teenagers

Do Teenage White Females Understand Their Privilege?

Last Saturday, I went to Tout Suite to indulge in their infamous brunch and do some leisure reading. As I approached, four young white women stopped to take selfies, bare-shouldered and Birkenstocked. I stood patiently waiting for them to either finish or notice they were blocking me. Eventually, they politely let me pass. I walked into Tout Suite and was struck by the privilege I afforded them. One they didn’t even know they had. They had a luxury most minority girls don’t. In their aloofness and adolescent frivolity, they had been privileged with innocence. This innocence, that made them not a blockade, but just teens being teens. This innocence, that if something happened to them, they would automatically be victims. This innocence, that frees them to be nonspeculative of the world around them. It was a careless and free innocence.

I hadn’t ever noticed it before. I wasn’t angry or upset with these girls. As I settled into my book, I watched them. Lingering in front of the case of desserts, unaware of the line behind them. No one tempting to urge them or hurry them. They took selfies in front of everything. Older couples looked upon them and smiled. One spilled their drink, and several people stopped to help this damsel.

I don’t want to spend much more time discussing these 4 white adolescent females. I cannot speak on their assumed innocence. Rather, I was heartbroken for my own. I work with a predominantly African-American community. I spend a substantial amount of time with black girls. We talk. We laugh. We cry. We do each other’s hair. When I look at them they are innocent girls, but I know the world does not see them this way. Black girls don’t get the luxury of innocence. My girls get hyper-sexualized earlier. I don’t know if it is hitting puberty earlier or the commodifying language we use with black skin. All, I know you never hear anyone saying about little white girls, “Your skin is like a yummy dollop of mashed potatoes”, but there lives a level of impurity and “chocolate sinfulness” in a black girls’ skin.

Those 4 girls, were allowed to be free, and the world accommodated that.

Perhaps, history or society or a blend of the two has placed a filter on the innocence of the black girlhood. Recently, a study was released discussing the Erasure of Black Girls’ Childhood. It is a good read. It is pretty spot on. I agree not only based on my experiences but the experiences of my girls.

I don’t know where is post is meant to go. I have thought about this for a week. It makes me scared for black girls. Worse, if there is little innocence to be given to black girls. I cannot imagine the consequences for black women.

Actually, I can…

God help us.

The Language of “I Love You”/Loving My Teens

I have never met three little words as simple and complex and these. Each individual word is only one syllable, but it is as if every letter carries the weight of Kilimanjaro. Because each word means a million other words.

At the conclusion of my first year of foster parenting, I wrote a post titled Loving Your KidsThis post chronicled the beautiful agonies of loving someone with your whole heart and constantly seeing them go. There are several little boys and girls who will never remember me, but they carry fragments of my heart.  The way a parent loves their child is essentially a replication of how God loves me: unrelentingly, at my worst, sacrificially, unconditionally, furiously, purposefully. I don’t think I ever loved people as passionately and ferociously as those little ones. Until now.

I enjoy my job. It is interesting and beneficial and challenging. However, I love my teens. Working with them reminds me of each and every day of being a foster mama. In dozens of ways, God used working at Casa de Esperanza to prepare me for working with my teens. I look back on my adolescence and having a conversation with my friend Jon Butts. It was about those three little words. I remember in my adolescent melancholy telling him, “If you say I love you too much, people won’t think you mean it.” I still hold to that statement, but it is with the added phasing, “If you show I love you, then people will know you mean it.”

Saying “I love you” communicates you have an affect on me. You. You as you are, are so worthy of love. In fact my love is a gift. I want you to accept it, but if you don’t it is always here. Because in the midst of the cursing and fighting I realize, for me to love my teens it requires absolutely nothing on their part. They don’t have to change. They don’t have to like me. I just love them. Know, I don’t do things perfectly. I trespass against them and am rude. I am annoying, and sometimes don’t know when to back off. However, they respond, I love them.

It is a humbling love.

It is a love that let’s another human call you a b#&$@ and not respond in wrath. 

It is a love that forces you to sit in silence as another human pours out their rage on you. 

It is a love that seeks healing for the brokenness. 

It is a love that makes frightening police encounters opportunities to prove you are there for them. 

It is a love that cries the tears that have already dried on their face. 

It is a love that drives throughout Downtown Houston looking for truant teens

It is a love that when someone yells, “$@&# you” all you want to do is hug them. 

It is a love that allows you to sit and paint the nails of a girl who doesn’t speak English. 

It is a love that moves you from your desk to the basketball court while wearing a dress or a skirt

It is a love that finds opportunities for them to grow

It is a love that lobbies for the best possibilities. 

