The Youngster had been counting down the days until our little gathering last week. Talk about excitement. Well, I’m pleased to report that the night, sponsored by Scholastic and powered by EVEREADY®, was a shining hit with kiddie-winks and parents alike.
I made star-shaped snack and treats and set up the backyard with chairs and blankets and books. My son also helped me lay out the nifty flashlights in a bag along with our special glow-in-the-dark bookmarks and The Magic School Bus activity posters. Big thanks to EVEREADY® for providing the blue and red flashlights and to Scholastic for the fun “Reading Under the Stars” kit!
The kids, ranging in age from 3 to 7, had a blast. It was good to see them so ready to read and listen as stories were read to them. A Pet for Fly Guy was a clear favorite, especially with our sweet, little buddy Maddie, who asked me to read it a few times back-to-back.
Actually, I got so swept up in reading to the kids that I didn’t snap any pictures of us. I could have used the photo break after I was handed a neighbor’s book blindly and asked to read it. Uh … it was Hansel and Gretel by the Brothers Grimm. There were a few horrified, tiny faces as that tale unfolded. Yeah, not the best choice there. We cleansed our palates with some Curious George, and we were as right as rain all over again.
Each child left with books and posters and flashlights and good time had. The parents happily took home Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge pledges, books lists and log sheets. And we all felt pretty ready to stop the summer slide in its tracks.
Thanks again to Scholastic for sponsoring this fun summer event.
You can still join the challenge. Just register your kids here and start reading!
I learned a hard truth about mothering black boys long before I had one of my own.
It was November 11, 1987. I was a teenager living with my family in a quiet suburb in Montreal. We woke up that morning to news that a young man, just 19 years old, had been shot and killed by a constable in a police station parking lot. The teen, Anthony Griffin, was black and unarmed. The officer, white and middle aged, had a standard issue .38 revolver.
(Image: © Andre Chung/MCT/ZUMAPRESS.com. Not Nicole Blades’ son.)
My father, a man always ready with an easy, squint-eyed smile, was grim as he told my older sister, brother and me about the killing. The familiar-sounding name of the dead man sent my father to the phones next: to make some calls, check in with friends, see if Anthony Griffin was one of ours, while holding his breath like my mother, praying that “no” would be the only reply. But my “cousin” (i.e., family without blood relation) Leo called and cut into their hopes: He knows Anthony Griffin. Knew him. They ran in the same, loose circle. Of course they did. Leo and Anthony were young black boys, hardly men, growing up in Montreal, still living at home with their long-ago naturalized Caribbean immigrant parents. They played basketball and hockey and went to clubs with their boys and called up girls on the basement telephone late, late at night. Leo was Anthony. They were the same guy.
Anthony Griffin’s last night on earth started as an argument with a cab driver in the city just before dawn. The cabbie claimed the kid was trying to jump the fare and called the police. Anthony was nervous, reported the newspapers, because of an outstanding warrant, and once the police cruiser he was in had reached the station, he bolted. The arresting officer, Constable Allan Gosset, said he yelled at Anthony’s back, twice ordering him to halt. And he did. Anthony stopped and turned around, with his hands up in surrender.
That’s when he was shot. One bullet to the forehead.
Officer Gosset, who had been on the force for 16 years, said he had only intended to scare the fleeing youth into surrendering and that the gun went off accidentally. Charged with criminal negligence, he was acquitted twice—for the initial charge and later homicide—by all-white juries. However, seven months after the shooting, a police commission found Gosset negligent and recommended his dismissal.
By then it didn’t matter. The outrage was already loose; years of patent discrimination and racial profiling by the police had mangled any trust and left Montreal’s black community breathing fire. This murder of an unarmed teen was the last sliver of disregard, the last dribble of spit to the face of a people consistently benched despite playing by the rules. They took their fury to the streets in organized, nonviolent protests holding placards that screamed out for justice. I should say we, because I was there, along with my family, chanting and marching and drawing hard, permanent lines in the cracked mosaic that spelled out: NO MORE.
I yelled and roared with the crowd as we coursed the downtown streets. I was partly caught up in the drink of adult anger and exasperation, but after the heat in my own pumping fists had simmered, I felt scared again, edging up to panic. The reality of it rushed around me and gripped my throat: I was wrong about my parents. They weren’t exaggerating about the Way Things Are in This World.
