I was laying in a shallow pool in sunny San Diego. At Legoland to be exact. A place where childhood dreams are made out of plastic. Late August through early September is birthday season for my family. Four out of five of us in one household have our birthdays within ten days of each other. And considering half of those birthdays have not yet hit double digits, we celebrate them full bore over Labor Day.
Over the long weekend, as I was chasing my healthy, well-fed, totally safe and probably perpetually-charmed daughters down a long water slide into a pool of opportunity – white privilege had never seemed more palpable to me. And not just because I, too, was laying on my back, in heated water, wearing a bikini without shame or fear with a key around my wrist to a locker that held hundreds of dollars in foot wear and even more in handheld electronics – located very near to our front row seats at the wading pool where hundreds of Americans were relaxing after our… hard labor this summer.
Yes, Americans work. Many do actual hard labor. And all humans feel suffering no matter where you live or what you earn. But I do not do hard labor. I have also never been arrested despite a few attempts. Nor have I ever spent a night in a refuge camp. And I have only been held against my will once – in someone else’s country that I flew to freely and minimal money and maximum fast-talking fixed that within thirty-six hours. But whatever harsh experiences I have felt in the world I have so far been able to shield them all from my children.
Which is the universal goal of parenting. To give more and do better than was given and done to you. And although my kids experience is far safer than those hurting and at risk right now in Ferguson, Ukraine, West Africa, Israel, Gaza and Syria to name a few, I am not sure what to do or say or teach my young children about the gap. I’m not even sure how to address it to myself, without sounding Gwyneth Paltrowesque.
So much so that when I reached the wading pool after the minor twists and turns I paid to experience in San Diego, I had to look away from my little ones. As I saw my babies running towards the next slide and their next form of joy – which is just what I wanted for them – I could not get the image of children running in Syria, in particular, out of my head. Someone else’s babies who have been living for so many years now under siege. Children that we as Americans did not help when they begged us to even though we did and do help so many others – leaving them to run from their own leader and those that he let flourish. The image of young kids who cannot go home, never mind to school – and their parents, who had all the same dreams as I did when they had their babies, made me close my eyes and stop still, knee deep in my holiday.
How do I continue to proffer joy when it is not the normal state of life, not even in childhood in so many instances?
When I reached my lounge chair and sunk low into doubt, I quietly asked myself another question. Are the children of Syria easier to think about than those in Ferguson and all of east St. Louis or Detroit, as well as parts of Chicago and Arkansas and New York? Or anywhere in America who may have been under siege for much longer than three years by the people meant to keep them safe? Not on a daily basis, but arbitrarily which may be just as devastating when it surprises you on the street you grew up on.
And when do I begin to discuss that with my own young Americans?
In the sweet September sun I could have roasted in that plastic chair, in that plastic place. Yet sitting in it gave me time to eventually be thankful that my children are healthy and safe. That neither I nor they are food insecure and we have shelter. Even that I live in southern California – where during the most serious drought of this century, every lawn I see is envy green.
Which reminded me that joy also creates gratefulness. Humility, in fact. Or it should and can if I proffer those feelings right alongside of joy.
Which will not stop me from waking up at night crying for the mother’s of Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaer, Eyal Yifrah, Mohammed Abu Khdeir, Mike Brown, James Foley, Steven Sotloff and the beautiful yet nameless sons and daughters I see in the news everyday. Because I know it is no longer my life I fear for but those I have yet to explain the situation in Ferguson, Ukraine, West Africa, Israel, Gaza, and Syria to.
Who I can see from my lounge chair are almost to the crest of the next slide.