Twenty-six years ago, a beautiful baby boy inducted me into parenting. His birth was not as difficult as TV dramas portrayed, but raising up my black son would be far more strenuous labor.
My adorable son was also a clingy baby, and it was a major feat to leave him in the church nursery or with a babysitter. And as much as I dolled over him, sometimes I felt like he was a growing vine who would stay forever attached to me.
The birth of a little sister shifted my clingy baby into a protective big brother who became a charming boy. As the mother of a black son, the joy of seeing him grow was mixed with dread. In this society, I knew he might not be seen for the tender-hearted man he was becoming, but as a threat- simply because of the dark color of his skin.
Raising a black son requires a specific kind of tending: an ongoing process of weeding out the insidious forces that threaten his healthy growth. It means encouraging him against constant microaggressions. Comforting his frustration at being followed in stores when his peers get wary a glance. Esteeming his capability when academic expectations are lower. Breathing wind beneath his wings of aspiration that is constantly met with closed doors. Reviving his destiny when stupid childish mistakes warrant him harsher punishment than his lighter peers who do far worse things.
I raised my son to be a good friend, yet when peers throw around racist remarks as funny, he has to become more cautious and less trusting.
I taught my son to respect his elders and those in authority, yet he has been subjected to demeaning words and actions by those he should trust. When we peel back all the reasons why the harsh treatment might have come, there was no other explanation besides his race.
The clingy baby grew up and is now a teacher who is shaping this next generation of brown boys like him. His 6’1 height towers over my petite frame, yet I wrap both arms around him every chance I get.
Our hugs are a little longer these days. We often talk about the hurt of seeing so many men and women lose their lives in senseless and unjust ways. Although I cannot kiss away the pain as I did when he was young; comfort comes in other ways. Listening, giving words of love and affirmation, praying hard, and of course, making lots of extra food when he comes over!
Be careful what you wish for. For the time will come when that clingy son won’t be wrapped around you; you will be the one clinging to him every chance you get. Watching that beautiful vine grow up strong. Offering unending support. And hoping by the grace of God that he has every chance to flourish.
Dorena Williamson is the author of ColorFull, ThoughtFull, and GraceFull, a series of children’s books with B&H Publishing that features diverse ethnicity and shapes perspectives on race, disability, and homelessness. As a co-planter of a multiethnic faith community and a long time bridge-builder, she has built a unique rapport with public and private schools across the country. Dorena loves the power of a good story and writes children’s books that adults need too. She lives with her family in Franklin, TN.