My Son, the Activist

 Pictured: Claire Gastañaga, Exec Director of ACLUVA & Henry. Article by Karen Newton, photo by Scott Elmquist.

Pictured: Claire Gastañaga, Exec Director of ACLUVA & Henry. Article by Karen Newton, photo by Scott Elmquist.

Yesterday I suggested to Henry, my 12 year-old son, that we go swimming and exploring at Pocahontas State Park during one of the rare days we both have free this summer. "That sounds fun, mom," he said. "But can we take a tour of the Capitol first?" And then he spent the rest of the afternoon writing to area Legislators and Delegates requesting interviews so he can write essays, create petitions and be ready to return to the Facebook group he created ACLU People Power- Richmond, VA, that Facebook won't allow him to return to for 3 more months, when he turns 13. 

    Photo by Phuong Tran of the ACLU of VA.

 

Photo by Phuong Tran of the ACLU of VA.

Let's just say this is not how I spent my summer afternoons when I was 12. Hot on my list? Being the drummer in a Madonna cover band, jelly shoes, 21 Jump Street posters of Johnny Depp, acid washed jeans, chocolate now-n-laters, Guiding Light, Uptown Girl by Billy Joel, anything by Wham, blue eyeliner and sewing my own pair of Jams culotte shorts. 

A few weeks ago when I posted the Style Weekly article about Write for Your Writes, the Henry event organized through the ACLU, an Instagram friend commented that she and her son like watching Star Wars and having feelings and that Henry was giving her a complex. ME TOO, I replied. Just a few days ago Henry and I had a battle over whether to indulge his obsession, planning Constitution Day (Sept. 17...save the date!!) and talking about Constitutional Law at the library, or my obsession, buying a futon for 50% off at the Sears going-out-of-business sale. I texted our conundrum to my friend Tim who texted back, "Life is really just a balance between Constitutional Law and futons." TRUTH, I replied. 

Most confounding of all, people keep trying to give the credit for Henry's accomplishments to me, Stan, or a combination of us two. I wish we could take the credit here, but Henry surpassed us in both intelligence and practicality when at 8 years old, one of the few things he requested for Christmas was a professional organizer to come in and clean his room. True, Stan reads physics textbooks in the bathroom and I love creating events, but we were just as happy when at three he wanted to be a bowling alley repairman. 

 Photo by Phuong Tran of the ACLU of VA.

Photo by Phuong Tran of the ACLU of VA.

However, the speech he gave on August 6 at Write for Your Rights suggested he might be on a different career track altogether.

"I have always been concerned about Henry. He has shown signs of lawyerliness all along, I just didn't want to say anything," messaged a friend who has known him since birth, and is also a lawyer. "But you can turn it into a blessing. In fact, I've never been prouder of my profession," she continued. Which is good news because, of all his recent aspirations he most wants to become a lawyer for the ACLU. A job he says that can actually uphold the law, protect justice and effect change. 

 

While Henry is clear on his job, as his mother I am still figuring out mine. How to have conversations about being called a moron, autistic, a crazy liberal and even a ginger without any soul who is going to join Isis by complete strangers online. How to protect and encourage without pushing or smothering. How to be proud and supportive without turning into what I feel like on the inside: one of those moms from Toddler's and Tiara's. I know for sure I can continue to encourage the hell out of him the same way my mom encouraged the hell out of me. I know I can love him unconditionally and provide a safe place for him to be, to fall, to thrive. I know I can be a cheerleader for him, his friends and anyone else striving to protect civil liberties. I guess that's all we can do and if we continue to take care of and love ourselves and each other, that will be enough. 

 

Valley HaggardComment