Race for the Cure: How it helps teach my son compassion

5:22 p.m Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2018 Community
Leslie Gray Streeter, son Brooks, and NewsChannel 5’s Michael Williams count down to the Family Fun Race at the Komen Race For The Cure.

“So why was it important for your son to be here with you at the Komen Race for the Cure?”

My official answer to this question, posed by cheerful WPTV NewsChannel 5 anchors Kelley Dunn and Michael Williams, is that I wanted my 4-year-old-son Brooks to be a part of his community. So he served as my co-Grand Marshal for the 1-Mile Family Fun Walk at the annual breast cancer awareness event last weekend.

I explained that I’d told him we were raising money to help people who were sick, including a lot of mommies and daddies, and that maybe in the future none of them would have to be sick that way.

The short answer? You’re never too young to start caring about other people. When you don’t learn that early, you become a jerk. And I don’t want my kid to be a jerk.

This isn’t Brooks’ first Race for the Cure. In 2017, he got to stand in the bed of a pickup truck and blow the air horn to start the Kids Run, and events where you hang out in a truck and make loud noises are like Oscar Night for a three-year-old. It was also the last year he was small enough for me to push him in the running stroller, so we ran-walked the 5k, although he was very concerned that other people were beating us. (“Everyone is beating us, because we are slow,” I explained.)

But when we were asked to help lead the Family Fun Walk, one of several events in which more than 11,000 people hit Flagler Drive in their pink gear, I knew Brooks was going to get it in a different way than last year.

Not only can he comprehend more, but sadly he knows what sick means. He lost his dad before his second birthday, and though it was heart disease and not cancer, he knows what this is about. I’m bereft that he has to absorb that.

Last Saturday, during the Race for the Cure, he asked about someone’s “In Memoriam” T-shirt. I told him that the wearer’s mommy had been sick and she was walking for her. His eyes got wide and he nodded.

He seemed to care.

I just want him to care.

In this incredibly plugged-in age, it’s hard to raise a kid to engage with their community, let alone give back to it, when they’re socialized to be mostly engaged with their tablets and Playstations. Every other day, I read about some empathy-free idiot who did something dumb for clicks, like YouTuber Logan Paul terrorizing Japanese pedestrians and thinking it was a good idea to film in a suicide forest, and I think “Oh, Lord, who were their parents?”

I don’t want anyone thinking that about my son. He might grow up to be a complete jackass in some other way, but hopefully it won’t be because of me. I’m not a saint, trust me. I see families who go on humanitarian mission trips to Haiti, or who eschew things like vacations and sports lessons to donate that money to the homeless. So far, we have not been that family.

But we talk to him about homelessness, about the people he saw displaced by hurricanes on TV. We explain why we give clothes and toys he doesn’t use anymore, and some stuff we buy new that he’d like to play with, and give it to kids whose moms and dads might not be able to buy it for him. We insist on “Please” and “Thank you,” on making eye contact with people who speak to us. Seeing other people, really seeing them, helps us see them as people and not just props in our social media campaign.

It’s not that he’s always delightful, because he’s a four-year-old human. But I can see he’s listening. Last month, when a dear neighbor’s baby shower invitation asked guests to give a children’s book we’d enjoyed, I reached for a pile of things he doesn’t seem interested in, but instead Brooks went down the hall and got one he’d wanted to hear every night. It was truly an act of kindness, and selflessness, and he probably did something annoying ten minutes later that made me want to temporarily hole up in my dark room with wine and mashed potatoes.

But mostly, Brooks is a nice kid. And he will be nicer, I believe, the more he is in service to others. I want him to know that the borrowed pink hoodie he wore to count down the Family Fun Walk (he said “six” twice, but it was cute) or my pink scarf were symbols of a movement that helps people. And as much fun as he had, we were there because all those people were trying to save lives, maybe their own.

He might not get all of that right now. But he’s going to.