On a rare beautiful sunny January Saturday, we pour out the back door with a short window of Drew home amidst a busy call-weekend. In the garage, the oldest climbs aboard his “racing bike.” I help him around the car and through the driveway. Drew settles the youngest into the wagon and wrangles the dog on the leash. I place the helmet on the head of my little bicyclist and wait for the snap of the clasp under his little chin.
With one inaugural push, he pedals as fast as he can do the sidewalk. The farther he gets away from me, the more my heart begins to pound. It is as if my body is on overdrive as I begin to panic a bit. My eyes focus on the driveways to watch for cars backing out. My voice raises to attempt to slow him down, unsuccessfully. My feet can’t help themselves and I run after him. He’s five houses away from the intersection with Wilmington Ave and yet I’m sprinting full speed.
Does he really know how to stop when going so fast? I forgot to remind him to stop at the intersection before he took off, will he remember? Is he old enough for this?
He’s not ready. I’m not ready.
So it continues all around the block. I waffle between letting him practice this new freedom and interjecting to protect him from the dangers I see suddenly everywhere.
Just the previous day, This American Life had set the scene where a blind man who had mastered the art of sensing the world around him was teaching a young blind boy to do the same. He leads the blind boy to a sidewalk on a busy road and keeps asking him to inch closer to the street. He’s teaching the young boy to know the boundaries and realities of the world around him through his other senses. Just in that moment, when the boy is venturing out and finding his wings, his godmother, a sighted woman, jumps forward and pulls him away from the road.
Brian Bushway: Often sighted people will jump in a half a second too soon, and they rob the blind student from that learning moment. And that just keeps happening over and over again, and I think so many blind people’s lives, they never get that moment of what it is to really have that self-confidence to trust your senses to know, oh, if I do use my cane properly and I am listening attentively to information around me, I’ll be OK.
Lulu Miller: I think part of the problem is that when we have eyes, we can see things coming from further away. The whole point is, like, when it’s your cane and you’re clicking, you catch edges at what appears like the last moment.
So I wait one second longer before I begin to start jogging towards him. I wonder about how exactly I’m supposed to navigate this new adventure of letting him find his independence while making sure I give due diligence to giving him the tools to not harm himself in the process. Then I remember the philosophy I had just discussed at a Youth Parents Gathering from Mark Oestreicher – the primary goal of parenting is not to keep your child simply safe but to raise them to be adults. The goal of parenting is helping them launch into their independence, even when it’s risky for them and even when it’s emotionally hard for me.
My goal must not be to forever hold his hand while he rides his bike. My goal is that, one day, he can ride his bike on his own without me there.
In these moments, I remind myself – I am not raising boys. I am raising men. Right now, the blankies, nap times, tantrums, and daycare payments fool me into feeling like all I’m doing is making it from one stage to another. Though the days are long, the years are short. I must keep my eyes on the long-game – to raise men that will be able to navigate the world around them without me running after them to remind them how to live.
As I fight my own fear on my sidewalk, the injustice of our world creeps back before me. My fears for my sons on the sidewalks of St. Matthews are the speed of cars and the impact of pavement. My fears are the law of gravity and the fragile nature of our human bodies.
All this while the mothers raising black boys fear the sidewalks for a whole other reason. They must worry not just for accidents but for violence with intention fueled by fear, whether at the hands of neighbors or at the hands of law enforcement. These mothers are raising men that must be careful not just to go too fast on their bike but to not look too suspicious doing so.
“Have you ever seen a small plant that has a splint holding it up? Growers do that when the plant is precious, but the ground on which it sits isn’t quite right for that little green shoot to flourish. I think of raising children in the United States in similar fashion, especially when it comes to matters of race. The earth is parched, the winds are whipping. A boy not fully bloomed was chopped down dead and his killer walks on, weapon in hand. My two sons, bright, creative and kind African American boys, aged 7 and 9, both wept when they heard that George Zimmerman had been acquitted. They were afraid he, or others like him, might come for them next…
And yet, they also need protection, they need our tender nurturing and splints to hold them up in the process of developing the fortitude to meet a cruel society…
Together we create gardens of possibility in the parched earth. If we grow the babies up right, they just might redeem us all.”
Amidst the pandemic of domestic abuse, divisive race relations, and the uncivil discourse of politicians, raising men is a task of great significance. I dream of a world where men not only value the humanity of all people but they are willing to speak truth to power, sacrifice their own success to equal the playing field, and to participate in God’s Dream with confidence that they are children of God and with humility for everyone else is as well.
My little bicyclist stops a house short and looks back at me. Climbing off the bike, we walk it to the intersection and look both ways. Once all is clear, we walk the bike back across the road and to our street. I help him up on the bike and send him off.
As he pedals faster and faster, I pause my fears and frustration. I give thanks for this task of raising men. Even more, I give thanks for a God that will call them, in their own day and time, to dream a dream for all people everywhere. I dream God’s dream that these boys will one day work to ensure that all boys find safety on their streets with the freedom to pedal as fast they want as their mothers follow nervously behind.