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Editor’s note: This piece contains discussion of racist and discriminatory statements and behaviours, as well as the names of First Nations people who have died.

a photograph of a young dark-skinned girl in a red swimsuit smiling in a pool.

Courtney as a child. Image: Supplied

I am scared of having children.

When people hear me say that, I think they assume that it’s a money or maturity problem. The thing is, having children isn’t as scary as it used to be. I’m closer to 30 than I’d care to say, so a positive pregnancy test wouldn’t be met with fear and a ‘what are you going to do now?!’ My parents would be pretty thrilled, my sister even more so. I’ve been told I’ll be a good mum. I’ve been called the ‘mum friend’ for years. There’s always a band-aid in my bag, as well as a lolly to make everything better. I don’t shy away from children. I’m the Aunty playing hide and seek on the playground that’s not made for me. I’m pretty good at hide and seek, if I do say so myself.

I’ve witnessed friends completely blossom into parenting, visiting with a diaper bag and the toy of the month. I’ve watched far too many episodes of Bluey and Cocomelon as I’ve chatted to them. I’ve loved seeing their children grow from babies to toddlers to school kids. I’ve held little hands with little fingernails, marvelling at how small and delicate they are. It’s almost magical watching those little babies grow into personalities, making me laugh as I see my friend reflected in a tiny face.

There’s so much I want to do with my children. I want to teach them about their culture, their language, their land, and their connection to it all.

There’s so much I want to do with my children. I want to teach them about their culture, their language, their land, and their connection to it all. I want them to run and weave in between trees and bushes, hair flying back, knowing they are protected by their great-grandfather and all those before him. I want them to have the connection to Country that I didn’t have until I was much older. They’ll breathe on Country the way I did when I first got there. Watching the sun beat down on the horizon, it felt like I had taken my first solid, safe breath. I want my children to do that too.

sunset over the ocean.

Port Noarlunga, on Kaurna country. Image: Supplied

I want them to find safety in water, the same way my whole family does. It’s part of where we come from. Ocean, river, fishing, swimming. We’ve always lived near water, either beaches or rivers. I want my children to dip their toes in the Coorong and know that their ancestors were, and still are, there. They’ll hopefully be able to smell when rain is coming. Maybe they’ll be able to do what my Grandad did and know where the best fishing spot is just by looking at the water. I can’t wait to see how stress leaves their shoulders when they’re soothed by the sound of waves hitting the surface of the world.

But they’ll be Aboriginal. They’ll be Blak.

So there is a feeling sitting in my heart. Fear. I’m afraid of what I’ll have to teach my children. They’ll exist in a society that was not made for them. There will be people who hate them for honestly no reason. I don’t want them to wish they weren’t Blak—being who they are is something to be proud of, something they should scream from the rooftops.

I don’t want to tell them about how my primary school friend’s mother criticised my costume at Book Week. Once upon a time I got to wear a Snow White outfit that we borrowed from my mother’s work; I’d been so excited to wear the yellow skirt with the blue shirt, and the red bow in my hair. I had packed an apple in my lunch box. I was five, and that mother made sure I heard that I didn’t really look like Snow White. The excitement that had radiated from me was extinguished.

I don’t know how to tell my children that they are going to be pigeon-holed into playing Moana, Aladdin, or Jasmine. People might say ‘but they’re the same colour as you’. I will have to teach my children that they’re not Polynesian or Arab, they are Ngarrindjeri—and though they might connect to those characters, it’s not right to be placed with them just because of the colour of their skin. I’ll have to teach them to be brave because back then I wasn’t, and I wish I had been.

I’m afraid of what I’ll have to teach my children. They’ll exist in a society that was not made for them.

I don’t know how I’m going to teach my children about the people that will assume the worst about them based on how they look. What about the ones who will judge them, yell at them, or use their power to make them as uncomfortable as possible?

