Lean in, Boys

As a white mom raising two Korean sons with my white husband, I move between parent and educator. When the boys were very young, I realized that my primary concern was with my family, not to the nosy-Bettys in check-out lines or to Liam’s former dermatologist who had the audacity to ask how much my kids cost – in front of my kids. “Priceless,” dosed out with an enormous smile, was the only protective word necessary with these ignorant yahoos. Some adoptive parents can turn it to a question, “Why do you ask?” instead of providing an answer. I’m not that quick on my feet, nor do I really want to engage in further conversations with people like this. As the boys got older, they found their own protection strategies. When Liam was in first grade, perhaps more knowledge would have kept a little boy from derogatorily calling Liam “China-man.” Liam looked at the kid as if he had two heads and asserted, “I’m Korean! And, so what if I was Chinese?!? What does that have to do with anything?” Liam retold this story to me right after it happened, and every time I revisit it, I visualize Liam standing up tall and maybe chasing the kid down to make sure he hears every word. I’m convinced he will keep that gusto the rest of his life.

As for Will in these situations, he is quieter in spirit but has a definitive look that says, ‘I can’t believe you’re that ignorant,’ and will walk away from the comment, the person, or the situation. He’s the quiet assessor; a vigilant protector of his time and brain space. Having said that, he has been engaging freely in political debate with other students and adults since November. If they have the where-with-all to keep up with him, more power to them. Forever he has wanted to be a rocket scientist, but more and more I hear an attorney when he steps up to defend his political position.

Bill and I are perched on an uncomfortable edge of these candid political discussions that Will pursues. Our socially acceptable parameters go along the lines of the old – and probably now extremely outdated – avoid religion and politics as part of casual small talk. More often recently because of the uncanny way our jaw drops at some comments. It’s an involuntary physical reaction; mine is accompanied by wide eyes and an eyebrow raise. And, all words that might pass over my tongue simply evaporate.

Will’s, not so much. His eyes are piercing, ready for the debate. I think our kids are part of a generation more comfortable at openly stating their opinions without the burden of overly analyzing social acceptability. When Bill and I suggested to Will to be careful in approaching certain topics within different social settings, we were given a look that challenged all the niceties I grew up with as a shy girl. The look was followed by, “Really?” To which I had no answer.

In one word – and with that look, Will assessed his worldview and my evolving socially-acceptable world view.

Lean in, boys. Lean in.