Last week, in the middle of the Baltimore riots that followed Freddie Gray’s funeral, there was one glimmer of hope, and she came dressed in a yellow tunic and bolero. Like an actual ray of sunshine shouting expletives, Toya Graham pushed through the crowds to get to her son, who was on his way to join the mayhem, and she instantly became both Mom of the Year and an Internet sensation.
I suspect by now you’ve all seen the video. If you haven’t, you need to. And then you need to show it to your teenage sons.
This is the power of Moms.
My favorite part of the video is when Graham, in all her yellow glory, smacks her son, covered head-to-toe in black, over the head. This isn’t because I condone striking children. I don’t. Rather, the mom in me instantly connects with Graham in that moment, when nothing—not cameras, onlookers, nor any parenting manuals on the bedside table—matters. You just want to save your child.
As we watch Graham, we mothers nod in knowing appreciation. Maybe our child hasn’t attempted to join a riot, and maybe we haven’t slapped them over the head on national television, but we have been there, done that all the same. We have smacked the hand of the toddler who is reaching for the oven. We have followed our ornery pre-teen out the front door, yelling the whole way and still wearing a bathrobe. We have chased teenagers up the stairs and threatened to knock down their bedroom door. We have dragged our child out of class to yell at him in the hallway. We have chased our kids down the street on our bikes. We have shown up at parties to take them home. We have cut up drivers’ licenses. We have ripped video game consoles out of the wall and smashed them on the closet floor.
I personally admit to two of the stories above. The others are from mothers I admire. On the outside, we might all look a little crazy. That’s what’s so funny about the video of Graham, right? She looks like she’s completely lost her cool.
But has she?
We live in a society where everyone is afraid to take a stand. Parents worry about their children’s rights when they tell them no. Teachers worry about backlash from parents if they give a bad grade. Even Baltimore’s mayor asked that the rioters be given space to cause destruction.
But not this mom. Not Toya Graham. No, she grabbed her son by the collar of his sweatshirt, dragged him to the other side of the street, and seemed to be telling us, in between expletives, Not my child, not while I still have breath. The mayor said, destroy things if you must. Toya Graham said, over my $%&@ dead body.
I am not a violent person, and aside from the previously mentioned incident with the video game console, I generally strive to parent with a calm and steady head. But if one of my boys was about to do something that might get him arrested, or worse, shot, I can assure you that I’d be jumping on his back, pulling him to the pavement, and sitting on top of him if necessary.
Because I am Mom, and I say no.
I’m sure Graham’s son is embarrassed right now. He shouldn’t be. The truth is, all those other boys, the ones whose moms didn’t slap them over the head, secretly wish their moms had. They know that Graham’s mom loved him enough to bring him home.
Imagine if every parent was brave enough to do the same? Our world might actually be a different place. Because when what you fear most is that look in your mom’s eyes, the one that means you’ve destroyed her and everything she ever wanted for you, there really isn’t anything else to fear. When what you fear is your mother crying in her bathrobe or chasing you down the street, well, at that point, police were just invented for backup.
Graham’s son has a future. We know because of his mom in yellow who dragged him across the street and told him no. I can’t think of any other asset more important in this life than a parent who is willing to do that.
Over the weekend, I showed the video of Graham and her son to my teenagers. The boys chuckled, yes, but they also smiled cautiously. I wondered if they were remembering the video game console incident. Or maybe they realized the video of Graham and my showing it to them was a warning. It was a warning about just how crazy a mom can get when she wants to protect you. It was a reminder, should they forget, that their mom really might chase them down—in a bathrobe or a yellow bolero. And someone might video it. And it will probably go viral.