Will I have to tell them the story of a security guard yanking my bag from my shoulders and emptying the contents on the floor because he assumed I’d stolen something? I hadn’t, by the way. I remember the backpack so clearly, a purple Billabong one that I scrawled on in black permanent marker. Quotes, names, lyrics. It was supposed to be a representation of me. I watched it in his hands getting absolutely thrown about, saw my lined English book sprawled onto the ground next to my pencil case, the one with frangipanis that I’d chosen earlier that year. I’d never been treated like that before. I didn’t know he didn’t have the right to do that, I just felt a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. He seemed to take my silence as an admission of guilt so he held up a half-used eyeliner and accused me of stealing it. You would have thought that he’d found gold. My 13-year-old voice shook as I said that I didn’t have the receipt because my mum bought it for me.

He did let me go because he couldn’t prove it came from there. The brand had rubbed off, that was how long I’d had it. Since that moment, I’ve always, always kept my receipts in my bag. I know it’s a waste of paper. I know that I will eventually throw them away. But I also know that I’m going to teach my children to do the same, so no one can ever accuse them of something they didn’t do. I won’t let someone try to have that power over them.

No one warned me about something like that happening when I was a kid. It was never a lesson; you just had to experience it and see how you dealt with it. I cried. A friend of mine ran and never went back, even though they hadn’t done anything. Another friend told them to fuck off and got detained by security for hours, waiting for the police. Who found nothing, by the way.

It is interesting that our small group of Aboriginal friends all had that experience. Having to sit through accusation after accusation, a lump growing in your throat, trying to work out if you should say something, anything to stop the pain in your chest. Often at an age when we were still finding our voices. It took a long time until I felt like I could say anything, and even that comes with danger.

I don’t know how to teach a child that their skin colour is going to test them, hurt them and empower them all through their life.

Perhaps one day I will let my guard down. Perhaps one day things will change enough that my love will outweigh my fear.

I am going to have to navigate so many conversations with them, even when they’re children, about where they come from and what they will need to do to survive. I will have to tell them that there is always a white person who needs to you to prove who you are. There is always a white person asking if you belong. Then they’ll ask about ‘benefits’. It doesn’t matter to them if they’re being offensive or that they’re talking about an extremely uneducated stereotype.

I might teach my children to reply, ‘I don’t really consider intergenerational trauma a benefit.’

While I do enjoy thinking up crafty zingers for my children, they’re so beautifully non-existent that I don’t have to worry just yet. However, I always ask myself: Could I do it? Could I forgive myself for having them, for putting them into this world?

But there is also so much in this world that I want them to know and be a part of: comfort, love, and home.

What about when they experience the family that will love them the moment they learn of their existence? Sitting at the table, grinning, as laughter and love surround them? My children will be so loved, the same way we all were. Hands will squeeze their cheeks as they’re told to take more food. They’ll play games, running through the house, breaking the rules that I never could. Let’s face it, the grandchildren always get away with more than the children. On Easter they’ll be spoiled with lollies and toys and hopefully pyjamas, because I’m sure they’ll get my inability to have milk and chocolate. There will be holidays and road trips and learning about different cultures, just like I did. There will be Keen’s curried sausages and $1.50 bread for a quick dinner, and I know that’ll end up being their comfort food. There will also be fights and tantrums and sneaking into places that we said they couldn’t go. I’ll enjoy those too, because children grow up too fast to be angry with them all the time.

That’s the thing, isn’t it? At the end of the day, I want to be a mother. I want to be a part of that world. I want it so bad that my heart aches. I want to squeeze little feet and hold my children tightly in my arms as I repeat how much I love them. I want to clean up messes, and to tear up as I watch them grow and learn. I want to put this love in my heart somewhere. But I worry I would never be able to forgive myself for bringing children into a world in which they are not safe, not really. And that’s the problem.

Perhaps one day I will let my guard down. Perhaps one day things will change enough that my love will outweigh my fear. But for now, I can’t stop seeing their names. Cassius. Kumanjayi. Jayden. Ronaldo. These are only a few. The names I could mention would go on for pages, and I just can’t be someone whose son or daughter could be added to that list.

I’m too scared.

The fee for this article has been donated to the Cassius Turvey Fund and the Dhadjowa Foundation—Stop Black Deaths in Custody.

​​This piece was commissioned and edited by KYD First Nations Editor-in-Residence Nadia Johansen, in partnership with State Library of Queensland’s black&write! Indigenous Writing and Editing project.

Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander writers can submit pitches to KYD’s First Nations Editors-in-residence here