scenario. But I will say that it cuts to my core – in sadness for parents who suddenly lost their precious son and in heightened worry in my heart….for my boys are brown. Heavy boots upon my soul.

This is one of those posts that I’m not really sure how to write. My brain still swirls around this subject. I’ve read posts from an African American women pleading with her white friends to do more. I’ve read posts from a white mother acknowledging the white privilege her children have. I sit and ponder – where am I fitting in? – a white woman raising biracial boys.

The year I adopted Super Tall Guy was the year Barack Obama became president. I’ve often thought that rather than celebrating our “First African American President,” we should be celebrating our “First Biracial President.” We should celebrate the fact that families can unite. There can be peace and harmony.

Yet often there isn’t. A discord simmers below the surface until the spark and then it blasts wide open with an ugly face. We’re shocked. Outraged. It’s too ugly and we want the lid back on. Cover it, and yet it’s not over. It’s not over until we deal with the truth in turmoil beneath.

I don’t know how to do this fully, but I’m seeking. I’m seeking ways to help my sons understand that the color of their skin will actually influence the way people look at them and respond to them. We’re just in the early stages of the boys recognizing a difference. This summer at the pool, 5-yr-old Mr. Ornery looked around and said, “Mom, there’s not too many brown skin people here.” True. And sometimes we put our arms side by side and Super Tall Guy says, “Look how white Mommy’s skin is. Why do you get freckles?”???????????????????????????????

Two years ago, Super Tall Guy learned about Martin Luther King, Jr. in kindergarten. We bounced down the staircase of the school talking about the day and all he had learned. I asked him in the course of many questions, “So, Super Tall, are you black or white?” “White,” he responded as he jumped the last two steps to the landing.

You see, though his skin is browner than mine, he is growing up in a “white world.” That’s my world and that of my family. Yet I am conscious of the fact that he is biracial – all three are despite how light or dark their skin is – and that matters. I look for diversity for the boys – in their school, in their neighborhood, in our church. Yet I know that I need to do more for deep in my heart, I worry about what they will face in this world. Heavy boots.

I need to learn more. I need to talk to others more. And I need to talk to my sons. I havet yet to say, “Son, because of your skin, people are going to judge you and make assumptions about you and treat you differently…..and they won’t do the same to Mr. Trouble because he’s white.”  Hard.

Maybe I’m hoping that one day I won’t have to say it. Maybe I’m hoping that someday it won’t make a difference to anyone. Maybe I’m hoping my boys can keep growing up in the Mommy-cocoon of protection. It sure would be nice, but I also know this world is not going to change enough in the next year or five years or even ten years to spare me the difficult talk. And it’s not going to change enough to spare my boys some very painful experiences. I ache already for them.

Yet part of that world change has to begin with me. And you. And everyone. Together.

A change in the way we look at each other, whatever our differences. A change in the way we respond based on our judgments.

So when you see me out with my kids, don’t assume the “Black Baby Daddy” is at home. Talk to me and learn about this single woman who has adopted a set of brothers.

And don’t look at my sister’s African American kid and assume the poor little guy lost his Mommy when in fact he is standing right beside the woman who loves him more than the moon. Ask and learn about The Flipper’s challenging beginning and how far he’s come and his hopes for the future. He is amazing. My sister is amazing.

Please….don’t assume. Don’t judge. Begin the conversation. Open up. Be real. Invite others into your home and into your life. Share the fears, the heartaches, the pain. See beyond the surface and honor the person within. Lift each other up. Love. For we all need to be about the business of changing the world. There’s no sitting around hoping.

I don’t have all the answers, but it matters to me.

Lift the heavy boots.

Stress fracture = boot = big adjustment

A local community advocate that I know from running the non-profit circles suggested that I embellish my story a bit rather than my version – “I was wrestling around with Super Tall Guy trying a little stuffed-animal soccer when my foot hit the bed frame.” It seemed mild enough. In fact, I was shocked to find a little bruise in the morning and it took a minute to figure out why it was there. But when the foot was still hurting 2 weeks later, I visited a very friendly sports medicine doc (and might have talked her into becoming a foster parent! I mean, why not? I’m always encouraging!).

She looked at the x-ray. She looked at my foot. She pushed on the bones – “does this hurt?” – “well, yes!” She looked at me. “Uh, what were you planning to be doing for the next few weeks?” Well….I was planning to run the JP5K for the crisis nursery we just opened up (and I wrote a little piece for)! Ahhh!the boot

Instead, I now hear:

“Mommy, you got a boot?”

“Mommy, why you got a boot?”

“Mommy, why you not carrying me down the steps?”

“Mommy, where’s my boot?”

“Mommy, you got a boot?”


Pain-free, functional use of both my feet is certainly something I’ve taken for granted for, well, my whole life. And the ability to run after my boys is something that I’ve just assumed for the past almost 8 years….which means I’ve had to learn a few lessons this week.

1. Slow down – actually, it’s okay to sit on the couch a moment longer and put your foot up.

2. Do not kick immobile large metal objects.

3. Be patient – and try to answer the 2-year-old’s same questions over and over.

4. Take care of yourself – such an age-old mothering challenge and a huge struggle for me, despite how often I’ve heard the advice given. By day 4 of the boot, I was ready to kick it off and move on. Then I reminded myself how important it is to make sure that I heal as much as possible so that I would be healthy again for my boys.