It took my Barbados-born father 20 years of living in Canada to see that even though the prejudice wasn’t in-your-face, it was still there, rubbing on your thick skin, wearing it down, slow and sure. He started to see the racism was institutionalized; it said yes, you may have a job and a house with a basement and yard, and a comfortable life, but there were limits for you as a black person. He started to see blatant bigotry as a beast running toward you in daylight, attacking you from the front—a far less lethal option than encountering the snake in the grass at night. Then Anthony Griffin was killed, and the alarm sounded even louder for my father. In his mind, this young boy’s execution was the clearest example of how assumptions and racism—even disguised—broil into something truly horrible: his own son could one day be killed simply for being black.
Anthony Griffin stayed with me.
He stayed with me until he didn’t. Until I grew older and a little colder and simply tired of seeing this erasure story—the one about the unarmed black boy dusted away like pesky lint—play out over and again through decades like some hopeless movie trope, only with slightly different details, different faces, families, cities, and courtrooms. It’s the same verdict, though, the same tragedy with no real change in sight. Black boys were less than; that was their worth. Instead of growing angrier, I accepted this, begrudgingly, as fact.
But then Oscar Grant.
Then Trayvon Martin.
In between Oscar Grant’s killing by a BART police officer in Oakland, California, and Trayvon Martin’s fatal shooting by a neighborhood watch captain in Sandford, Florida, something changed. I became a mother—a mother to a baby boy.
Heartsick and angry, I watched the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman story roll out. This was Anthony Griffin all over again, 26 years later. I felt raw, breathless, sad, and ultimately helpless. And seeing Trayvon’s mother—numb and broken, a grayness seeping out through her eyes—it buckled my knees. This story cannot be our thing, on loop. Our brown-faced children cannot continue to be shoved into early graves. This hunt must be called off. Mothers, fathers, and like-figures must infuse a newer message and reaffirm it so these endangered children believe it deep in their bones: You are worthy. You belong here. You matter.
I’ve told myself that I have time. My son is only five years old now. Soon—not tomorrow, but soon—I will have to have The Talk about what others assume about him, about his life, about his intentions as he browses through a store or strides down the night’s sidewalk. It won’t matter if he’s wearing a three-piece suit or hoodie and jeans as he walks fresh into the lives of certain strangers, he’ll still get the double-take: that long side look soaked in suspicion and dread, because he’s laughing too loud (and black), walking too slow (and black), driving too fast (and black). His being here (and black) will be a problem for some, and they will see it as their right to bring forth a solution, set a course correction to protect the lives that really matter. And, no, that does not include yours, black boy.
Still, I don’t want to fill him with dread and fatalism. Even though he’ll be inundated with countervailing messages about his lack of worth, I want this child to find his way to becoming a fully realized man—the husks of resentment and bitterness tumbling in the trail behind him, sloughed off like useless, old skin. Like my folks did for me, I want to show my son that while there are people who will likely see him as a threat, there are also others who will be ready to embrace him, revere him, and come prepared to wholly love him.
But I’m not ready for all of that. I’m not ready to blow stinging dust into this kid’s bright, kind eyes. Not yet.
I want our brown boys to have the space and time to be hopeful and undaunted, counting forward not down to the days to come when they can play basketball and hockey and go to the club with their boys and call up girls late, late in their parents’ basements.
I want them to have the passport to be black, and just be.
It’s the last week of school in my town, and I don’t think anybody quite believes it. Parents are basically feeling everything …
Pride: “We made it, team!”
A mix of all the emotions: “I’m so happy and sad and freaked out and then happy again.”
And for the parents of teens, a certain amount of joy. “Aww, yeah! __ more years and the house will be empty, y’all!”
For us, it’s more of a “where did the time go?” state of shock. I mean, The Youngster is stepping up to kindergarten this fall — the big time. In getting him (and us) ready for this big shift, for the past few months we’ve been talking about the new school and all new class buddies and the new teachers and the new, new. new. It’s a lot of new. So far he’s remains excited and intrigued about all of it.
