My daughter recently read ‘Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry’ for a third-grade book report. It’s a Newbury-award-winning novel that is truly exceptional. It is beautifully written and very moving. And hard. Really hard. It is set in 1930s Mississippi and, although narrated through the eyes of a nine-year-old girl, it doesn’t flinch from the realities of that time and place.
I reread it before approving her selection and found myself in turmoil. This was too grown up for her. She wasn’t ready to read the ‘n’ word or to encounter the barbaric acts perpetrated by the KKK. It was too much, too soon. She lives in a world of fairies and princesses and riding bikes with her friends.
Or does she?
I remembered a heart-breaking moment in early November of 2016 when my daughter had come to me in tears, worried that her friend would be sent away because she has brown skin. Sent away where? Where would she go, mommy? Why would they want to do that?
Maybe those darker realities are closer to her world than I wanted to admit.
So we worked through the book together. She read carefully and took notes, coming to me with questions written on post-it notes. The questions broke my heart. My answers broke hers. “If the family had told the police, the police would have stopped the bad men, right?” No, baby. They wouldn’t have.
“Well, today that would never happen, right mom?” Yes, baby. It could. There are people alive today who believe the very same things that the people believed in that book. A lot has changed, but not everything.
Those were hard conversations and I wasn’t ready for them.
Unfortunately, as parents we don’t get to wait until we’re ‘ready’ to have hard conversations because the hard questions are just going to keep coming. There was a school shooting in Kentucky. And then one in Florida. I am grief-stricken and furious in equal measure – both emotions so strong they take my breath away and make my hands shake.
My daughter isn’t afraid of school shooters. Yet. Her school doesn’t do active shooter drills and she is young enough to not fully understand the bits and pieces of information that swirl around her on that topic. But it’s out there and we need to talk about it because she’s going to be asking questions soon.
Sometimes I want to bubble-wrap my babies and hide them from the world.
Except that I don’t really want that, of course. What I want is for the world to be better, and the only way for that to happen is to keep having the hard conversations. To keep practicing love and empathy and compassion. To talk about including people and overcoming barriers. To raise children who (hopefully) get involved, stand up to bullies, love proactively, and reshape the world.
Even as I read that, it sounds trite. But it’s all I’ve got.