She’s Human, Let’s Just Roll With That

I’m a working mom. That means I juggle a lot, but I still pick up our babies each day after school, help with homework, talk about their friends, set up playdates etc.. Now don’t get me wrong, my husband is one of a kind and he’s very involved. However, last week I spent three nights away working and don’t tell them, but I missed my children. Yeah I know the same babies that I’ve prayed would give me a minute to myself. It’s funny how that works.

So while away, I found a play that I was sure they’d enjoy and I’d get to spend some much needed quality time. Grace for President was playing in Raleigh and although about an hour drive, we were up for it and they’d read the book so it was a perfect way to spend a Sunday evening. In the play, Grace Campbell realizes we haven’t had a female president. The lack of females in the White House, sparks her idea for a school election.

After a great performance we headed to the lobby for cast autographs and I ran into one of my work colleagues that lives in that area. She was there with her transgender daughter. Her daughter, which outwardly appeared male, identified as female. So she introduced her maybe 9-year old as her daughter Leah. I quickly shook Leah’s hand and told her I was happy to meet her. But then came time to introduce Leah to my two children.

Let me preface this by saying, we’ve never had this talk. We’ve never really had a reason to, plus my children are 8 and 6 and I really thought I had more time. This was my first experience meeting a transgender elementary age person and while I faced this new adventure intrepidly, I was nervous as hell to think what my children may say or how they may react. But I also thought it as a wonderful learning opportunity. So I introduced my daughter who’s 8 and wise beyond her years first. “Morgan, this is Leah.” Without hesitation or making a funny facial expression she reached for Leah’s hand and said “nice to meet you” with a warm smile. Next up was my 6-year-old son who missed his sister’s introduction because he was getting his last cast autograph. “Garrett, meet Leah,” I said. He drops his head and says “hi.” I asked if he could shake Leah’s hand, but it really wasn’t a question and he knew that. He slowly raises his right hand to meet Leah’s right hand.

I stand and make pleasantries for a few minutes about dinner plans, profession updates etc.. and I slip up once and refer to Leah as he but immediately catch myself and self correct and her mom is gracious enough to remind me gently “she.” We leave with parting hugs and go our separate ways.

When we’re beyond earshot I ask my children if we need to discuss meeting Leah and how they felt. My daughter says “well, to tell you the truth, I was a little confused. I mean she looked like a boy but she’s a girl. She’s a girl right?” “Yes she was born a boy but identifies as a girl,” I said.

“Well, does she have a penis or a vagina?” She asked. “I certainly wouldn’t know that,” I said “but I think the important thing is that we respect her wishes and refer to her as her girl.”

Insert uncomfortable pregnant pause.

“I figure it’s really none of my business,” Morgan said and to tell the truth the only thing we know for certain is that she’s human. So let’s just roll with that.”

I pat her on the back and say good that’s how I was hoping you’d look at it. I then turn to my son who’s two years younger and intensely listening. I asked him how he felt meeting someone like Leah and he said “I don’t know, I was really confused.”

“Well there’s no need to be confused,” I said. “She was introduced by her mom as a girl and so that’s what she is.” “I know that mom,” he said. “But …my eyes said she’s a boy.”

“I’m sure son, but remember that our brains tell our eyes what they see. So, like Morgan said, she’s human.” “Yup, the only thing I know for sure is she’s a person,” he said. “So let’s just roll with that.

These are not conversations my mom had to have with me, it was a different time. But there a few fundamentals I picked up as a kid that I was happy to pass on.

1) God makes each of us uniquely in His image.

2) Treat people like you want to be treated.

3) Love thy neighbors as ourselves.

I sincerely wish my colleague and her daughter the absolute best as I know first hand this world can be cruel. But I also know there’s a lot of love in it and those with it are responsible for teaching it to our children.

 

 

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No Longer a Tumbleweed

My husband often uses the analogy of tumbleweeds to describe the importance of history. Tumbleweeds dry out and detach from their roots and stems. They just blow in the wind. It’s hard to find your purpose and more importantly ride out a storm without having roots. In fact, there’s a Malay Proverb that says “A tree with strong roots laughs at storms.”

Years ago I had a unique opportunity to visit east India. While there on a Rotarian sponsored trip I stayed with different families. The first family I stayed with was that of a prominent businessman and his wife who was a teacher. When the driver opened the door, the very first face I saw was a young girl about 10 or 11 with a cocoa complexion. Her smile was warm. Her eyes glowed and she immediately shook my hand. My host introduced her as Rocky, a farm girl they had adopted and brought to live with them to provide her with an education and give her a better life.

Rocky only spoke Hindi and I only speak English. Our communication barrier was no secret, but in a world where complexions matter it was obvious that Rocky was thrilled to see and touch mine. Every time she spoke to me, I smiled and told her how sorry I was that I only speak English. After a few minutes, Rocky’s eyes filled with tears. She hung her head low and walked away silently. My host was kind enough to translate as I am sure I had a look of confusion.

“Rocky was asking you to teach her your secret language,” he said. “What secret language?” I replied. “The language of people that look like you and her in your country. She was hurt because she promised not to tell anyone, but she feels as though you don’t trust her.”

If only Rocky knew that many of my people, people of African descent are like tumbleweeds. We don’t have a secret language. It’s a consolation prize from years of bondage during slavery. We don’t know the language of our ancestors because we don’t know where we are from. It’s a tough conversation and difficult for most people outside of our unique circumstance to understand.

I grew up in small city in upstate New York with one of the largest refugee centers in the nation. I had the privilege of learning about so many different cultures. I had Italian friends whose grandmother’s only spoke Italian and had secret family cannoli recipes. I had Laotian friends whose grandparents only spoke Laotian and had home made temples to worship in their homes. When children grow up around children from different places they learn their geography, their religion and cultural differences. However, most Black families were one generation removed from migrant farming. So when you ask us about our roots, the answer is usually a southern state. That’s it. That’s about the extent of where we can say we are from. We don’t have a language all our own and we don’t have recipes from before our involuntary voyage.

A few months ago my husband bought me an Ancestry DNA test. No, I didn’t run to take it. In fact, it sat on the table for about two weeks. I was curious, but I’d seen several friends do it and come back with a gazillion different ethnic regions and still walk away feeling incomplete. Plus, it requires fasting before you take it and well, I like to graze. I can’t remember when I did it, but I certainly remember the day I got my results; Wednesday October 4, 2017.

I wasn’t sure I’d feel different knowing more about my ancestry. But there’s an unexplainable sense of peace in feeling connected to a people and a land. Even if you don’t know anything about it. My results came back over 30% from Togo, which is a pretty high. So, this is the beginning of a discovery phase for me to learn as much as I can about its’ history, culture and people.

I wish I could find Rocky and tell her that my secret language is more than likely Ewe’ but French will do. I wish I could tell her that my region is much like hers, filled with farmers and huts, but has over 30 miles of coastline on the Gulf of Guinea. I wish I could explain to her that at 42 years old I am just now beginning to take root.

Togo