Our Son

My kids do not enjoy bedtime. This is putting it lightly.

My husband and I have a handful of tools we use on our kids at bedtime only. One of the  bedtime-only tools I use after especially exhausting days is Reading My Books: “Oh, you’re not ready for your own stories? Cool! I’ll read to you from mine!”

Over the last couple of years, my kids have heard Neil Postman, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Naomi Klein, Rebecca Solnit, and a handful of other non-kidlit authors. Typically, my kids don’t have to listen to any author too long before hollering, “Stop! Stop! Please read one of our books!”

Something funny happened a couple nights ago, though.

Same as most nights, my kids were not at all interested in bedtime. They were (typically!) having great fun antagonizing each other.

“Oh, you don’t want to go to bed yet?” I asked them. “That’s cool. I’ll just read aloud from my own books, then.” 

I found Damon Young’s What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker. My husband had spotted it on our way out the door at Powell’s on our recent trip to Portland. I’d bought it, and read a few chapters since.

I picked up reading aloud from where I’d left off alone, expecting both kids to holler at me in protest like they usually did when I read any of my books aloud. Shockingly, though, my older son stopped fighting his brother and started listening.

When I finished reading the essay “Your Turn” aloud, he settled into my lap asked me to keep reading.

Astonished, I did. I’ve read several passages from the book to him since.

It was my husband who’d pointed out the book on our way out of Powell’s recently.

A Black man himself, the cover of What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker had caught his eye. “I’m gonna have to read that!” he told me while shepherding our kids out the front door.

Having already bought my own books, I tossed a copy of the book on my sister’s stack. “I’ll pay you back!” I told her.

As a middle-aged white woman who grew up in Oregon, I read the book and understand I’ll never know firsthand what it’s like to be a young Black man in the United States. I can try to imagine it, but I know I’ll never fully get it.

My husband knows this, and my sons are coming to know some of it, too.

Thankfully, the fact we often experience the world differently doesn’t preclude me from sharing this book of essays with my older son. As we read together, he and I are both simultaneously/alternately tickled and moved by Young’s words.

In my case, I’m trying to imagine my son experiencing the situations Young describes. In my son’s case, he’s living the experiences, including feelings of mortification.

Whatever either of us is feeling any moment, I’m glad my husband found this book,

and I’m glad to share it with our son.

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