Stubborn Mules

The other day my family and I were out and about and we stopped in for lunch at a local fast food restaurant to grab burgers and shakes. It was a pretty busy day and there were a ton of people in the restaurant. It was loud and crowded and everything was running a bit behind, but we had no where to be so we sat down at our table and talked while we waited for our number to be called. A couple of minutes later a man and his young son sat down at the table next to us. The tables were pretty close and we could hear their discussion. The son was about Jackson’s age and was wearing a Minecraft shirt. The son was polite, and quiet, and he smiled at me when I looked over to him. I smiled back, thinking Jackson and him could probably be friends. Until I heard his dad started talking to him.

It wasn’t what he said, at first. At first it was his tone. The dad was a meek guy. He was a little small, sat hunched over a bit, and didn’t really give off a “My dad could beat up your dad” vibe. But his tone was biting. In fact, I started to eavesdrop when he was discussing their order and the dad was sort of berating the kid for what he ordered. The kid just sat there and listened to his dad. This wasn’t the first time he was made to feel bad for a decision he had made. It was rather odd, though. I didn’t know if the dad was putting on a show for us, because our tables were so close together and he was trying to assert himself as, I dunno, a tough guy? Berating your kid makes you tough, maybe? Or maybe he was just in a bad mood and he was taking it out on his kid. We all have bad days, I reminded myself, and maybe this was his. The poor kid just sat, his eyes on the table and listened to his dad bitch about everything he did. Then their number was called. The boy jumped up to go grab the tray and the dad yelled after him to get him a lid for his cup. Though the restaurant was pretty loud still, so I doubted the boy would hear him. I lost track of what was happening at that point, until the boy came back without a lid for his dad’s drink.

“Did you hear me?”

“Hello, I asked you to bring me back a damn lid? Did you not hear me?”

“Should I just go get my own lid?”

The boy, unsure of what to do and obviously upset about his dad’s behavior, was trying to put their trays down on the table, so he wasn’t making eye contact with his dad.

“I still need a damn lid, cause I guess you didn’t hear me.”

The boy put the trays down in a hurry and he ran back to get his dad a lid. By this point my husband and I had made eye contact with each other and wordlessly said, “This guy. What a dick.” I sort of lost track of their conversation then, as our food had arrived, but their body language told me that if the boy was a dog he would have his tail between his legs right now and the dad would be kicking and screaming at him while he was chained to a fence with nowhere to run.

And then it happened. I went to take my first bite of my cheeseburger when I heard:

“Dear Father…”

I looked over at their table and they had their heads bowed in prayer and the father was speaking.

“Thank you for this beautiful day. Thank you for this food we are about to consume. Thank you for our wonderful lives and all that we have. We are grateful for you love. In Jesus’ name, amen.”

I looked at my husband once more who didn’t look shocked at all. And why should he be? As a man who doesn’t want anything to do with organized religion. As a man who knows that he doesn’t need the fear of God to make him do what is right, as a man who would never treat his child in that sort of degrading way, in public or private, he just assumed this other man was a Bible-thumping Christian. Meanwhile, I had to pick my jaw up from the floor.

I didn’t make me happy. It didn’t make me feel better for this child. Or see this man in a different light. It infuriated me. Here is this man, obviously someone who is secure enough in his religious conviction and bold enough to intentionally show everyone what he believes, belittling his child, over and over again, then bowing his head like he did nothing wrong. And who knows. Maybe inside he was asking for forgiveness for being a dickheaded-dirtbag, but my money is on no.

My husband and I just looked at each other. He gave me one of those, “See, they’re hypocrites” kind of looks and I continued to sit dumbfounded. I don’t really have a point with this post, except maybe that parentings is tough, y’all. Like really tough. And we all have our own ways of doing things, but if you are not leading from a love-centered place, what are you actually doing? If you child walks around afraid of you, what are you doing? If you have to constantly pray to your God for forgiveness for the way you treat your child, what are you doing?

I’m not pretending to have all the answers, y’all. But I know that this man, regardless of how religious he is, should be reprimanded for the way he treated his child. And I constantly worry when I see people act like this in public. I worry, because what happens when they are in the privacy of their homes?

The incident did remind me of a book I came across once. I don’t remember where I was, or how I came to be thumbing through it, but it was called “To Train Up a Child”. It was billed a “Christian Parenting Book” and it put a lot of focus on whipping and beating and talking down to your child. People honestly believe that parenting this way is the best way. People honestly believe they are doing God’s will by raising their children like this. This isn’t leading from love, y’all. You simply can’t learn love from a book.

