I want you to imagine a circumstance where you can do the following: Pay just over $100 to apply for membership at a local swimming hole, wait for approval of the membership for upwards of three years, and then, once accepted, you start paying just a little under $300 a year to use said swimming hole. This swimming hole is, literally, a small beach on a small lake surrounded by million-dollar houses. It has no snack bar, no pretty docks, no tiki huts, no swim-up bar… it is a no frills establishment.
I’m learning that exclusive spaces are the hallmark of the New England suburbs. I visited one on Monday and I just can’t get it out of my mind.
At the invitation of one of the other preschool moms, I drove my two boys to a part of town I’ve never seen before, turned down an unmarked driveway, and found myself on top of a hill looking down at a perfectly clear and beautiful lake. The water was fresh, the sand was clean, the view was spectacular and the feeling of being away from it all was so relaxing. I let my hair down, watched my children (the only color walking, as usual) enjoy themselves immensely, and for a couple minutes I forgot the stresses of being a mother of two toddlers.
But the critical thinker in me was running wild, contemplating a damn big question: If this could be financially possible (and Lord knows, it ain’t at the moment), is this how I want to raise my boys?
Is “exclusive” what we value as a family? Did I cherish the moment because I was a part of an exclusive club for a day or because my boys were free to be boys in a beautiful place for a beautiful moment in time?
Giving my sons access to the world an echelon above what my husband and I experienced when we were young is exactly what I’ve been working hard for. I want my boys to understand that they are worthy to traverse such a world should they so choose to. What I am still not prepared for, however, is how I am going to reconcile the value systems between what we’ve got going on at home (“That good home trainin’”—ya’ll know what I’m talking about) and what they are going to experience out there. The children who my sons go to school with right now with will always have that lake, will always be a part of that community. My sons will only be mere visitors… at least, until the invitations stop. Not because they are poor, but because they are part of a family that is comfortable but not rich. Even if I wanted to keep up with those Jonses, I can’t: That lake only offers membership to citizens of that town… and our lovely home is in the next town over.
So what happens when the invitations stop coming? When my boys transition from “the cute little boys in the preschool” to “those black boys that my kids know”? I know that day will come eventually, and these liberal white-folks can shake their heads all they want, but I know them better than they know themselves. What happens when my boys realize that I can’t provide them access to that kind of luxury, and though we may have some resources, they are, indeed, limited in nature?
Whereas I am proud of our accomplishments and our choices, I cannot help but feel frustrated about seeing that our best efforts still present limitations in the face of the privilege all around us. It also presents the scariest question of all for me: If we continue to strive to introduce our boys to more and more of the privileged world around us, at what point will they break away from the values that got us here to begin with? At what point does giving access and presenting opportunity turn into snobbery and exclusivity? At what point do I stop grooming great men to do great things and instead start creating over-privileged monsters?
This, I’m afraid, is the nightmare that I never anticipated. Am I thinking too hard?
K.C. Wise is a married Millennial Mom raising two bi-racial (B/W) boys in suburban Massachusetts. You can find out her thoughts about mothering, homemaking, writing, renovating a 100 year-old farmhouse and other musings at her blog:blackbunchedmassmom.wordpress.com.