Saturday, March 28, 2009

PS on BS

I actually had an interesting session with BS yesterday. I spied the blue sweater in the corner, possibly shed in light of the mild weather. I might have to take a picture of the blue sweater before our time together is over. Maybe it is his Linus sweater. Anyway, what made the session interesting is that I unintentionally stumped him. I'm still delighted about it. He's puzzled because things that he thinks should be upsetting just aren't. I personally think he's stumped because he's used to dealing with white people (no offense). The caricature of black parenting has some truth in it. Sincerely believing that certain transgressions could be reasonably punishable by death, that spanking (which was straightforwardly referred to as beating) was not abuse, and that lip or attitude could certainly get you smacked or choked, was just the way things were. It wasn't done in secret with multiple trips to the emergency room, blackened eyes, broken bones, strange bruises; it was done upstairs while company was over, in the bathroom or hallway at church, in the car-a threat to take you out to the car made good. Observation of an out of control child is almost always observed with the comment, 'that child needs a good beating.' A conversation about dealing with a child like that inevitably provokes a mention of wishing that one could 'snatch' the child up. When I used to teach, I relished the challenge of a kid that didn't know discipline or beatings. They were difficult but they were also easy to shock. I loved wearing them down into accepting boundaries for acceptable behavior. I couldn't (and wouldn't) strike them but I sure could provide some immediate and non-negotiable consequences for non-compliance. I digress.

I guess what I'm getting at is that black parenting for me means that your parents nurture you in the sense that animals nurture their young. The objective is to get you safely into adulthood where you can take care of yourself. It is not to make sure you get to 'express' yourself or develop and nurture your passions. Activities are designed to keep you busy and out of trouble and work best if they are inexpensive (or free), aren't logistically complicated (i.e. picking up and dropping off) and require next to no parental commitment. The first time you complain about going to ballet is the last time you go (true story). No one is dragging you to anything even though it is generally understood that kids don't usually have the foresight to appreciate the long-term benefits of anything and will complain at least once about everything, especially when they are 5.

So against that matter-of-fact style of parenting that I think imbues me with a certain mental toughness* it was a challenge for BS because he just couldn't understand that I don't have any sadness or angst related to growing up with that kind of discipline. I don't see the links between that and my opinion of myself as not worth anything outside of what I can do for others. It's not the same set of emotions. I wasn't the kind of kid who needed much disciplining so I don't have a ton of reference material to draw from there anyway. So, I left satisfied that I had intrigued and challenged him. Yay for being interesting. We'll see what he comes up with.

*My father actually sent me off to military field training with an assurance that I would do fine because no one there could say anything worse to me than he ever had. He was absolutely right. In one of his more famous family quotes, he sent me off on a road trip with friends with the reminder that there "was nothing but death out there."

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