We have to do better as parents if we want things to change in our lives, our children’s lives, our communities, our country. It starts from home. I’m just asking you to be more aware, as a parent, be more aware and more loving. We aren’t raising stubborn mules, we are raising human beings with large hearts who only want to make you happy.

M.

See, I told you. Also, here is one article that makes claims that the harshness of this book and this type of parenting has lead to child abuse: https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-25268343

Hey, It’s Jackson!

Walking down the hall of my kid’s school with him, is like walking on stage with a rock star. Seriously. Since he was in kindergarten it has been this way. In kindergarten he was popular because he walked with an air of confidence. He was one of the few kids that went into school knowing how to read. He could read. He could write. He could color inside the lines. But above all else, my kid was confident. He didn’t cry on the first day like I did in kindergarten. He didn’t watch, misty-eyed as we walked out the door and left him behind with Ms. Gamble. Instead, he sat at attention. He helped the girl in front of him line up correctly. He volunteered to lead the line. He took Mrs. Turner’s hand and walked into the unknown with a smile on his face. And well, it is still the same today.

I was scared for a little while. When we moved him in the middle of third grade, I was terrified. We moved from a rural area in North Carolina into a school system that was very different than where we had been. He had been at a public school, an “A” public school, where 98% of the kids looked like him, and talked like him, and came from the upper ranks of the socioeconomic tiers. His new school was a STEM school. But it was also an urban charter school where he was a minority.

But by the end of third grade he had friends in every classroom. He knew all the teachers’ names. They all knew his. Fourth grade teachers already knew about him. Fifth grade teachers already knew about him. The Gifted teacher was eager to get her hands on him. In short, he did just fine with the transition. And then we moved in the middle of fourth grade.

We hadn’t planned on this, of course. Truth be told, we were hoping to stay in Charlotte until middle school at least. Hoping he would only know two elementary schools. Two I could deal with. But three? We scoped out his new elementary school the day we signed the papers on the new house. He wasn’t with us. Jerimiah and I came alone that day. We walked in not knowing what to expect. We hadn’t heard the best things about Atlanta’s schools, but then again, we were coming from Charlotte, so it kinda felt like home.

Turns out we made the right choice. His new school is a public school in DeKalb County. It isn’t an “A” school, but it doesn’t have to be, because it is an IB school. It is a STEM school. He isn’t a minority, but not all the kids look like him or speak like him. They have a Spanish immersion class. They have art, and music, and sports. It is a heck of a lot different than anything we have known, yet it’s exactly the same.

I walked Jackson to class yesterday to have a quick chat with is teacher. We are headed out of town tomorrow and he is going to miss a test. I wanted to make sure he would be allowed to make it up, and yes he will be. While we were walking down the halls of this fairly new school (this is his third week of classes) it all felt very familiar.

“Hey Jackson!” and “Jackson Goodnight!” and “Good morning, Jackson” rang out all around us. Teachers, administrators, second graders. They all know Jackson. The janitor gave him a high five. A kindergartener said, “Hey, it’s Jackson!” and pointed. To hear him tell the story, though, you’d think no one knows him, well until he digs in.

Jackson isn’t special just because he walks with an air of confidence, he’s special because he is friendly. He is kind. Turns out that kindergartner was wearing a shirt with a car on it one day, and Jackson walked up to him and said, “Wow, I like your shirt! I love cars too.” The kindergartner blushed and said, “Thanks.”

When Jackson meets the janitor in the hallways, he tells her “Thanks, you know, for picking up after us and keeping the bathrooms clean.”

When Jackson met the Assistant Principal he said, “I really like what you’ve done with the place.”

When Jackson met the STEM teacher he said, “I love STEM and am so excited about your class.”

When Jackson met the music teacher he said, “I’m not a very good singer, but one day I’ll probably have a record deal.” Well, he’s still a little confident.

The point is, Jackson notices people. He notices their hard work. Their dedication. Their cool style. And he says something, something nice. He gives a compliment. He doesn’t expect anything back. He just wants them to know he likes them, or he respects them, or they have crossed his mind. And that is what garners attention from people. From kids and adults. Kindness. Confidence. Vulnerability.

I guess today I am wishing to be a little more like my kid. A little more kind to everyone I meet. A little more confident. A little more vulnerable. To really put myself out there. I think maybe it would serve us all well to be this way from time to time. You never know, when you leave a room someone might just be saying your name in awe as well.

Here’s to being more like Jackson!

M.