Yesterday, when I picked up my 7 year old after school, he jumped in the car and blurted, “Mom, something bad happened on the bus.” Our normal routine is for him to tell me three good things that happened during the day, but I could tell this wasn’t the time to refocus him and instead asked what had happened.
“I was sitting by these two boys and one of them said the other one could come to his birthday party, but I couldn’t because I’m brown.”
I managed to subdue the Mama Bear which wanted to rage out and responded to him calmly with, “Oh, buddy. What did you do?”
He proceeded to tell me about how he told the boy it wasn’t fair, about how he told the bus driver, about how the bus driver told the other boy what he’d said was mean and gave Isaac a different seat.
“I just didn’t think that would ever happen to me,” he mused aloud, “but I guess I was wrong.”
As a parent, watching your child experience woundedness is painfully humbling. We do what we can to empower and shelter, but they will experience the world for all of its horrors and splendors and we are unable to completely control the manner in which these events fall upon them. It broke me, hearing in his words the hurt mixed with surprise.
I would wager that the child on that bus has already heard, whether at school or home, that we do not judge others by the color of their skin. And yet, here we were in the car, talking over the racist comment my son experienced on his elementary school bus, so what went wrong?
It is important to note here that I am white and my son is black. In the 5 1/2 years since I’ve been his mama, I’ve seen how greatly we white people struggle in verbalizing thoughts about race. We are comfortable discussing Martin Luther King Jr. but in personal dialogue, my son’s race is often omitted to the point of awkwardness. When we talk about black people, the word ‘black’ is often whispered or stumbled over for fear we are somehow unintentionally offending the person or people of whom we speak. We want to be respectful, but we’re often doing more harm than good despite our intentions.
If we, the adults, can’t get over our fear of risking the occasional foot-in-mouth comment and instead resort to referring to my son in hushed tones or stumbled words, our children will hear what we say but see what we do, thus understanding that while we SHOULD treat all people with equality, in actuality there is embarrassment and distance to be applied when we talk about race. (The same could be said for people of a different faith, culture, gender/sexual orientation, physical difference, or those with special needs.)
I called the school and explained the situation. I asked if the child’s teacher could please have a discussion with him and reiterate how hurtful it was to exclude another student because he was black, and I hope they say the word. I am trying to teach my son to be proud and comfortable in his own skin, but it’s terribly difficult for him to believe me if the example being set around him is one of discomfort and whispered tones.
When I first picked up Dear Thing by Julie Cohen, I was skeptical. Completely, one eyebrow raised, doubtful it was going to be good skeptical. Knowing it had something to do with infertility and surrogacy, I was finding it hard to buy into a book about such a sensitive subject. As someone who has experienced infertility and the many emotions it evokes, I was slightly on the defense about any author who would take that on. I (wrongly, as it happens) assumed infertility was merely a vehicle to carry a love triangle storyline and, having far more experience with infertility than I’d prefer, I was leery of such a move. But then, two chapters in, I had to stop reading and google the author because not only was infertility the focus, I felt sure she’d had personal experience from which to pull and, as she explains in the video below, I was right on target.
Through the lives of Ben and Claire (a couple dealing with infertility) and Romily (their friend who offers to have their baby for them as a surrogate), Cohen hits all of those depressing, infertility milestones:
- The avoidance: “She hadn’t gone to the christening, not to avoid the babies but to avoid the understanding.”
- The grief: “She was tired of feeling the sharp stab of pain every time she passed a playground. That raw ache of yearning at Christmas. She was tired of feeling like a failure, once a month, like clockwork.”
- The effect on a marriage: “(A baby) would make up for any blip in their sex life. Or the several blips over the years as they’d adjusted from thinking of sex as something fun, to thinking of it as something that was supposed to make babies but didn’t.”
- The rewriting of imagined futures: “They’d talked about names a long time ago, when they thought it would be easy to have children.”
- The exhaustion: “‘I’m through…With all of this. The dieting to stay at the optimum BMI for fertility, the hormones, the injections. The down-regulating and the stimulations. Peeing on sticks. Having my eggs taken out of me and fertilized in a test tube and put back into me.'”
- The devastating hope: “‘Our plans are hurting me. I’ve thought constantly about having a baby for so long. And that’s not the worst thing: the worst thing is having hope. Every cycle, I’d get to hoping this was the one, this time it was going to happen. And then… nothing.”
Though I found the story so deeply engaging I would heartily recommend it to a reader inexperienced with infertility, I personally found it a lovely read because it felt so refreshing to read a fictional account of my all too familiar nonfictional experience. I could relate to so many of the emotions; it easily drew me into each of the characters and the ways in which infertility altered them. None of it felt forced or cheesy, which is saying an awful lot for a book about a love triangle and infertility!
One word of caution: I am writing this as a woman experienced with infertility, a point of view from which I have first person perspective. I do think it is important to note that in this book surrogacy and adoption are constant themes. I mention this because, though I am unable to comment on how an adoptee may feel upon reading this book, I could see it possibly triggering strong emotions.
Overall, this was a beautiful read, particularly for a reader with personal experience with infertility or for a reader with a loved one experiencing it. Dear Thing left me more than pleasantly surprised. Well done Julie Cohen, for writing a book managing to speak to the heart of such a difficult experience and making beauty from your own painful story. A smile of understanding and appreciation from this comforted reader.
****I am so excited to have been given the opportunity by St. Martin’s Griffin to give away 5 advance copies of this book! To enter to win, head over to my Instagram account or Facebook page (see links at top right of the blog). You may enter at both for two chances to win. Last day to enter is March 5th. Winners will be chosen at random and notified on March 6th.****
**This book was sent to me via St. Martin’s Griffin in exchange for an honest review. This has in no way affected my opinion of this book.**
Here’s what everyone says to you when you are trying to get pregnant: