What If

Photo Credit: TDM Photography

Some days my experience parenting my 12 year old son is just like yours.

Its a funny (challenging) age where they find themselves caught between being the children they once were, and the men they are to be. My son talks A LOT. I love that he still asks me questions about everything from politics to science to girls. Of course it’s a different story when I’m correcting his homework, at which point I know nothing and he knows everything. Naturally.

He’s almost as tall as I am and drives his little siblings crazy treating them as though he’s a third parent, but he still wants me to tuck him in at night. Every day he battles us for more CONTROL and INDEPENDENCE, but he’ll still take holding-hands-on-the-beach pictures with me without complaint. He insists he’s old enough for unsupervised activities out with his buddies, but still needs personal hygiene reminders.

He’s sweet, and occasionally sour. He loves his family more than anything else in the world, but too often uses us as a dumping ground after a hard day. He’s funny and loves to be the center of attention…on his own terms. He’s a good kid, learning who he is and what the world has in store for him.

Like I said, a lot of my parenting looks just like yours. But there are also days like yesterday.

At 12 years old (7th grade) he’s decided that he’d like to go for the occasional run around the neighborhood, by himself. After assessing the request (sidewalks everywhere, minimal traffic, many known neighbors, specific pre-approved route), we consented. Before he headed out for his evening run, we played my “What If” game.

“What if you twist your ankle?” (sit and rest, try to walk home, go to a known neighbor’s house, wait for mom to come get you…because I watch the clock and you know I’m in the car the second the run takes “too long”)

“What if a neighborhood kid asks you to come over?” (come home first and ask)

“What if you’re tempted to go to the park?” (not worth it – stick to the plan so you don’t lose the privilege. come home first and ask)

Then I have to ask the question I’ll continue to ask for the rest of his life – whether he’s jogging, driving, or riding in the car with his white grandmother.

“What if you’re stopped by a police officer?”

The truth is, my son may not be just like yours. When others look at him, they don’t necessarily see what I see. Many days I feel wholly unprepared and inadequate in my parenting of this young Black man (though, trust me, that often has nothing to do with the difference in our skin), but that is no excuse. It is on me to understand the harsh realities for people of color in our country and help my son do the same; because I want him to thrive – and I need to keep him alive.


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