We were entering the Battery Park Metro entrance in Manhattan, heading home after a long day enjoying the city. Because of some confusion with our tickets, a few of our group (including Small Sun) went in one entrance, and the rest of us came through the entrance on the other side.
As we came through the turn style, one by one, Small Sun gave it a pat, feeling like he was helping to turn it.
I saw the man across the way, watching Small Sun, disapproving.
"That kid, that kid is messing with the turn style. Hey kid, don't do that." he called out, annoyed.
"Whose kid is that? Whose kid is that anyway?" he asked, looking around.
Just then it was my turn, and I swung through. "He's MY SON. I'M his mother." I asserted.
"Your kid's messing with the turn style. He's blocking the people." he insisted.
"All these people are his family. Every single one, and he's not bothering us." I gestured to our group, seven strong, oblivious to the child "blocking them."
"Well, he shouldn't mess with the turn style." he insisted, as I turned my back to him, a protective arm around Small Sun, walking on.
I have always hated the term and the concept of helicopter parenting, and yet being a white mother to a Black son, I have spent his childhood hovering at the playground, keeping my ears on all the time, and keeping him close in the shops.
From early on, I could see people looking around at the playground while he played. "Where is this kid's mother?" They wondered. He wasn't in any danger, he didn't need my help, they just couldn't "match" him with anyone. I get the maternal instinct to worry about a kid that seems unsupervised. I have been known to check on a child who seems alone at the park "are your people here?"
When I see people doing the scan, I call out "hey babe, how's it going?" just to let them know I'm there. In Sydney that's all it was. People see that the child has an adult with them. Check. Move on. No big deal.
Small Sun is eight years old, adorably snaggle toothed and precocious. I've heard so many other mothers with Black children talk about the day it changes - the day their sweet boy becomes a perceived threat - someone to be followed in the store, someone to avoid on the street, someone who might not want to walk around at night wearing a hoodie.
We're not there yet, and don't we all wish that day will never come? My Australian passport sits at the top of my drawer - an exit door to safety. None of my Australian friends would think twice about my son taking their daughter for the school dance and are horrified that is even a thing to think about here.
That man in New York upset me. I hurried forward to throw my privilege like a blanket over my son. He was just being a kid in a new environment, having fun, but some stranger felt comfortable to try question him and bring him into line.
What happens when we are not there, seven strong, well dressed and able to put someone in their place?
These are worries I carry for my Black son that I don't carry for my white son. This is part of transracial parenting. This is part of being male and Black in America. I wish that it wasn't.