I have a teenage son whose name I’m always yelling. “Ricky come downstairs for dinner. Ricky pick up your underwear off the bathroom floor. Ricky pay attention and get off that cell phone.” As he towers over me and says, “Okay Momma” in a man’s voice, I wonder where time went. I remember the moment I found out I was pregnant with him like it was yesterday. My husband and I had been trying for five years. I had one miscarriage two years earlier and so many negative pregnancy tests followed that I could’ve bought stock in EPT. I was so shocked to see the line turn pink on the in home pregnancy test stick that I suddenly felt dizzy and my knees buckled. I grabbed the arm of the chair in my bedroom to break the fall, then I stood there and sobbed uncontrollably. I was finally going to be a mother.
Fifteen years and three pregnancies later, being a mother has been so much more than I dreamed it would be. Ricky is the oldest of four, three boys and one girl. Two years after he was born I gave birth to a set of twins (boy/girl), then two years after that I gave birth to another son. Our years as a military family caused Ricky to grow up faster than most. Ricky was my rock when his father, now a retired submarine officer, would go out to sea on six month deployments. He was my little man around the house, helping out with the other children, helping me keep my sanity.
In many ways, he’s mature for his age. He takes his responsibility as a big brother quite seriously. As a matter of fact, sometimes the other children listen to him more than they listen to me. He teaches them, protects them and cares for them unconditionally. In other ways, he’s a typical teen. He has no concept of cleanliness. His room should be condemned by the health department. As he lays on a pile of martial arts magazines, Gatorade bottles, and dirty socks watching TV, he says he doesn’t understand why I’m trippin’ about his room. He texts and talks so much that I believe his cell phone has become an extension of his right hand. He can eat a box of Mini Wheats cereal in one sitting, yet he swears he’s eating a healthy diet. It’s full of fiber… right? He drinks cherry limeade by the gallon after a hard workout to maintain his six pack abs. He’s a mass of contradictions as he tries to determine who Ricky really is. But one thing is fact… he’s a black boy.
He’s a black boy, just like my next door neighbor’s teenage black boy… just like the black boy who sat in the pew in front of us in church this morning. He has a closet full of hoodies, flirts with girls, and plays Black Ops on his PS3. He’s a black boy who listens to rap and watches mixed martial arts on FX and Spike TV. He’s much like the black boy in Florida who went to the convenience store for a pack of Skittles and a can of tea on a rainy evening in February and never made it home.
As a black boy heading toward manhood, my husband and I have been forced to have discussions with him that mothers and fathers of other cultures don’t have to have with their sons. We’ve had to warn him that some may view him based on age old stereotypes, and not who he is as a human being. He may be seen, not as an individual, but as a lifelong member of a monolithic group. Words like lazy, shiftless, slick, up to know good, “They always get away”, may pass through the mind of a stranger who gets on an elevator with him or passes him on a side walk. He may be judged as a thief, a baby maker, an irresponsible taker based on what he’s wearing or who he may be listening to through his headphones. He may be followed, harassed, and accused simply because of the brown in his skin. The people doing the judging won’t know that he’s an A student who attends a science and technology high school. They won’t know that he is a district wrestling champion, or that he gained his black belt in karate at the age of 14… or that he is incredibly loved and adored by his mother, father, brothers and sister. They won’t know my baby. They didn’t know Sybrina Fulton’s baby.
I fear for him so much sometimes that I want to put him back in his stroller, but his nearly six foot frame and size 10 feet wouldn’t fit. Besides that, he wouldn’t be able to charge his cell phone in there. So, I guess all I can do is pray for him and pray that his generation will move us closer to the post racial society others want to believe we already live in, when all the evidence shows we simply aren’t there yet.