Writing Part 3 of the back-to-school tales from my journey proved cathartic for me. Friday evening, I received a text from my daughter saying that she had been pulled over by a police officer and soon after she stopped her car two other units approached with lights and sirens, parking their cars strategically to prevent her from driving away. I could tell from her text that she was disturbed by this encounter. I, too, was disturbed because my beautiful, intelligent, college-educated, honor student daughter had seemingly been mistaken for a drug dealer. I knew how hard she worked to equip herself to manage her life and live life as a responsible global citizen on the right side of the law. As I learned more about the encounter, I also felt frustrated, frightened, confused, and humbled all at the same time. My immediate thoughts were about her safety and how she would process this experience. I have always told my children to call me when they need me. She tried to call that night, but I was at a ball game cheering on the other members of my family. I missed her call. When I looked at my phone and saw the texts about the stop, the number of squad cars that responded to the stop, and that they told her, “We’re looking for guns and drugs” my heart sank. I quickly replied with a text that said, “Yes sir no sir and get out safe and alive.”
How is it that some things can seem so random and so intentional at the same time? Was it chance or a part of a larger plan? For her, the unbelievable moment was a result of a “tail light out.” Whether random, intentional, chance or an intricate detail in a life plan, I am mandated to find an application of that is unexplainable in order to keep my thoughts under control. Thoughts driven by unexpected incidents and left to undefined outcomes can take root and give life to branches of fear, anger, and mistrust of people and life, in general. I am thankful that she made it home safely and that her encounter inspired my writing.
As my grown children embark upon another year of higher education, I am reminded that back-to-school means whimsical anecdotal stories from my journey as well as lessons in safety that need to be told. Regardless of the age of the child, people who love children are generally concerned about their safety. Caretakers of younger children have the ability to control the environments of their children from the car seats and carriers to the play groups and electronic parental controls. I can remember the introduction of computers and the internet as teaching mediums for children. My children were very young when we bought our first personal computer for the house. I was just laughing with some college students last week about dial up internet access. I can remember my kids tying up the phone line for hours playing “The Suite Life of Zack and Cody” and other educational games online. My husband would be so aggravated when he finally got the phone to ring at the house. We always kept the computer in a location central to family life and I always asked other families about the use of the internet in their homes when my children were allowed to visit. My children didn’t have cell phones of their own until they turned thirteen because I knew I was not that parent who would consistently check their contact list or their use history. If you are concerned about the virtual places your children visit and who has access to your children, you need to think through the plans of use and the parental controls available to you. I gave my kids access to devices gradually and I selected plans that I could manage. Additionally, I selected plans I could explain reasonable and rationally. Even after giving the cell phones, I limited picture mail and data because I needed to control the types of images they sent and received. Moreover, data was expensive at that time. If you have decided to give your children access to electronic devices, think about why you are allowing such a privilege and whether the range of access given is warranted. Be ready for the “But, everybody has one” argument. The truth is everyone does not have one and everybody’s mama ain’t paying for the one at your house. This is the time where your parenting has to make sense and when you must not be afraid to be the parent and not long to be the best friend of the child.
When the kids got older, there was less control over their surroundings because I could not be with them at all times. The older the children got the more independent decisions they made about their whereabouts and who they decided to associate with from one moment to the next. The practice of using rational thoughts about access to new places and people became a part of the decision making process when my kids needed to make decisions in my absence. My practices were live demonstrations for my kids which made me think about my safety ideas and practices. I made sure that there was support for the safety decisions I implemented and not just me hating on their friend group or living out pain from my scars. I told my kids that I had scars and I provided them stories from my past to explain my apprehension about things they wanted to do or the places they wanted to go. My mother taught me this lesson by example. She taught me that is was completely fine to give rational reasons for apprehension. My mother never learned to swim so she feared large bodies of water, including swimming pools. She told me about her fear when I asked her to let me go swimming. Instead of saying “No, never because it’s too dangerous” she enrolled me in swimming lessons at the local YMCA. Now, she didn’t have the same approach with the flight lessons my daddy wanted for him and me. She was also afraid of planes, but flight lessons were a lot more expensive than swimming lessons and my father had a habit of wanting to own the things he loved. I think she was afraid, but she was not dumb enough to let him grow passionate about planes and feel the need to own one of those.
Once, my son told me that I was just being unreasonable for not letting him go “places.” I asked him how many times over the years I had actually told him that he could not go someplace. There was a long thoughtful pause by him which translated to a silent victory for me. I reminded him that I rarely told him that he couldn’t go places. I always challenged my children to know the plan so that they could be in control of the situation or environment. I always challenged my children to know who would be there, what they planned to do there, how long the thing would last, and how they would get out of the situation if an retreat or escape was needed to get them out of the situation. When they couldn’t answer those questions, I would set clear curfews and rules about use of electronics and cars. In general, the curfews would remain earlier than later, a dead battery was not an acceptable excuse for not responding to my texts or calls, and nobody was allowed in the car they were borrowing from their parents without the explicit permission of me or their father. I also suggested plans for an exit or departure, if needed. Often the safe route out was to call home or text me. They became disciplined about evaluating the people and the things they invite into their spaces now that they do not live with me.
My Big Mama used to say, “When they are young they’re on your lap and when they’re old they are on your heart.” She was a wise woman and her statement is true. As a parent of little kids, it was easy to say “No, no, Don’t do that” and remove them from the dangerous thing. However, older children meet correction and safety prevention decisions with resistance because they learn about their ability to be free thinkers and they discover the gift of free will. Being the heavy was tough, but I think it paid dividends in that they learned to think about their own safety. In addition, I think that my children heard the safety messages so often that the messages became a part of them like the message to “Stop, drop, and roll” during a fire drill. I often remind students that their loved ones really only want to know that they are safe and ok. I can say that children generally want to know that someone cares about them and their safety even if their response to it doesn’t communicate they appreciate the concern from grown folks in their lives. Years later I hope they do what my kids have both done – call home and say thank you for caring enough to set some healthy boundaries. I heard a pastor say once that a parent should limit the use of the word “No” for those special moments when you really need to prohibit a dangerous encounter. You don’t do your children a service by eliminating every potential threat. I used to tell my kids that I was a safety net for them and that as long as I was there they should take risks and expect help getting up or for someone to brace their fall. Be careful in developing your safety plans that you find the balance between protecting your children from danger and allowing your children to experience healthy exploration that allows them to practice making independent choices and decisions for which accountability for the same belongs solely to them.