Even if the 5-year-old does want to win against Mommy....might still not be the best idea!

Even if the 5-year-old does want to win against Mommy….might still not be the best idea!

So, how to “Take care of yourself”….

1. Exercise – keep the body healthy and limber and strong and has excellent benefits for mental health as well (but running to the point of stress fracture is not necessary).

2. Eat a varied and balanced diet – food intake affects more than weight, it affects mood and health.

3. Sleep – it’s okay to nap and get to bed shortly after the kids do (rather than stay up into the wee hours blogging …).

4. Schedule and go to appointments for your own health – not just those of the kids.

5. Let people help you, especially if they offer….and use the kids if no one has (“hey, Mr. Ornery, can you please run upstairs and get…”).

6. Keep up with a hobby or something you enjoy.

7. Smile often, laugh more.

8. Be present in as many moments as you can and enjoy them.

9. Love matters – so don’t just give it, receive it as well.

10. And before you fall asleep each night, tell yourself “You did good!” (and if necessary, stop worrying….. for tomorrow is another day).


I try not to be a Helicopter Parent….

….but I probably should hover just a little closer sometimes. The fact that I only temporarily “misplaced” three out of five household boys during a recent event seems pretty good (unless you calculate the percentage and then 60% loss is…well… kind of high).

In my own defense, I’m going to argue for the “it takes a village” philosophy and I had an over-reliance on the village….perhaps without informing them too clearly that they were the village. It’s those crazy situations where you are so thankful that everything worked out, but looking back, it probably would have been nice if it didn’t seem like every 30 minutes one of the organizers of the race was searching for one of her kids!

JP5K (293)You see, it was race day. The first 5K run/walk we had organized for the non-profit I’m working to create. I was there early for set-up and my head was spinning all morning trying to keep details and people organized. I was not prepared for my “work role” as well as the role of attending a function as a mother of three kids. So before I knew it, the gun was going off and both 6-year-olds of the house wanted to “run” with me for the 5K. This meant that Ryan wanted to RUN and Micah wanted to sprint….walk…. sprint….stop…..sprint….. stroll…. sprint. Meanwhile, Ryan was “gone.” And though I was informed that he had made the turn-around at the 5K water station, my sister’s face when she said she hadn’t seen him cross the finish yet made me a bit concerned when we sprinted-walked-strolled back. So I sent a villager off to find him only to realize that my Godson had already discovered the young nephew – who had run almost all of 5 miles! Nice job, Ryan. Next time can you do it without panicking everyone??!?

I returned to meeting and greeting people and shortly afterwards found myself searching for the curly headed boy in a red and grey shirt. No, not at the Family Fun activity booths. No, not at the playground. By the time I had 5 or 6 villagers looking for him, he was discovered by my mom in the bathroom by the playground. Don’t anyone panic!

After this second one, I decided I needed a better hover strategy. We reviewed the “you must check with me first” policy as well as “blue shirts are safe” new rule (since the race volunteers wore blue).  I kept my eyes on the boys much more closely, though it was also easier as a friend had decided that Seth was adorable and she would just follow him wherever he walked. My mom took over supervision of Noah’s mud pie factory and I had the “easy” job of making sure Micah was scampering around under the watchful eye of other friends and their kids.

It’s not always easy in a crowd, however, and soon I was at the point of wondering why I didn’t see him with the group of friends I thought he was with. Knowing they had all been down by the lake, I looked behind the boat house and just froze. There was the most picturesque scene of a little brown boy in a white t-shirt sitting next to a tackle box with a fishing rod in hand….perfectly still. The water lapped near his feet. The wind rustled in the trees. And the stranger beside him cast out his line.JP5K (311)

Now I wrestled with all the analytical thinking. I had just spent two days at a “child maltreatment” conference and though we know statistically that strangers are far less dangerous than people the children know….I didn’t know this fisherman at all. And as peaceful as the scene was, how could I trust that it would remain so? And yet, Micah clearly was in his own little heaven. He had just asked me last week for a fishing rod for his birthday since a classmate had brought one in for show-and-tell.

So….I hovered. I walked down and “checked in” – thanked the man for teaching Micah to fish, chatted with Micah for a bit….and then retreated to the top of the hill to watch from there. I knew that Micah needed a bit of space. As hard as it was for me to juggle “work” and “mommy-ing” at this event….it had been hard for Micah to deal with all the crowds, with the disappointment of not winning a medal (as Ryan had for his 5 miles of running), and with a mother who was clearly distracted. Watching the bobbin bounce along in the water, scooping a worm out of the bucket of dirt, anticipating the possibility of a catch….this is what Micah needed.

I could hover as much as I needed to feel a tad more comfortable….but I also needed to give him a little room to engage the world….to connect with a stranger….to learn a new skill.

The smile on his face when I walked down to him and he turned and said “Mommy, this man is learning me to fish” was just priceless. Sometimes we work so hard to keep the kids in a safe “bubble” that we lose out on moments that can just “be.”  It’s clearly a hard balance for me.

(ps…and such a hard balance the last few days that my writing got terribly delayed 🙂