Influencing Their World View Through Travel and a Strong Support Circle

picBy Zerline Hughes

I want these two kids to see the world – and through a plethora of lenses, experiences and people.

My son’s first plane ride was probably around three to six months old to introduce him to my father. He said they “bonded” when me and my mom left for about 30 minutes for an errand. He was back on a plane at nine months old on the same route when my father died. While living in Cambridge, Mass., a very generous friend donated her first class points to me so that I could take JD to Los Angeles to cheer my mom up and take care of business.

My daughter’s first trip: one month old. She and I took a solo trip from L.A. back to Cambridge/Boston to visit friends that were like family.

And we haven’t stopped traveling since then – together and separately. When you take a child out of his or her daily environment, it opens new windows of understanding of the world, according to a parenthood.com article. It’s my hope that these two kids are motivated by what they’ve seen in San Diego, Las Vegas, Costa Rica, Miami, Arizona, the Mexican border, Philadelphia, New York, Chicago, Lake Michigan and understand that if they play their cards right, work hard and do their best to stray away from risky behaviors, that they won’t have an opportunity to fall further in the at-risk category that researchers have already pegged kids like the Js in. I want their world view to be influenced by what they experience early on.

So the next travel destination: New Orleans on Friday (ahem, on a budget, so we’re driving … ack)!

They’re excited. Gumbo (for the girl – a total foodie), jazz (for the boy – a sax player), and get this: we all want to visit Popeye’s to see if NOLA Popeye’s franchises are better than other regions. I’m excited that I get some time with my mom – the kid’s Nonna, who’ll join us from California; and my guy, our second real vacation together … but this time, as a family unit.

The main reason we’re going to NOLA, though, is to maintain my son’s relationship with his Big Brother program mentor, Michael. They met here in Washington, D.C. July 28, 2011. It’s been a great relationship, though it did take some time to get paired up with him. Apparently, there’s not a lot of Big Brother Big Sister National Capital Area volunteers — particularly as Big Brothers — especially African American men. I kinda expected that, so when I filled out the questionnaire back in March 2011, I made sure to fill in the box that said something like “race doesn’t matter,” even though I was hoping JD could have a Big Brother mentor that he could “relate” to and emulate.

Well, it took four months until we got the email that we had a match. But he wasn’t Black. And we alerted like it was an emergency-type of a situation that JD’s match was gay. It wasn’t exactly what I was hoping for, looking for. The outcome: he ended up being exactly what I was hoping for and looking for for my son. All I needed was someone to mentor, look out for, lend an ear to my son.

Some fanatics and psychologists like one from the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality say “fatherless boys and motherless girls need stable, healthy, same-sex adult role models to understand how their gender role fits society as adults.” I quickly debated this when asked whether or I not I wanted JD to be matched with Michael. With a more-than-quick phone conversation with his father in New York, we made the issue a non issue and the boy and I met Michael.

And the rest is history. Nationals baseball games, a Lego convention in Richmond, movies like “The Butler,” “Lincoln” and “The Avengers,” and eateries on M Street, H Street, 16th Street – including frog legs in Alexandria — these two were together every other Saturday spending the quality time my son needed, celebrating their differences, but more important, ignoring their differences and just hanging. When he was sick of being surrounded by his women teachers, and the two females in his household, he could feel comfortable – even in silence – with his Big Brother. As goodmenproject.com stated in an article entitled, “Our Other Brothers: Gay and Straight Men as Friends,” ” … we need more of these brother bonds between gay and straight men … Nurturing and honoring close and lasting friendships with our ‘other brothers’ is an essential way to accomplish that.”

I’m especially thankful for the time when JD was having organization issues last year. Michael took him to Staples to get him post its, folders and other tools to help him better manage his stuff. Not sure if it worked – JD was labeled this year as having “materials management issues,” but the sentiment was just perfect.

And then … one day last fall, my phone rang. He never called. We always texted: “Is he busy next Saturday,” or “He had a great time; thanks.” I could tell something was up. He was moving from DC to NOLA. And immediately for some awesome job transfer. I told him I couldn’t bare to tell the boy myself – he’d have to do it. And so what’s done is done. But there’s been cards, texts, presents and voicemails.

Now, we’re going to visit him … in NOLA. (Glad he didn’t move to Iowa — that would’ve been so much less exciting.)

We’re looking forward to having a family reunion of sorts, but also to have the two hang out together – like the good old days. And I’m looking forward to once again reminding these kids of the options and opportunities they have thanks to their support system of mentors like Michael, and family members like their grandmother and father — all long distances away but available and accessible — and a spouse that has stepped in and up to the plate.

It’s all about influencing their world view through travel and the very many people in our circle that agree that the Js are not bound for those negative statistics. Not These Two.

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