It is a love that does not look past faults, but corrects them. 

It is a love that sees potential and nurtures it. 

It is a love that opens you up to empathize deeply and many time painfully so. 

It is a love that daily wipes the slate clean. 

It is a love that brings you to a place of utter transparency. 

It is a love that desires to know the deepest yearning of their heart. 

 

I don’t do all of this perfectly. I barely do half of them averagely, but the more I look at this list, the more I realize my Father’s love for me. His love knows and drives and moves and seeks and allows and nurtures and finds and desires and cleanses. And, His love is like this unrelentingly and perfectly with the same intensity at all times. His love is best. We are best equipped to love others when we know many of the ways our Father loves us.

There are dozens teens who probably will never remember me, but there are little mason jars, abbreviated authors, troublemakers, teen mamas, and many more who hold fragments of my heart. My hope and prayer in this moment is that they realize it was never my heart in the first place, but the heart of the Father.

The Thin Line

Apathy and over-concern, these are the two sides of a difficult dichotomy in which I function. I don’t know if this is common in all fields of work. I assume it is, but it is only exacerbated when your entire job is to serve people. There is this massive blending of my work with my person. I try so hard to keep my blues, blue, my reds, red, and my yellows, yellow.

Lately, I have been struggling in how I relate to my teens. I think they are too close to me. I love them, but sometimes I don’t think they see me as an adult. How to you create respect with people you love? Detachment? I don’t know. Boundaries? Today, except for two teens, I have sat in my office in complete silence without a single adolescent chatting with me. In the introvert/extrovert spectrum I find myself drawn towards introversion these days. I don’t hate the spotlight, but I would much rather just be alone. When I am not in touch with internal processes, I am a much more annoying extrovert.

How do you walk between caring and not caring? Is this even a me problem or a teen problem?

 

Nobody Told Me this Road would be Easy…

…but I don’t believe He brought me this far to leave me.

Working with the teens at a Christian homeless shelter is far more complex than I could ever imagine. They comprehend the difficulty of their situation. They understand the shame and embarrassment of being in a shelter like an adult would. However, they are powerless, because they are still children. There are some aspects of my job that come naturally. I can relate to my teens well, with humor, humility, and honesty. I have learned to discern their moods. Most importantly, I love my teens with my everything. Working at Casa de Esperanza taught me to love children in every circumstance. I love my adolescents the same way I love my 33 previous babies: acknowledging their struggles, but pressing for improvement. Nevertheless, there are drastic differences in caring for a teenager compared to a toddler.

As a foster parent you ,sometimes, watch your children get themselves into trouble. My four-year old was in the house with socks on, “Stop, running!” She continued to run, “I said, “Stop, running! You are going to fall.” She continues, until eventually you see her slipping backwards. On some occasions, she fell. However, there were moments, where I saved her. I saved her from the pain of hitting the ground. I saved her from the natural consequences of her actions. Why? Because, I loved her. Because, I didn’t want to see her experience the pain of falling. Why? Because it hurts and because sometimes falling leaves scars. See with my little ones, I could save them from the consequences of their actions. I could predict, if they continued flailing their arms around during dinner time that the food would be knocked onto the floor. When the food hit the floor, I knew they would cry. So, I would simply remove the food until they were done flailing. I could predict AND I could sometimes save.

I want to do the same for my teens, but I can’t.

They know the rules. They know them, and even if they don’t we warn them. I WARN THEM! I warn them like my four-year old. YOU ARE GOING TO FALL! They don’t listen though. The issue? Before, I could predict and save. Now, I can only predict, but I cannot save them from their actions. Their actions have legitimate consequences now, and I am powerless against the natural laws. As I said another painful goodbye, I escaped to my office and bawled. I cried about feeling powerless. I cried about them leaving. I cried about how hard their lives are. I cried knowing that, they do not know how much I loved them. I cried because they are experiencing pain all over again. All, I want to do is save them and tell them to stop running. However, as they run, I am mute and paralyzed. So, I watch them. I watch them run, and I see them falling. They fall on their faces, dirtied by the mud and bloodied by the gravel tearing their flesh. They know the consequences of their mistakes now, and I did nothing, but warn them.

As I type, I continue to cry. This is my relationship with God. I am the child; He is the parent. Stop running, Tosin. You are going to fall. Guess what? I fall. There I lay dirtied by the mud and bloodied by the gravel tearing into my skin. Unlike me as the parent, God comforts me. He washes me and makes all my ailments better. He is perfect. He predicts. He saves. He comforts.

All this is heavier than words, and more than I could bear.