Dear Care and Feeding,
Eleven years ago, my husband and I started fostering a sister and brother,“Taylor” and “Martin,” and we adopted them a year later. Our daughter was 5, and our son was an infant, but they are now 16 and 11 and are smart, kind, and mostly well-behaved kids. My husband and I are white, and they are Black, but we’ve done our best to have honest, age-appropriate discussions on race, our privilege, and how messed up the systematic oppression and racism in our country is. I thought we had done an OK job … until yesterday.
Taylor asked us after dinner if she could talk to us in private and showed us screenshots a friend had sent her. Apparently, Martin has been selling “N-word passes” to kids at his middle school for $20-50! It’s been going on for weeks, and he had offered it to Taylor’s friend’s sister, who screenshot it and sent it to Taylor. They go to diverse schools for our area, but there are still a lot of white/non-Black kids there. Taylor told us that kids have been sending Martin money via Venmo, and she thinks he’s made almost $1,000. My husband and I are shocked and angry, and we don’t know what to do. Martin’s actions must have made his fellow Black classmates upset and uncomfortable, and I feel like a horrible mother and person. I thought we did a good job, but we must have done something wrong. We need to give him consequences, but I don’t know how extreme to go. Right now, I’m leaning toward taking away device privileges for a long, long time and confiscating the money. What else can or should we do? How do we confront him about this and apologize and tell other parents?
While I certainly understand why you are embarrassed and disappointed, it’s difficult to prevent kids from using inappropriate language in general, and it’s not surprising that a Black child would feel a sense of ownership and/or entitlement to use the word as he sees fit in spite of what his parents say, especially considering that you will never have the same relationship to the term that he does. There’s also something hilarious and brilliant, if also naïve and shortsighted, about him getting paid for something that was going to happen anyway.
What Martin must understand is that while some of his classmates have played along with this charade, none of them who purchased his “passes” were actually waiting for anyone’s permission to say “n-gga.” Furthermore, as they are unable to access the experiences that come with being a “n-gga,” he ought to spend some serious time considering that while he can pretend as though he is giving his friends access to one of the “fun” parts of being Black, they will be spared the disenfranchisement and toll that comes with this identity—which should bother him. Why do these kids want to use that word so badly? And how would he feel if other Black people, particularly Black elders, heard them speak in such a way?
The current socio-political climate offers no shortage of examples as to why white people do not deserve the privilege of using the N-word, nor the ability to decide that Black people should not be able to use it. You have every right to ban it in your home and to teach your kids that it is an ugly word with an ugly history; however, Black people have an infinitely more complex relationship to the term, and he’ll have to learn how to grapple with that without doing something that could cause harm to other Black folks and/or his friends who were “waiting” for permission to use it.
Hopefully, there is a Black adult in Martin’s life—a godparent, a neighbor, etc.—whom he is close enough to that they can help you with this conversation. It sounds like Martin needs a reminder as to how “n—as” are treated by our society and why he has very little to gain and a lot to lose from cheapening his people’s experiences to make a quick buck. It would be ideal for him to hear that from someone who has experienced the anti-Blackness that brought the word to life in the first place. Your son must understand that regardless of how much he trusts these white friends of his, who are so eager to use the N-word (in front of him) that they’ll pay for the privilege, empowering them to do so is a betrayal of the Black folks who would be upset at such a thing—aka the majority of Black people.
Find out how the other Black kids at his school have reacted to this business, as there may need to be some healing done. Also, what is Martin’s relationship to them? If he and his sister are not regularly finding themselves in a community with children who look like them, then that is something you’ll have to address. Black kids who don’t have healthy social interactions with other Black kids have a world of trouble waiting for them.
As far as folks who purchased the pass, tell their parents ASAP. Good luck to whomever has to explain to those kids why they can’t say the N-word—which, again, they were probably saying as they saw fit any damn way. And good luck to you, for this isn’t an easy challenge to deal with. Oh, and donate the money to a bail support fund for Black Lives Matter protesters or another organization that is doing anti-racist work.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
Before quarantine, my son and daughter were babysat by our next-door neighbor’s 14-year-old daughter, “June,” whose little brother is my son’s best friend. They know her well and love her, and she’s great with them. She’d usually watch them after school or in the evening two or three times a week, and I would always make them food beforehand. June’s younger brother is allergic to many things, including nuts, eggs, some meat, and dairy, and the household is basically vegan, but these foods are only dangerous to him if he directly ingests them, so I am able to give June the usual Korean food I make my kids (I used to be a chef at a Korean restaurant and went to culinary school). June loves meat and isn’t too happy about being vegan, and asked me a few weeks before quarantine if she could take dinner leftovers home to pack as school lunch, and with her mom’s blessing, I agreed.
June is going to start babysitting again, and her mother asked if it would be OK for her to take half her pay in leftovers since she’s been missing the nonvegan meals terribly. She has a mini-fridge in the basement where she keeps her food separate and since I usually make way too much, I agreed. My husband is convinced I’m scamming her and that I should just give the leftovers in addition to $40. I think it’s fine since it was suggested by June in the first place. Am I in the wrong here?
