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

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.

We Do Not Have to Live Like This

I haven’t talked to Jane about the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. How do you tell a 7 year old, who loves school above all else, that 17 people went in to school one morning and never came back out? How will she ever feel safe again, once she knows the truth? I don’t feel safe. I am terrified. I feel a physical pang when I drop her off at school in the morning. I stop the ‘what ifs’ in my head, because who can live like that?

But none of us should be living like this.

I’m not one to shy away from discussing difficult topics with Jane. Racism? We talk about it. She’s appalled by it. White supremacy? She knows what it is & thinks it’s gross. Homophobia? Yeah, she thinks that’s just dumb. But gun violence? I guess that’s where our privilege really shows… we haven’t talked about it because it could directly effect her. America’s love of guns could cost my child her life. I don’t know how to broach that. Yet people of color talk to their children often & from a young age about America’s racism that could one day end their lives for no reason at all. So, yes, white privilege is wrapped up in all this, too. But really, isn’t it always.

I don’t believe we have to quietly accept racism. And I don’t believe we have to accept the status quo on guns. When I found out that Atlanta Public Schools will do active shooter drills, I immediately felt relief. Knowing how to respond could increase Jane’s chances of survival. Then that sunk in: I am concerned about increasing my child’s chances of survival AT SCHOOL. Shit. Then the second wave of realization hit: Jane will learn that if she isn’t in her classroom, she must hide. On her own. The doors will be locked. She can’t get back in. She just has to do her best to stay alive.


We have created a war zone. Here. In America. We are our own enemy. On any given day, our children might die at their own school. And we refuse to stop it. We just try to navigate around it. That is some bullshit right there.

When I posted on Facebook that, during active shooter protocol, classroom doors are locked an aren’t to be reopened until the all clear is given, I got a lot of pushback. Not from gun activists. From teachers. They said they would never leave a child out to die on their own. They would let them in.

I don’t doubt that, at all. Teachers have sacrificed their lives to save their students. But teachers aren’t soldiers. They shouldn’t have to EVER make the decision to open that door or not. The orders are given for a reason. Opening the door might save the one student, or it might end the lives of 20 others. Teachers are not combat trained, for God’s sake. How could they ever make that call effectively? Better yet, WHY SHOULD THEY HAVE TO?

We do not have to live like this.

And, to be clear, homeschooling isn’t the answer to the threat of being gunned down in school. America’s love affair with guns cannot cost us our public education system. We cannot abandon our children’s futures to the NRA. We did not allow 9/11 to stop us from traveling, living, and rebuilding. We didn’t all move to rural America in response to terrorism in one of America’s greatest cities. Make no mistake: the NRA is a terrorist organization. Abandoning public education means the terrorists win. That wasn’t an option after 9/11. It isn’t an option now.

Tonight, I will talk to Jane about the Parkland shooting. I’ll read articles about talking to kids about gun violence. I’ll pray about it. Then I’ll start the conversation. But I’ll be damned if I will resign myself to this being her normal. I will fight back with every breath I have. And, if I know my kid at all, she’ll insist on being right by my side.

Speak up. Stand up. Fight back.

We do not have to live like this.



Photo credit: Photo by Jerry Kiesewetter on Unsplash

A Control Freak Gets Sober: A Short Case Study

I walked in, freshly pressed in a white shirt, crisp jeans and my beloved cowboy boots. My hair, pulled up in a clip, projected a no-nonsense image. Or, at least, I hoped it did. I wanted to be at the top of my game for this meeting. I pulled back one of the folding chairs, smiled at the people already seated at the table. And then it began: “Good evening. This is the regular meeting of Sobrenity. I am _______, and I am an alcoholic.”

This is how a control freak like me manages the unknown of attending her first AA meeting, at which they will most likely strongly suggest that she admit she is wildly out of control.

My futile attempts to control the AA meeting “situation” began earlier that day: I ran out to the bookstore to procure my copy of Alcoholics Anonymous (aka The Big Book) before the meeting. I wanted (no, needed) to be prepared for this next phase of my journey. I believe I even read the first chapter or so. Like I was going to a book club meeting. “Control what you can” was my motto. Obviously, that was going well.

Turns out, I didn’t need the book at the meeting. It was an open-discussion meeting, which meant anyone could attend, alcoholic or not. Cool. Then I could fly under the radar. They did a moment of silence for the sick & suffering alcoholic (that’s me!), followed by the Serenity Prayer. Which I had heard a million times before but couldn’t remember for the life of me. They were all chanting as if they were part of some secret society. Wait.. yeah. They kind of were.

Next came something about experience, strength and hope. It’s all a blur. And I didn’t have any experience, strength or hope for MYSELF at the moment, much less some to share. Then they got to the line that told me I was okay there, at least for the time being: The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. Check! This is where I belonged.

Someone read, “How It Works,” which, cleverly, describes how the program of Alcoholics Anonymous works. Three tidbits from “How It Works” stuck with me:

1) Rarely have we seen a person fail who has throughly followed our path.
I am not really into failure even now, and certainly was against failure as an active alcoholic who had something to prove. So, good… no failing here.

2) We admitted that we were powerless over alcohol — that our lives had become unmanageable. You’d think for a control freak that admitting that she was powerless over alcohol would be wrenching. But I already knew I was powerless (I often have to come to things on my own. Thank GOD, I had come to this realization before someone mentioned it to me, and I had to spend the next several months of my life trying to prove them wrong). I’d done the whole deal where I said I’d only have 2 beers, then I’d wake up in my bed with no recollection of having gotten there. And, if my life was unmanageable, then it wasn’t really my fault, right? How could I be faulted for something that, by its very nature, I couldn’t manage? Time to invite a Higher Power to clean up my mess (btw: this is NOT how things work. Everyone is required to clean up his or her own mess. Think of the HP as a power source; you still have to vacuum)

3) We are not saints. The point is that we are willing to grow along spiritual lines. As for not being a saint, I am a good little Christian girl who happens to be a lesbian. In the church I grew up in, that not only knocked me out of the saint category, it landed me right in the going-straight-to-hell-in-a-handbasket category. So growing along spiritual lines without much outside help was something I did for years (albeit clumsily and sometimes drunkenly). Now I had a church that I totally dug (who of course knew nothing about my problematic drinking–or that I had once served communion drunk), and I had these AA folks to instruct me on spiritual growth. I’d probably BE a saint in a few months with all this help (I totally did NOT get humility yet, obviously).

With the finer points of “How It Works” swirling about in my brain, I sat patiently as people shared their experience, strength and hope. But, honestly, I couldn’t connect their stories to my life. I spent so much time hiding what was really going on with me that I couldn’t open myself up enough to see the similarities. I wondered when I would feel connected. I wanted to be the valedictorian of AA and to do that I needed to be accepted by the group, connected, respected (spoiler: I never felt connected to AA. Perhaps because this was my approach. Holy ego.)

At the end of the meeting, I felt deflated. I didn’t feel changed. I wanted to be able to sit down with someone and talk it out. Not talk about the program or how I was going to work through the steps. I wanted to talk my addiction through until I was better. Right then.

Instead, I went home and took out my Big Book. I tried to start reading the text, but I got bored, overwhelmed, twitchy. So I flipped back to the stories in the back of the book and started reading. They broke past all my defenses, and I saw myself in each of them. I also saw hope. I read until I couldn’t focus anymore. And the next day I read more. It seems so natural now that those stories saved my life. Stories have power. And those stories carried me through my first days, pointing out my character defects (ahem… control freak) in a way that didn’t make me bristle and run for the hills. I share my story because I owe my sobriety to people who were willing to share theirs.