Wind swept wildly against the windows, rattling the panes, sending embers shooting through the air–miniature meteors bright and angry. The low, smoky haze cast a gray pall. But even the blanket of smoke couldn’t obscure the mountains, blazing red against the darkening sky. I stood transfixed, watching fire devour the mountain I’d hiked… what was that? A week ago? Shaking off the fire’s spell, I grabbed my notebook and my laptop. My Irish Setter tugged at my shirt, whining. I flung the door open. Smoke rolled in, heavy and acrid. I darted toward the truck, praying it would start.

Photo by Matt Howard on Unsplash

Raising a Kid Who Sees (and Celebrates) Color


Our daughter’s start in the world was less than traditional–conceived with donor sperm and born to lesbian parents. Then, when Jane was 4, her Bobby (Jane’s non-biological parent), transitioned from female to male. Que the crash course in genderacceptance, and celebrating who we are—even if who we are makes us a little different.

Teaching Jane about diversity hasn’t been without challenges. Take, for instance, the day we were walking through our neighborhood, admiring the pride flags fluttering in the breeze. “Do we know anyone that’s gay?” she asked earnestly. Um…

So, we started back at square one about what being gay means, what being trans means, and what it means to identify as queer. Just a typical, everyday conversation with the 7 year old. As laborious as it can be to explain concepts like gender and sexual orientation to a very curious and analytical kid, I’m grateful that she asks questions (and asks, and asks, and asks…) until I offer up a nugget of truth that resonates with her. I want to help her understand and connect with the world whenever I can. Even if that means I’m stuck in a never-ending round of 21 Questions.

Moving into a Broader World-View

The open, frank way that we dealt with her Bobby’s transition has bled into the way our family discusses almost everything. No question is off limits. Which is good, because our move from suburban Tampa, Florida, to intown Atlanta during Jane’s fifth year of life led to A LOT of questions.

Moving from the suburbs to a markedly more urban area looks and feels different. We no longer have to take the car everywhere. Transit is an option. So is walking (which I do a lot more of than Jane would prefer). We can see the Atlanta skyline from our neighborhood. And, perhaps most notably, we left an almost entirely white suburb and moved to Atlanta, which has a rich Civil Rights history and a vibrant black population.

We live in Southeast Atlanta; it’s not uncommon for us to walk into a restaurant and be one of only a handful of white people. This is different—for us and for her. And we never hesitated to say so.

We also identified that feeling of “differentness” as something black people experience more often, as they navigate predominantly white spaces that insist on assimilation. I mean, that was the idea, but the actual wording was more like: “How would you feel if people looked at you funny because you looked different than they do?”

Her empathy radar went off. “Bad,” she said, looking puzzled and a bit put out.

“And what if they felt that way just because you had brown skin?”

Now she was mad: “That’s stupid,” she sputtered.

I saved the lecture about calling things stupid for another day. Because racism is stupid. Sometimes you just have to call it like you see it.

Living Life in Vivid Colorand Picking Your Battles

My generation often likes to claim “colorblindness.” But studies show that kids notice racial differences early on. They also quickly identify things we refuse to talk about or name as “bad.” When we wanted to avoid negative, shameful feelings around her Bobby’s transition, we gave Jane the language to discuss it. When we enrolled Jane in our local public school, which is both racially and economically diverse, we took a similar approach. We wanted her to celebrate the diversity of her school, not ignore it. So we never shied away from her copious observations about, well, everything.

For example, Jane’s always been quick to notice and admire different hairstyles, especially if they include braids, bright hair bows or beads that clickity-clack. She noticed and started talking about other kids’ hair long before she seemed to notice their skin color. In Kindergarten, she asked me to buy hair ties to go in the top and bottom of her two braids, like her black friends. While we picked out new hair ties with brightly colored, interlocking balls, she chattered on about who has super-cool braids and pretty beads.

Next came the most obvious request ever: she wanted braids like her friends at school. I felt panicked for a minute—because cultural appropriation. But I circumvented that whole conversation by reminding her that she becomes a teary mess in the time it takes me to pull her hair back into ONE ponytail. Which, incidentally, takes no longer than 120 seconds. Cool braids take intense fortitude and patience, I informed her. One day, she and I will talk about cultural appropriation and the problem with being white and “borrowing” bits of black culture while systemic racism and white supremacy run rampant. But, right now, she’s 7. Cultural appropriation is a bit nuanced. Instead, we celebrate the joyous noise hair beads make when they clickity-clack together—and how amazingly cool it is to enjoy that at school every day.

Confronting Racism Wherever It Crops Up

Raising a kid to think critically sometimes means even the easy things aren’t so easy anymore. Take, for example, reading Little House on the Prairie. I figured Jane and I would read the books together, then watch the television show –a nostalgic passing on of tradition between mother and daughter.

But these things so rarely go as planned.

Seems I’d forgotten a little bit of the story. Like when Laura and her family move to “Indian country.” When I ran across the reference to Indian country, I stopped, reminded Jane that while people used to refer to Native Americans as Indians, we know better and do better now. Because Jane’s a curious kid, I anticipated she’d have more questions.

She did not disappoint: “Why did they go into the country if it was Indian Country?”

Ah, yes. The perfect late afternoon conversation: manifest destiny. But, because we’d already talked about judging people on the color of their skin—and about some white people thinking they are better simply because they are white—it was relatively easy to explain that, white people thought they deserved the land the Indians were on.

“But why?”

I won’t lie—I wondered whether it wouldn’t just be easier to dismiss the book as racist and move on. But if I did that, wouldn’t that be teaching her to just ignore racism instead of confronting it?

