Motherhood May Just Be the Great Equalizer and the Key to Healing Our Great Country
It’s early Sunday morning. I’m sitting in my backyard, in my suburban neighborhood, listening to a singsong voice from the neighboring cul-de-sac chant “Soooo Big!” The sound of uncontrolled laughter from what I assume is a toddler-aged boy follows, and the corners of my mouth turn up in a grin. A thick patch of tall trees separates my home from the neighbor’s, but I don’t need a clear line of vision to see the young child throwing his arms in the air. Give the kid a few more years and he’ll be hollering “Touchdown” with the exact same gesture.
Childhood pastimes and rituals unite many of us around the globe, providing commonality beyond broader categories like cultures, histories, and political opinions. Many of life’s simplicities can cross boundaries and appeal to a diverse constituency. Take movies, books, nursery rhymes and games. Their universal appeal can strengthen us, enabling people from all walks of life to start talking, sharing perspectives and hopefully learning how to understand and accept others who are not exactly the same as we are.
For sake of conversation, let’s make an assumption. Picture George Floyd’s mom chanting the same “Sooo Big” jingle to her son when he was young. He may not have lived on a cul-de-sac, and who knows whether he had trees in his backyard. But based on the fact that he called for his mother during his final moments on this earth, my guess is if they played that game, or any other game like it, that you could hear the same joy, the same love, and the same enthusiasm in their interaction.
Households across America can be found engaging in a myriad of comparable activities, regardless of whether they live in a duplex, a penthouse apartment, public housing, or an oceanside cottage. Perhaps we have more in common than we sometimes care to admit. Then why does society seem more divided than it’s ever been? And more importantly, is it possible to identify the special sauce that will lead us toward reunification?
I would argue that motherhood could be the great equalizer. We all want the best for our babies. From the moment they’re born, that new life we worked so hard to bring into this world is immediately dependent upon what we do with our own. That’s true of every race and socioeconomic class. Do I think some obstacles are more difficult to overcome than others, including systemic racism? Yes. Do I think implicit bias makes it harder for some folks to get ahead? Of course. And who am I anyway? A white suburban mom can’t truly understand what it’s like to have to teach her children how to behave under certain circumstances solely because of their skin color. Nowhere on my list of ‘lessons to pass along to my kids’ is the mention of what to expect when you’re the only person with black or brown skin shopping in a store or working at a large corporation, or how to react when you’re pulled over by the police.
Speaking of the police, I am grateful for the countless upstanding law enforcement officers, dedicated to keeping the peace, following the law, and protecting our communities. I know they’re out there. But I just finished watching the Netflix original series When They See Us and have no reason to question the overall validity of its story. As a mother of three myself, I’m haunted by the depiction of the events that occurred during my early twenties, and my heart simply aches for the parents of the Central Park Five. They were boys. Young boys. With futures ahead of them that would have undoubtedly been different than the ones they’re living now. What happened to them was terrible. Unimaginable. Unjust. And for me, now in my fifties, it’s their mothers I can relate to more deeply. Every gut-wrenching scene of that series reminded me of the common traits that we share as mothers. The pride we feel when our kids do something special. The pain we feel when they are hurting. And the unconditional love we feel from the moment they’re placed in our arms. No matter what your politics are, how many degrees are hanging on your wall, or how much money is in your bank account, don’t we owe it to our children to see beyond the stereotypes? No one raising children wants them to grow up to be treated unfairly, discriminated against or targeted because of their race, or for any reason for that matter.
Life is riddled with obstacles, some more challenging than others, and they come with varying degrees of consequence. But don’t we all want the same thing? To provide a safe environment for our kids to navigate through as they move into adulthood, one that allows for the development of a strong work ethic so they can tap into their true potential and follow their dreams. That’s no easy calling. We need good schools for ALL…engaged role models…equal opportunities…consistent application of the laws…respect for our communities….and so much more. The list is daunting, no doubt. But if everyone (and I mean EVERYONE) owns a piece of it, the power of a united front can only get stronger. That may seem impossible, especially as we see the polarization of our country played out in the news media every day. But if everyone just surrenders, throws in the towel or waves the white flag, what will become of the America we’ve pledged allegiance to since grade school?
But again, what do I know? Maybe I’m just a white woman who needs to remove my rose-colored glasses. I’ve worked hard for everything I’ve got but admit some might consider me privileged based on the life that I live. But I’m not unaffected by what’s going on in the world. I’m not blind to the inequities around me, and I hurt for our citizens, including those that have been impacted by racial injustice. Sometimes I’m even disappointed in myself for not doing more about it. Not peacefully protesting. Not signing petitions. Not making a stronger statement. I’m not sure what stops me other than not knowing where to start. Perhaps I’m intimidated by the magnitude of the task, or the uncertainty of how much impact I can really have. But those are just excuses, justifications to keep my head down and continue living in the bubble that I’ve created for myself.
For the most part, I’ve stayed inside my comfort zone for the last two decades. But the place I once felt safe and secure is growing more and more uncomfortable. I feel the need to do something…anything…that might help get society pointed in the right direction. And even though I went to law school many moons ago, and ran a nonprofit agency serving low-income households for much of my career, I no longer feel as if I’m in a position to make a front-line difference. I guess that’s why I’m writing this piece. To offer my voice, for whatever it’s worth. I see what’s happening to our society, to the world our children and grandchildren will be growing up in, and I don’t like what I see.
We live in the greatest country in the world. Why aren’t we acting like it? Violence and indecency seem to overshadow thoughtful cooperation for the common good. Round-the-clock television is overwrought with extreme opinion rather than objective news, and the soundbites shaping the minds of our future leaders can often be described as politically motivated propaganda with little or no veracity — in my own humble opinion. But with increased attention being paid to our country’s challenges and growing concern over whether we can ever return to a place of civility, now may be the perfect time to band together around some lofty goals, accompanied by slow and steady action steps to make sure they’re at least within the realm of achievability.
So, to all you mothers out there who want to leave the world a better place for your children, let’s start by remembering why we wanted to become moms in the first place. Take a moment to reflect upon the first time you held your baby. The first time he or she wrapped his tiny fingers around yours and gazed up into your eyes with that unforgettable look of hope. Close your eyes and remember what that felt like. Times are no different now than they were back then. Those little ones singing “Sooo Big!” depend on us to keep them warm, fed and safe. That should include protecting them from a world that may be moving away from the proper use of due process, equal protection of the laws, and quite frankly common decency. We owe it to future generations to reset the balance in our country and strive for greater emphasis on the similarities that we share rather the differences that divide.
Maybe my rose-colored glasses only need an adjustment, especially if more people are willing to see the world through a common, less polarizing lens — one that focuses somewhere in the middle and strays from hard distinctions like right or wrong or good and bad. A lens that’s tinted to absorb every color of the rainbow equally and reflect each and every mother’s unconditional love for generations to come.