The Day My Son Heard Someone Use the N Word


I picked up my kids, 9 and 6, and loaded them into the car after a full day of summer day camp. This part of the day is always crazy as they both race to share about their days. It’s a challenge to drive and hear two different stories at the same time. Often their stories lace together and interrupt each other and each child shares at their own pace, recalling different details.

Then I heard it and everything went quiet.

My son said something bad happened today. I knew from his tone that this moment required special listening ears. I quickly decided to keep driving – if he didn’t tell me at pick up or when we first got in the car – he might feel more able to share without me staring at him. Any seasoned parent knows the power of car confessions and how a ride home can be the place to have a deep conversation.

He took a moment and then shared that while playing a dodgeball game at camp earlier in the day he heard something bad. My son heard someone use the N word.

I glanced into the rearview mirror to meet his gaze. In my head, I had a dozen things I wanted to know and went into fact-finding mode. I asked if the counselors heard this exchange. And he shared they didn’t.

Mother looking in rearview mirror of carI asked if he told the counselors. He looked down and said no – he didn’t want to be a tattletale. I paused for what felt like forever as my mind processed the last 30 seconds. I was disappointed. My son has a very strong sense of right and wrong. He has stood up to other kids to right something he thought was wrong. Another child needed support. And the offending child needed to be addressed.

Then I remembered that he is 9 and still learning how to use his voice effectively, especially among mixed-age peer groups. So, I asked with as little emotion in my voice as I could muster… what did you do?

I looked in the mirror again. He was looking down and picking at his fingernails – his nervous habit.

Then he beamed and met my gaze. He shared that he told the child who used the N word that that wasn’t nice. He told him if wanted to get the ball back to play (my son had possession) he needed to apologize. My heart swelled with pride. I asked if the camper apologized. This part nearly made me laugh out loud – he shared they apologized but with an attitude so he told them to apologize again and mean it.

Large group of kids and adults playing dodgeball.I glanced in the rearview mirror again and this time he was waiting for me. He wanted my reaction. He met my gaze. I smiled and profusely thanked him.

Thank you for standing up for others. Thank you for being an advocate for change. I reminded him that change happens because someone is the first to say that’s not ok when they see something wrong.

Parenting is hard. You never know if you are really doing it right until the majority of the work is done. Sometimes you feel like a failure. Sometimes you feel judged. Sometimes you just want to lock yourself in the bathroom with all the chocolate.  And sometimes you get a glimpse that confirms your efforts matter.

My work as a parent is never done. I’ll continue to question things. It’s nice to get these small glimpses into what sort of adults my kids are becoming. Never give up though, parents. Our work is important.


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  1. So raw and so true. What a precious heart he has and strong sense of what’s right or wrong. Great job, mama. And lovely writing! (I have a Liam too😉)

    • Thank you. He’s a pretty amazing (young) man. We are doing our best to help him be the best version of himself.


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