—Adventures in Quarantine Babysitting
Your husband has a point. If this were a situation where the bartering was necessary, say due to financial challenges on your end or because it’d require you to do more cooking, that would be different, but paying someone (even just in part) for labor in leftovers that you’d have anyway doesn’t rub me the right way. However, if you calculate the cost of her portions, but not your own labor (as you would be making the same dishes either way) and find that the cost of what she eats is way more than half her pay, then you can continue the discount in some form. Otherwise, just give June the food.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
My kids are almost 11 and 13. My son is older and has recently decided that he is no longer willing to share the front seat of the car with his younger sister. Back when they were going to school, we had a rule that seemed to work really well, where they would alternate getting the front seat on a weekly basis. Our outings have dwindled to maybe once a week, and we have gone back to them alternating each outing. Out of the blue, my son has decided that he will no longer go on any outing with the three of us if he doesn’t have a front seat all the time. He claims that he has always hated sharing the front seat and because he is older, taller, and bigger, he should always have the front. My daughter has always been prone to severe car sickness, which has improved over time, but is still less likely to be an issue when she sits in the front seat.
I am planning on taking them to visit my parents, who live two hours away and who we have only seen once in the last seven months. The decision to visit them at all has been a difficult one for several reasons, but our family decided that it is important to do it before the school year begins. My son has flat out refused to sit in the back seat on this trip and claims he will not go if he does not get his way. How do I solve this? My son is usually an easygoing kid. I don’t understand why he has chosen this hill to die on, but he has.
—Front Seat Frustration
If this is the hill your son wants to die on, then let him die on it. Explain, once again, why it is important that he shares the front seat with his sister. If he continues to refuse, then either leave him at home or punish him for his insolence. He does not have the right to decide who gets which seat in the car, and while his size certainly gives him a logical reason to feel more comfortable up front, you haven’t suggested that he’s so large that the back seat would be an unreasonable location for him. Furthermore, he is being incredibly disrespectful by telling you, his parent, what he “will” and “won’t” do without regard for his sister.
If he cannot share, he should have to deal with the consequences of that. Hopefully, the threat of punishment or lost opportunities to leave the house during a time in which leaving the house is a rare treat will make him reconsider his hard-line stance.
Dear Care and Feeding,
How can I stop my grown granddaughter from speaking to me in a condescending tone? She’s 22, and I have been her maternal figure since my daughter passed away 15 years ago. We spent 12 years apart while she lived with her stepfather and his relatives, during which she essentially raised herself to be a good person of integrity and hard work. Three years ago, we reunited, and I committed to being the adult in her life for emotional and financial support.
Unfortunately, she thinks it is OK to talk down to me. I call her on it constantly, but she deflects or counterattacks: “Well, you did this, so I responded/I am frustrated.” I tell her to respond to me as an adult and to knock off the condescending tone, and she counterattacks by requesting that I treat her as an adult and listen to her more carefully. According to her, I am apparently in the wrong quite often and, thus, the cause of her ugly tone.
Her stepfather was a nasty piece of work who was forever condescending to everyone, including me, during the brief time I knew him. I suspect this is an issue of how she was raised, but I also believe she is old enough to knock it off. She seems to love the arguments about whether she’s condescending vs. whether I’m causing her to be condescending—a domination exercise of sorts. I recently told her by phone that I wasn’t going to engage with her this way anymore and ended the call. She responded by text that I was “childish” to hang up. I disagree. I merely exited stage left because I will not tolerate this crap anymore.
We are weeks away from moving in together during COVID-19 so she can study for her master’s online . I’m tempted to toss the idea away and let her fend for herself, though she doesn’t have the means at the moment. I will have her read your response.
—Grandmother Is Getting Tired
You need to explain to your granddaughter in no uncertain terms how her behavior makes you feel and why you are refusing to suffer her foolishness any longer. Twenty-two is not distant from the immaturity of one’s teen years, but it is also old enough for her to understand that you are choosing to provide her support that she is no longer entitled to from any adult and that you have no problem continuing to do so if, and only if, she is willing to afford you the respect you demand.
As she learned some of this bad behavior from her stepfather, explain that an example may have been set for her that does not mirror how the world actually treats women who are condescending and rude more often than not. Let her know that you are more than happy to be patient with her in this time of relearning, but that she has to put forth effort in trying to understand why certain language and mannerisms are particularly offensive to a grandmother, let alone another human being, and that she will not be allowed to remain in your home if she isn’t willing to provide you the respect you deserve.
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From the ages of around 7 to after college, my beautiful, loving wife of 20 years was morbidly obese. By the time we met when we were nearly 30, she had lost a huge amount of weight, and since then has been a very healthy fitness geek. While she was obese, she suffered from social anxiety and depression, and regaining her health gave her a huge amount of self-confidence. I’m very proud of her, but the issue is she has entirely erased any part of her life that took place when she was overweight. She has no pictures, yearbooks, or mementos, and when our athletic preteen daughters ask what she was like at their age, or about any event that took place before she lost weight (like her 16th birthday party), she deflects the question. I understand the desire to forget about what was a very traumatizing portion of her life (and she has gone to some therapy), but I don’t think it’s right to hide her entire childhood and the journey that shaped her so much from our children. Who’s right?