He stood there asking if he could ride his bike to the middle school and back. He’s a smart kid, solidly build for an amateur soccer player, quiet, one of my favorite boys. He was mostly dependable for a teenager. The oldest and more responsible than we seem to give him credit.
“Ma, just to the school across the field and back. One big rectangle.” I knew the route. I walked it most mornings myself. But the only answer I could muster was a few slow blinks. “It’ll be the three of us. Jasper, Lil Jay, and me.”
Those conditions really didn’t help his case. Here’s my 14-year-old standing in the doorway, excited about his new Ription Newboy bicycle with a simple request, to ride it beyond our block and into the only neighborhood he’s ever lived in with friends he’s known for six years.
And all I could do was blink my eyes.
“Maaaa, come on! They’re waiting!” He’s bouncing impatiently like the kid he is.
I’m trying to give him something. A simple, “No you can’t,” should be sufficient, right? I am the mother. I can take the liberty to say, “no,” even a “hell no,” without explanation. Right?
Because now is not the time for me to tell him how to react if a cop pulls up-on them. I don’t want to teach fear today. Not now, right? I tell myself, quickly that I don’t have to because we are here in this safe multiracial, middle-class Baton Rouge neighborhood, right? “How many times around the school?”
“Just two times, ma. Two. And I’ll shout out when I pass the house.”
My mind is having this whirlwind of a conversation and his eyes are growing bigger.
This is Baton Rouge, Candace. Post-Alton Sterling, Baton Rouge. Post-beat-the-peaceful-protestors, Baton Rouge, and the current shoot-you-in-the-head-because-I-have-no-hope, Baton Rouge…Where homicides are three neighborhoods too close and up almost 80 percent. (Those are the facts.)
I moan something painful and he crinkled his nose but dared to challenge me—because he’s still a smart kid.
“Do. You. Have…your…phone…” I asked really deliberately, trying to sound confident.
He released the door, inadvertently slamming it against the axle of the new tire as he fled pass me and through the kitchen.
He just wants to ride his bike.
He comes back with his phone in hand and shows me that its on the home screen and not Pokemon.
A brick forms in my throat.
I resist the urge to say the my Save Your Son 20-Step Plan but the words bounce in my mind:
- If a KKKop comes up, you start recording! say Yes, sir. Stay polite!
- Put your earphones in and ignore any cars that pull up on you!
- You don’t have to answer if someone shouts at y’all.
- You keep rolling and tell your friends don’t stop.
- You are the leader.
- You are responsible! Protect yourself.
- Be smart and make it back home!
Instead, I just looked in his eyes, willing myself to believe that this is not—–absolutely not–—the last time I will see him.
Because he just wants to ride his new bike.
I swear that I must have squeezed my eyes using every morsel of fear my brain contained and tried to stop my Save Your Son Plan from rolling out of my mouth.
And I did stop myself.
I struggled but I stopped.
“Okay.” “Two times only. You hear me?!”
He jumped-turned and ran out the door. Jasper and Lil Jay were waiting.
They only wanted to ride their bikes.