We also started reading more books about kindergarten and taking on new adventures. We’ve always been a big reading family — ever since he was a tiny newborn we read books to him and with him (Oh, dear … eyes misting up. Alert! Eyes misting up! Think about dry toast, Blades!). The plan is to keep reading our way through the summer, adding all kinds of stories that may be new, different or challenging to our list. And with Ms. Mary Mack now a proud member of The Scholastic Circle, this also means joining Scholastic’s 8th annual Summer Reading Challenge.
It’s a totally free online reading program for the young’uns dedicated to stopping the “summer slide” and getting kids to read throughout the summer months when school is out. This year’s theme is “Reading Under the Stars,” and we’re hosting a little backyard neighborhood party, sponsored by Scholastic and powered by EVEREADY® (i.e., fun flashlights!), next month. But you can join the challenge right now. Just register your kids here and start reading. Once you’ve signed up, you can log your reading minutes, take weekly challenges to earn virtual rewards, and help set a new reading world record this summer. You can also check the handy map to see if your school (if participating) is racking up reading minutes.
“Of 3,200 children’s books published in 2013, just 93 were about black people, according to a study by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin.” - From Christopher Myers’ NYT‘s Opinion piece, “The Apartheid of Children’s Literature.”
Here’s a great list of 25 books from MindShift to “Diversify Kids’ Reading Lists This Summer.”
“These books tackle themes like international adoption, bi-racial families and cultural history, to name a few. Not all of the authors are minorities, but every book features a protagonist of color that children can point to and say, ‘That’s me!’”
I will definitely be checking out the books on the list, for my own edification. Hand-claps for this list, MindShift! It’s an excellent start. And to that I say, all right, all right, all right!
So, what do you think: Are you joining the challenge? Let us know. Leave a comment below. Let’s make this summer one for the, uh, books. (Oh, yes … puns!)
Yesterday I asked my electrician — who was here to work on a few small things with his 21-year-old apprentice son — if he had plans for Father’s Day weekend. His answer was plain and frank.
“I don’t really believe in that,” he said.
He felt that it was all rather unnecessary, like some kind of longstanding trumped-up Hallmark holiday. Now, Mother’s Day, on the other hand? He was all for it. “Mother’s deserve that kind of treatment everyday,” he said. I believe that he really believes this, and it wasn’t something he was just saying to flatter me. He’s one of those old-school good guys, a gentleman and gentle man who’s not into blowing smoke.
I get where he’s coming from, though. We mamas do A LOT every single day. But with the kind of father I was so blessed to have raised me and with the caliber of man who is currently and actively helping me raise The Youngster, I could never pretend that fathers don’t count as much. That their input and influence and insight don’t rank as high in this parenting long game. It does. Definitely, truly does.
So I’m all for celebrating men who are fathering, guiding and shaping these young souls. And reading all of the “My Dad and me” stories that pop up around Father’s Day season never fail to warm my heart. Like: this sweet essay by Slate writer Amanda Hess or this one by NYTimes Op-Ed writer Timothy Egan about the “Secrets of the Ordinary Dad” or Doyin Richards’ five life lessons learned from his father. And earlier this month the Daily Beast posted this story asking if 2014 was the “Year of the Dad.”
Plus, Esquire‘s June issue is devoted to fatherhood with “24 Keys to Being an Effective Dad,” featuring father of four kids under the age of 11 Mark Wahlberg as the cover story, and this great piece on “What Friday Night Lights Teaches You About Fatherhood.” Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose. Coach T forevaaaaah!
And then you cannot NOT crack a smile seeing new dad Jimmy Fallon on the cover of People magazine with his 10-month-old daughter Winnie wearing matching suits. Suh cute. S’cute.
And then there’s the video … s’cute:
Let’s keep the good dad times rollin’, yes? That means GIVEAWAY TIME, friends! Up for grabs is a copy of an adorable new picture book called Mighty Dads (Ages 3-5), illustrated by James Dean, the creator of the beloved Pete the Cat series. I received a free copy from Scholastic this week, and my son is all about this book. He even asked if he could sleep with it last night.
All you have to do is leave a comment below about fatherhood. What’s the best thing about being a father? What’s your greatest memory about your dad? Shout out a father-figure who helped shape your life. It’s a Dad Day love-fest up in here!
The winner will be randomly selected next week.
Happy Father’s Day to all!