Last weekend my unusually smart, witty, and cute niece, Kennedy, came over. It was right after I’d gotten off and I hadn’t done my grocery shopping. My son wasn’t home, which meant, if I was going to grab us something, I would have to take her. The old me, you know the one who used to leave her five-year-old son at home alone all the time, would have left her here and quickly ran across the street to Fiesta. But the older, more mature me who now realizes I should have never done that to my son, got dressed and made her come. As we walked down the dark alley, she quickly grabbed my hand. This caught me totally off guard for two reasons. One, because I’m not used to hand holding. I’ve been celibate for 15 years and two, she was 11. At first, I thought she was ‘too big’ to be holding my hand. But then I had to check myself and so should you.
You see, in that moment, I had to realize that my niece had been raised right. In that, she’d never experienced what it was like to be outside, after dark, in the hood. My heart ached as I thought of all the preteens who couldn't say the same. As we walked onto the main street, her grasp got even tighter, to which, I once again had to resist the temptation to pull away. Why? Because if you were raised in an ‘urban area’, then any sign of timidity or greenness will be preyed upon. We’ve been programmed to show no affection and need for protection; even if it is your child. But whether you were raised in the hood or suburbia, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked down the street or been in the store and watched as three or four-year-old’s frantically walk alongside their parent. The guardian doesn’t do it intentionally. We just assume that the child is old enough to walk without assistance. And though they are, they may still need our protection.
My niece is my height, so it wasn’t that she couldn’t walk alongside me. She just didn’t feel comfortable enough to do so. As I kept walking, I realized that her holding my arm was her way of saying she wasn’t ready. I saw that though she was physically able to walk alone, she wasn't mentally. To which, I had to let my toughness go, oversee her greenness and protect her innocence. My deceased father taught me to always look a man in his eye. But now was not the time to pass down a lesson from her grandfather. I had to ensure she stayed green – naïve to how to handle herself on the streets, at night. And though she needs to learn, now was not the time.
What she needed to know, was that as her Aunt, I would protect her. Which is why I’m saying to you, let’s protect the innocence of our youth. Yes, they need the real and yes, we have to teach them. But can they enjoy their childhood a little longer? Do I wish that my mother didn’t leave me at home at six with my two-month baby brother while she went to work? Absolutely. Maybe I wouldn’t have been as grown as she said I was. But I was only being what she forced me to be.
Parents, let's not force our youth to become adults too soon. They have the rest of their lives to be grown. Let’s let our children be children. Ponytails, toys, and all. There will be a time when we have to keep it 100. But for now, let’s just enjoy them at 11! S/O to Jennifer and Lois. Great job!
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