I am a mama bear.
I don't really think I had a choice, to be honest. I can remember defending my younger brother and cousins when we were in school, pouncing on anyone who hurt or threatened them. Once when I was in 5th grade, I slammed a 2nd grader against the lockers because he was picking on my brother. For as long as I can remember, I've always had this innate instinct to protect those I love.
So my kid never stood a chance.
When he was learning to ride a bike, he was covered head to toe in protective gear because wasn't no concrete gonna hurt my baby. When he plays sports I'm the first to jump up to the field if he gets hurt. Even when he was younger and we were at the playground and I would hear his cry of injustice, that scream that would indicate that someone has hurt or wronged my baby, I would spring into action, ready to fight whomever it was that made my baby cry. I am not above confronting toddlers, either.
My love for this boy knows no bounds and I will literally anything to make sure he is safe and protected. And that's how we ended up moving to Japan.
About 2 years ago, we were traveling through Penn Station and my son needed to go to the toilet. So, I pointed him in the right direction and left him to it. Time passes and he hadn’t come back, so I went to investigate to see what was taking so long. I find him wandering around, completely missing it. So I show him where it was before he wet himself.
When he came back I asked him why he didn’t ask the officer that was standing near the bathroom for directions. And he just looked up at me with this look like he was afraid to. And as much as I wanted to tell him that he had nothing to be afraid of, I wasn’t entirely sure that was true.
You see, I have a pretty big kid. He can easily be mistaken for a teenager at his young age of 10. And after the deaths of Mike Brown and Tamir Rice - two children who were approached as grown men and gunned down by police - I knew I needed to do all that I could to keep him safe.
So we moved to one of the safest countries on the planet. But after we got here I was soon confronted with the need to not keep him physically safe anymore but I would now need to fight to preserve his personal identity and sense of self.
So I'm raising a Third Culture Kid, I knew that being in other countries would be a challenge. Especially with him being so young when we moved and being in a place where not many look like him. But the challenge we faced wasn't with the locals, it was at his school.
The place where he spends more time during the week than he does at home, I needed that place to be a safe space of support and acceptance. But instead they were instead sending him messages that what he looks like isn't acceptable.
So, mama bear came out. And I found myself at the school weekly defending my son against a principal who made snide comments and suggesting that his hair could look more mainstream, like everyone else’s. My claws came out when his teacher began to target him and sent him to the principal’s office for reading on the carpet without permission.
I ultimately pulled him from his school and moved him to a place that was more accepting of his individuality.
I know that raising a TCK can have a profound effect on his personal identity, especially in places where not many look like him. But it is my hope that I'm able to help him understand who he is through our travels and by connecting with others. That he can find bits of himself in those who don't speak his language or look like him.
In this journey, I want him to know that he has endless possibilities, but I will challenge anyone who tries to place restrictions on him. I want him to believe in himself and I’m ready to stand up against anyone who makes him question his abilities.
I know that the other side of being a mama bear is allowing him to go off into the world with all that I've taught him. That he will one day apply all the lessons I’ve taught him and walk in the examples I’ve tried to set for him of how to move throughout this world on his own.
One day I’ll be ready. But until that day comes, I'll be there ready with the Vaseline.
Elmeka Henderson is a psychologist, photographer, and mother who is currently living in Japan. She is the creative voice behind Adventures in Raising a Vagabond, a blog that offers a first hand account of a mother traveling with her boy. There, Elmeka offers a unique perspective on not only traveling abroad, but surviving parenthood in a foreign land. You can read more about her at www.adventuresinraisingavagabond.com or follow her on Instagram @elmazing.
Elmeka is also the founder of Raising Vagabonds, a family-centered travel company whose vision is to change the perception of single parent travel by dispelling beliefs and encouraging parents to travel with their children by eradicating barriers and challenging the mindset and misconceptions of family travel. Their mission is to empower parents to break out of their comfort zones and live their best lives unapologetically. Through cultural immersion and community service, Raising Vagabonds helps to strengthen the family bond through adventures and first-hand geography lessons. Visit their website at www.raisingvagabonds.com and follow them on Instagram @raisingvagabonds.