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A Different Kind of Summer


Published June 9, 2020 at 10:00 a.m.

Observing choppy Lake Champlain from Shelburne Farms
  • Observing choppy Lake Champlain from Shelburne Farms

As parents, we want to protect our children. It's not just our job; it's our instinct. When they are babies, protecting them is not always easy, but it is straightforward. We feed them when they are hungry. We change their diapers when they are wet. We run to them in the night when they cry out, cradling them and stroking their soft heads until they return to peaceful sleep.

But as our children grow older, protecting them becomes more complicated. As they begin to understand that there is injustice and pain in the world, we must make decisions about what to shield them from and what to tell them. We must protect them while also educating them about some hard truths.

That tension became all the more apparent in May, as the U.S. death toll from the COVID-19 pandemic surpassed 100,000 and protests broke out throughout the country following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

I sat on the couch with my 10- and 13-year-olds after they heard a news report about George Floyd's death, explaining to them the details of what had happened. As they sobbed, I held them and stroked their heads. I told them that I loved them, but I couldn't assure them that everything would be all right.

The stakes are far higher for parents of color, who must tell their children about the senseless deaths of people who look like them at the hands of police. For the parents of Atatiana Jefferson, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and far too many others, no amount of motherly or fatherly love was enough to keep them safe. As a white person, I can't pretend to understand the fear, indignation and anger they feel.

This summer will be different than any other we've experienced. With events and many summer programs canceled, there will be more time than ever to spend with our children. My family will use this time to explore our beautiful state, to take hikes and eat creemees and swim in lakes. But we'll also use it to talk about the systemic racism and injustice that exist in our country, and to find productive ways to be allies in the fight for a more just world.

The cover image of this issue, taken by Cat Cutillo on the bike path in Burlington, resonated so deeply with me because it feels symbolic of our world right now. We are in a bleak place, and there is so much uncertainty about what the future holds. Yet still we roll on, wobbly and uncertain, arms outstretched, with hope for a better tomorrow. That future is only possible if we work to counter those who espouse bigotry and hate. Let's keep on moving toward the light.

This article was originally published in Seven Days' monthly parenting magazine, Kids VT.