I kept reading Jane Little House on the Prairie because I don’t want her to think that when she encounters ideas that run counter to her own, she should dismiss them without critical thought. Turns out, scholars support the need for critical inquiry (even in kids’ lit): “…racism exists in the world. Children are going to encounter it, and a safer way to learn how to encounter it is via fiction. If you’re reading a racist children’s book with a child, you can help them read it critically, you can help them learn that it’s okay to be angry at a book.”

Topics like white supremacy and manifest destiny are big topics. But the principles that underlie them are accessible to kids. They see injustice unfold around them. But they often don’t have the words to give voice to what they see. Talking about racism and injustice is hard work. But it’s work worth doing.


Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

Coraline (the Scientist)

Coraline pressed her hand gently against the rough, wooden door. It looked weathered, like it had absorbed all the brightness of Spring and the darkness of Winter. The wood settled into a deep gray, still splintered in places. Coraline wondered briefly if some sandpaper might restore it to a brighter hue.

The door creaked slowly open to reveal a single room. The wood inside reminded Coraline of wildflower honey. The air felt soft and cool. Damp, maybe. But, if she left the door open, the luminous buzzing of Spring would make its way in eventually. No clouds of dust arose as Coraline slowly walked the length of the room. The dirt remained packed tight, determined to serve its designated purpose. A rug would do nicely in the middle of the room, Coraline thought. She’d need a place to sit and read or to spread out and play solitaire. A rug was just the thing.

On one wall, a low set of shelves provided a space for storage and a countertop of sorts. The perfect space for her books and her makeshift science lab. She would still take dinner with her parents, she supposed. Coraline would be perfectly happy with a steady diet of peanut butter and honey sandwiches, with an apple on the side. Her mother, however, insisted on a wide variety of foods—Pad Thai, grilled eggplant, Tuscan Pizza, tofu and bean burritos. And a salad. Her mother insisted on a salad at every meal.

Coraline felt a tiny tug at her heart when she thought of her mother. Her mother smelled of sandalwood and citrus. She always looked freshly scrubbed, freckles beaming radiantly on her face. Coraline shook her head almost imperceptibly. She loved her mother. Adored her, really. But they had irreconcilable differences that prohibited them from sharing living quarters. And that was that.

Coraline continued to survey the room. She would need a cot to sleep on, and perhaps a bean bag chair to read in. She also vowed to get a few new toys for Cricket. The cat seemed concerned about Coraline taking leave of her parents’ house. She constantly paced back and forth in Coraline’s (current) room, meowing incessantly. Coraline, for her part, packed boxes of her belongings rather nonchalantly. She felt an inkling of surprise that her parents did not seem frantic over her planned departure but rather a bit bemused. Her father offered his camping sleeping bag to keep her warm, as evenings in Spring were known for their briskness. Coraline graciously accepted. And that seemed to mostly settle things between them.

Coraline surveyed the little room once more. It didn’t seem like much right now. But once Haniford, her beloved pink stuffed bunny, took up residence, Corline was sure this would feel much more like home. And no one would ever again be vexed about science experiments gone awry. No, everyone in this residence would be a friend of science—even when science exploded and flung mossy-green residue all about the room.

Photo Credit: Veronika Homchis on Unsplash

My Kid’s Complicated Relationship with Black Panther

We took Jane to see Black Panther on Sunday. (Trust me…This is just another in a string of questionable parenting choices.) In our house, we are all about REPRESENTATION and EMPOWERMENT (and, yeah, I get excited enough when I talk about these things to warrant all caps). I wanted her to see a black superhero on the big screen–because it’s epic and groundbreaking (although it shouldn’t be. This is 2018, after all). Jane left her viewing of Wonder Woman feeling empowered and proud (see what I told you about questionable parenting choices… she was 6 when she saw Wonder Woman). I know that, for a lot of black folks, Black Panther is more significant than that. It’s a celebration of black culture, black talent, and, well, blackness…

Truth be told, I wanted to give her a narrative that competes the with story she already knows–slavery, systemic racism, oppression. She gets the gift of being witness to black joy often–at school, at church, around Atlanta–but Black Panther is a story (mostly) devoid of white people. It’s black utopia. Very few colonizers, you see. So, yeah, I totally wanted my kid to see Wakanda.

Here’s where the questionable parenting comes in: I took my 7 year old to see Black Panther without knowing a damn thing about it. I was all starry eyed about Wakanda. Know what Jane was? Terrified of the guns.

Because, in our house, we are just as anti-gun as we are anti-racism. And, in Black Panther, lots of people get shot. With guns. Damn.

Truth? She was real, real scared. Harder truth? She had nightmares.


This morning on the way to school, Jane said, “Remember how funny it was when the girl in Black Panther said, “‘Great! Another broken white boy for us to fix!’” YES! I totally remember! And then we got to talking. Talking how, because the history she gets in school was mostly written by white people, black contributions to science, medicine, and technology are downplayed. I started chattering on about Katherine Johnson’s contributions to NASA –and how most folks didn’t even know she was part of the team until Hidden Figures came out–and Jane lit up. She’d heard about that! In school! Hooray for teachers dedicated to Black History all school year–not just in February.

Representation DOES matter. A lot. When I asked Jane what her favorite part of Black Panther was, you know what she said? The science. Know who was in charge of the science? Shuri. The princess of Wakanda. A teenager with kick-ass braids and a wit that won’t quit. Shuri is the one sent to California to liberate the people–not with guns, but with science and knowledge. That’s a message worth hearing.

Black Panther didn’t mean to my kid what it means to lots of black kids in America. But it was an opportunity for her to see black brilliance at work. And I’m not sorry about that. Black Panther also powerfully drove home a message that I hold close to my heart: only light can cast out darkness. The answer to guns, violence, and oppression isn’t more guns. It’s more knowledge, more opportunity, more goodness. It’s leadership and activism and love.

That’s a message I firmly support.