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No Such Thing
as other people's children
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They say that there is no such thing as other people’s children.
I am blessed with *at least* 3 children who I feel primary responsibility for: Rafe, Carmen, and our foster son Junior, now age 23, who has been a part of our family since he moved to Boston from Haiti when he was 13.
This parenting gig is relentless but usually delightful (I know you feel me). Last Sunday, I got to take Carmen and five of her best friends to Church of the 8 Wheels in San Francisco, a defunct church-turned-roller disco, for her birthday. The girls laced up old-school rollerskates with light-up wheels and held hands as they balanced, rolled and boogied in big circles around the wooden floor. They screamed their joy and hugged Carmen when the DJ dedicated ABBA’s Dancing Queen to her (“young and sweet, only 17”).
My favorite part was when they fell down, laughing, often in a 6-kid-pileup. It’s a beautiful thing to watch young people–make that any people–willing to fall (and laugh! And pick themselves up!) in the process of trying to do something they are not very good at yet.
A few days earlier,
Junior had Facetimed me. He was coming to visit and I thought he was calling to make plans for our week together. But no. He was being detained by the police and needed a witness. Here’s what happened:
He was at the front door of his longtime girlfriend’s apartment building, waiting for her because he had forgotten his key.
A white man nearby, who claimed to be the property manager but whom Junior didn’t recognize, asked Junior for his name, implied he was up to no good, and eventually called the cops on him. Junior was understandably upset, refused to show the police his ID since he had done nothing wrong, and when they didn’t let him go inside (his girlfriend was there by now and advocating for him), called me.
I asked him to hold the phone up to one of the police officers, introduced myself as Rev. Molly Baskette, and said “this is my son.” “This is your son?” the cop said incredulously. He tried to take Junior’s phone away. He mocked him, admitting he was violating Junior’s civil rights. He mocked me when I asked him to stop baiting Junior. I was breathless and terrified, afraid the cops would keep provoking and escalating, and next thing Junior would be falling to the ground dead, and I would be helplessly 3,000 miles away.
A few minutes went by and a police supervisor arrived, assessed the situation, and told them to let Junior go. He was safe–for now. But racial profiling happens to Junior ALL the time. What if the next time is fatal?
(me-n-Junior last summer)
We are all grieving young ones this week.
At Covenant Presbyterian Elementary School, three sweet 9-year-olds fell to the ground, along with adults who cared for them–falling not in silly joy like Carmen, but because they were mortally wounded by gun violence. Three children who unlike Carmen will never have another birthday. Three children who will not live to young adulthood like Junior has (so far anyway).
Jesus said, “let the little ones come to me and do not hinder them; the Kin-dom of Heaven belongs to them.” Some children come to us by birth or adoption or extended family-ing. Others fall into our lives by accident or a holy nudge or a good strong push from God. Not all of us are kid people (even those of us WITH kids), but all of us who are full-grown have a responsibility to some kids specifically and all kids generally.
In 2020 gun violence overtook car accidents as the leading cause of death for children under 18. We know all about the escalating mental health crisis amongst our youngers. Child labor protections are being gutted as the capitalist machine hungers for more cheap (brown, immigrant) labor. Trans and queer kids and those who love them are under attack in 34 state legislatures, school boards and their very own neighbors (why, read all about my amazing brave friend Rev. Casey Tinnin-Martinez who is being targeted by both the Proud Boys AND Project Veritas this week. Then send his church and his non-religious queer youth group some money and some prayers. This is happening in California, not in the Bible Belt).
It’s never been easy to be young and relatively powerless. But too many of our kids are falling down and failing and fricking DYING on our watch. Things are moving in the wrong direction on multiple fronts for them, and it’s preventable, and the grownups in the room have a responsibility to them. Including me. Including you. We may not do enough, and we may not get it right 100% of the time, but who do they have if they don’t have us?
What can you do?
Check in more often with your nieces and nephews and niblings, particularly about their mental health. Join an ONA church and be a bonus grandparent to a queer family. Fight for gun reform, or gun abolition (there, I said it. I give not one turd for the Second Amendment. Cure our warring madness!). Get more fierce about the climate crisis so the planet we leave our kids isn’t entirely broken (start by reading my friend’s really good book about youth and the climate).
We’re on the cusp of Holy Week. At my church we’ll celebrate Palm Sunday with giant puppets and parades and all-you-can-eat donuts. We’ll also bring homemade protest signs to give Palm Sunday back its edge and give the people back their voices. We are living through perilous times, particularly for the generations coming after us. They need us INVOLVED, loving, giving, taking their right to live and thrive seriously–to catch them before they fall.
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