It happened when I didn’t expect it. We were at Dolly’s lacrosse game at the high school. Mim squeezed between a fence and a concrete wall.
She has been stretching her legs more and more. My twelve year old wants independence. “Mom, let’s split up in the grocery store. I’ll get candy. Don’t follow me.” I’m allowing these small movings away from me. She plays outside at our condos by herself now. She loves watching for her friend and running to greet her. I love watching them walk away together to spy on the boys playing football in the parking lot. I’m so lucky to have this sacred village for her to grow into before the world gets exponentially larger or more threatening.
Dark settled over the edges of the stadium. Bright lights beamed onto the field and the silver bleachers sparkled on the edges. Mim slipped into the darkness. She wanted grass and sticks instead of the hard angles and surfaces of concrete and metal. I glanced away from Dolly’s lacrosse match and saw her peep her sweet face obscured by her smudged glasses over the stone wall. And it hit me. She could scare someone. She could scare the police on their patrols between the high school and the subsidized housing. Instead of the hot pink furry coat that she wears religiously, I talked her into a full length navy hand me down coat because of the wind and freezing steel of the bleachers.
The police regularly walk or drive the perimeter of the stadium. In a split second, I imagined the what ifs. It could happen a split second. Anyone could see a dark figure near the high school stadium and shoot.She crawls. She skulks. Anyone could see her as a threat in this tiny horrible moment. I had never seen it before. Mim walks around in gold leggings, oversized heels, and messy pony tails and all I see is cuteness. People reinforce this adorable look constantly. My community sees the beauty of Mim, especially the young Mim. Surrounded by her older white siblings oozing joy and security, it has been so easy to live in Decatur. To live with a Black child. But here in this tiny moment, I see the tiny possibility of a tragic outcome. I did not imagine this day coming, partly because I assured myself Mim would probably not be able to drive independently. I felt safe in my ability to keep a bubble around her. But like when raising all our children, we get glimpses of the bubble popping- the safety and security of our parenting in this big uncertain world is not a bullet proof vest. Our children are not invincible. Mim has extra vulnerabilities because of her disability and because of her Blackness.
Decatur High School and our town can be a magical place. The personal safety that I walk around my town in envelopes me. This is Decatur a town in the middle of a big city of Atlanta. We are accepted. People don’t bat an eye at a multi racial child or a family like ours. Church signs proclaim Black Lives Matter, and so do school bulletin boards. We are welcoming. If one went by appearances, the rainbow flags and BLM yard signs shout acceptance. The majority of the families in our larger community appear to be like minded liberals. But don’t underestimate the parent who believes their child has been denied privileges or heaven forbid access to “academic rigor” or excellence or honors level courses. We are all for peace and equality until it comes to money- or what parents perceive to be their child’s gateway to a life of riches and power. We are “green” but we tear down old bungalows, clear cut the lot and build an ever larger box to house all our material goods. It is difficult to be green and live in a huge new house and it is difficult to be liberal and insist on tiny classes for your gifted child but other citizens of Decatur have managed to walk this fine line for years. The strange underside of white privilege is hard to kill. In a global sense, Decatur is a loving community but when an individual wants more or perceives privileges being infringed all bets are off.
Today is the anniversary of the death of Breonna Taylor. She was a good girl sleeping in her bed. And the police shot her five times.
My kids and I have protested. It is not lost on us that Mim and lots of humanity are black and are at risk of dying at the hands of police officers- who magically don’t turn on their video cameras and don’t remember their crisis prevention training. The weight of the police shootings this past year has been monumental for us and so many others.
Breonna Taylor. George Floyd. The names circle in my thoughts.
Good news though, Representative Lucy McBath (mom of a son who was killed by a gun and a democrat from GA) got her bill passed and gun reform is coming- background checks.
Little Mim. Innocent Mim. Playing on the edge of our stadium. Skirting the stadium lighting. What if? How will I keep her safe?
I asked my village moms on our condo facebook group- How can I keep Mim safe? Can your boys that she watches play football protect her for me? Tell your kids that she doesn’t know what they know. In the coming years, will they know to step in and shield her from ugly remarks, bullies, boys wanting sex with a girl who suspects much less. I begged them- explain to your boys Mim has a disability. She is twelve but she is five at the same time. She is like her birth mom who in her forties had two favorite tv shows, Dora the Explorer and the Young and the Restless. She wants a boyfriend but she can’t fall asleep without me patting her back. She will exchange a two one dollar bills for one twenty dollar bill. She is so smart and amazing and she could be tricked or taken advantage of so easily. Who will stand between her and evil when she is out in the world of middle school? And down the road?
I expect great wonderful momentous things for my girl at middle school and there is a dark side to middle school. Even suicide. I expect life to be beautiful for my beautiful girl and there is pain out there. Even pandemics and police brutality.
Walt showed up to Dolly’s match “over served.” Thursday evening and Walt entertains our older children by talking too loudly about how bad our own team is. “Dolly is the only one who can play defense. Why in the world would they take her out of the game?” – She was only out for like 5 minutes of the whole game and that was to fix the tape on her thigh and drink water. And Walt goes on and on using sarcasm to demean and attract attention, as BeBe giggles. BeBe has the ability to squeeze joy out of moments like getting the last drop of toothpaste from the tube. She can laugh through a drunk man’s tale. I never had that ability. I seethe. I walk away to the edge of the stadium, near the goalie, watching my girl with the long blonde braids defend against a much better team.
Mim ends up on the wrong side of the fence in the darkness with her hair the shade of midnight and her clothes matching. I will always buy her pink or colored coats. I will always dress her like a crayon box of Benetton.
This fear seeps into my bones. Black mothers have lived with this forever. I’m lucky because I only have to dabble in this dread. My older five are mostly safe. This overwhelming knowledge that your Black child could be killed by the police or a scared white man is the unjust fear of Black mothers. Mim is mine. She lives with white people. I relaxed in the security of our differentness. But the fear found me. My brain cannot unknow this experience- of seeing the possibility of Mim appearing a threat because of her Blackness and because of her Disability. She begs me on a daily basis- “will you keep me safe, Mama?” “will you always love me?” This is one of her tools after she has a meltdown and breaks my favorite flower pot or pulls apart my kewpie dolls. She snuggles up to me a little too aggressively and leans hard on my chest with her head. She wants to be reminded of my unconditional love. I assume this is how she navigates adoption and abandonment. I assume she wants to avoid a consequence like losing access to screens and she whines and pleads for me to love her so my heart will hurt more for her than for my broken pot. Like a preschooler attempts to learn the art of manipulation, she cries to escape her punishment. I restate my undying love and insist she cleans up her mess after ten hugs.
“I will keep you safe. I promise. Of course, I’m mad that my pot is broken. I love you and you need to clean up those pieces.”
I don’t know how, but I will keep her safe, said all the mothers everywhere.