My three year old. Who is white like:
- Powdered Sugar
My three year old whose father is:
A police officer.
I did it because I am a failing, asshole parent. I did it because I spoke without thinking. I did it because I have enjoyed a privileged life free of any fear of authority and I knew that I had fallen on my own face as soon as I saw those two soft eyebrows, the ones that just learned to oh-so-sweetly voluntarily rise and fall instead furrow up with terror when the words fell out of my mouth:
"The cops are going to get you."
We had just pulled the boat out of the goose-poop rich river water in the darkness after a long day of sketchy weather. We had double our normal passenger count (another cop and his family, as if this can't get worse), and my trailering skills and patience had been tested at not-our-usual-dock that was packed with patrons of varying degrees of sun and liquor saturation.
We buzzed hurriedly through the abbreviated version of our post-nautical routine, the one we deploy when our daily voyage doesn't include the 40 minute drive to the lake. The one where we skip the cover and the zippers, but the safety straps, quick wipe down, and wakeboard removals are still necessary.
The one where we still get the kids in the truck first to get them out of the busy parking lot.
As we pulled ahead, a horn. Hubs had left his trusty chamois on the back platform. He hopped out and retrieved it. Once we were all collected and headed home, I turned to count the children.
One, two, three.
Except that number three was in his car seat, blinking adorably at me with no buckles on.
This is the part of parenting that bites us in the ass all the time. The "but I thought you did it" stuff that chips away at our foundation, our children watching wide-eyed as we fail, slowly transitioning from the A-Team to Dumb and Dumber.
Straps on the boat? Check. Straps on the kid? No.
Earlier in the day, we had encountered Hubs' coworkers several times, seeing two shifts' worth of boat officers out patrolling the waters keeping everyone's festivities safe. I showed my respect to them, and vice versa, as per usual:
"Haha. Nice HAT, Heather."
"Shut up. I'm a classy lady. I need SHADE. Is that a giant sack of PARADE CANDY you're shoving down your throat?"
|Hats are a handy way for other boaters to spot you in the water.|
They see you and say, WHAT THE HELL???
These guys (and gals) are my friends. They are the brothers that my husband finally got as a grownup, the prize he won for surviving all sisters as a kid. Now they are my brothers. They come to my house. They are obnoxious. One fell asleep on the lawn once. Several make enthusiastic arguments for why theirs is the best smoked meat. Sometimes they retire and you're sad but you're still happy for them so you build them a cake.
|Cake by me. Pic by Stephanie. Years of service and dedication by Jer-Bear.|
And you bust your friends' balls. Sometimes in front of your kids, even. Which is why maybe my kids haven't heard a whole lot of "yes sir, no sir" interactions with police officers from me.
But that's not to say that we haven't let them know that when authoritative figures question them, they'd better comply.
Teacher, principal, policeman. No matter. They know. They know.
We don't ignore things like gender inequality and race, either. Each election cycle, no matter how minor (another school vote, anyone?) I remind the boys how recently women gained the right to vote. Each time, they are stunned. Once I've used women to soften the blow, I tell them the rest: about how white people used to own black people. How black people couldn't vote. About how interracial marriages used to be illegal.
And they're all like, "THAT'S A BUNCH OF BULLSHIT!"
Except they don't cuss, because I'd spank their fannies.
And every Martin Luther King Jr. Day, they would traipse home and remind me, and we have continued these cyclical ceremonies because they help us to shut out all the other voices that say there's not a problem, it's not our problem, or we're too white to have a say in anything. Or their little asshole friends on the bus whose parents fill their heads with age-inappropriate political propaganda.
But this previously stellar job I'd patted myself on the back about was out the window with those seven words.
"The cops are going to get you."
He wouldn't let his brother put his buckles on and he was being a general shit and I didn't want to climb in the back seat and there wasn't room enough to pull over on the side of the road, and so to manipulate and control him I blurted that out. Like a complete and total wanker.
And I knew immediately as his panicked tone set in that it was a mistake. He had seen the cops. They were on the boat. They turned on their lights. They turned on their woop-woop horn. They had a sticker on their boat that was just like Daddy's cop car that he drives when he gets the bad guys.
I was being a dick. I was making my kid scared of cops, which is the exact thing we do NOT want parents to do, ever. Not. Ever. And it happened instantly with seven little words.
Two years ago I was in Dallas for work and got talked into a group dinner that required taking one of three private buses to another area of town away from the hotel after dark. After my meat salad (perpetual diet!!) my dinner mates wanted to stop in a specialty bakery. I quickly became claustrophobic surrounded by so much sugar on my newly restrictive eating plan, more or less petrified about how my body would react if I strayed from my no sweets policy, especially in public.
Would I get sick? Would I go into a coma? Would I barf and shit my pants? Who wants to find out in a strange place with an audience?
I shoved through the crowd and sucked in the night air, heavy with the baked goods scent that followed me out the door. I saw a familiar sight. Three gold stripes on a hefty blue uniform leaned on the railing.
I missed my husband.
I felt safer in that five minutes or so than I did the rest of the time I was there. And that counts the time I was in my room - after I realized someone had come in to "deliver promotional items", and it also factors in that my boss is a retired cop and HIS boss is retired from a federal agency.
I talked to that Sergeant while my group got their sugar high on. He told me how the area had changed in the 17 years he'd been on the job. He told me about the developer, about how things were so much better than they'd been in the past. He told me about how the types of calls they were responding to had changed. He told me that this was HIS neighborhood. And I could tell this guy had pride in this city. This wasn't just a job. He loved this place and these people and he loved protecting it.
He also told me that he'd had to put the kibosh to his guys frequenting that bakery when it first went in, "because, you know, the whole 'cops and donuts' thing, I'm sure you know, with your husband and all...we were getting dirty looks all the time."
And that's why twice this week I've had that stomach sinking feeling. I am heartbroken for these families.
When did this happen? When did we learn to be racist? When did we learn to fear all the police?
When other people told us to. Our parents, specifically. If not our parents, those in our circles helping form our views.
Generations of Americans hate other races or don't trust police because of what their families have told them to believe. Interactions with police. Second hand stories and unfounded legends.
I came from some incredibly racist ancestors. Hell, there's some of my friends and family who are STILL around who post some despicable stuff on social media. Off color jokes. Stuff about Obama. Stuff about the Gubmint. It's all a joke, right? Isn't it? Fun fact: This is one of the biggest reasons my kids aren't allowed on the internets. Bet you thought it was kiddie-sex-troll-predators, huh? Nah.
So there's the good news. Inherently racist traits can be shed by subsequent generations, but I'm not sure if a deep seated and irrational fear of authority can. Especially not when those fears are seasoned by an occasional documented instance of legitimate wrong doing that shores up and solidifies that belief.
Unspeakable atrocities? Absolutely. Bad calls? Yes. People who tarnish the badge? Yes. It's up to departments to properly recruit and train, the ranks to hold one another accountable, and the public to support those who protect us by teaching our youth that they're there to help, not harass.
I'm sorry that I failed this time.
My heart will continue to be with those in Dallas. And in Missouri. And everywhere else. And here at home. Because I know that those behind badges are hurting for those lost, while still maintaining level heads to keep things running smoothly for the rest of us. And despite the focus on the instances warranting investigation, the overwhelming majority will silently go on performing their day-to-day in a positive, professional, and courteous manner.
It's what they do. Every day. Without fail.