Bernie and I never discuss our personal political views with our kids (or anyone, really). Both boys have pestered us on and off as to how we were voting. But since that first Republican debate in the summer of 2015, we’ve been turning that question around.
What would you do?
Of course, that was after the first of hundreds of devastating questions like, “what’s abortion?” Ooof. No matter how firmly I stand in defense of women between her bits and the government, a 10 year old asking with incredulous horror, “…so they kill the baby?” cannot (and should not) be dissuaded from a staunchly pro-life world view. Ten year olds aren’t ready for the complicated ugliness of partisan politics (are any of us?), and so Bernie and I only allowed them to watch from the sidelines, trying to answer their questions impartially about why everyone seemed so angry all of the time.
Kids have the best bullshit meters and it was refreshing to hear their untainted opinions. Bernie Sanders seems like a good guy. All of that stuff about Hillary can’t be true… but some of it probably is. The way Trump says, “China” is hilarious, but even the first graders at their school are better public speakers. They also would have appreciated being spared many dinnertime discussions about how to talk about and treat girls. They stayed up past school night bedtimes to watch adults shout into their echo chambers and not always tell the truth. As parents, our job was to explain, offer perspective, and to make sure they felt safe—to remind them that our American system has checks and balances. That no matter what, it was all going to be okay. We didn’t want them out in the world adding to the vitriol with parroted ideas from their parents. We tell them that expressing strong political opinions in public is impolite as it frequently devolves into more personal criticisms that are unkind. Kids understand unkindness better than we do.
On Tuesday morning, my thoughtful kid who has watched many hours of partisan news from both sides (when we let him) wondered aloud if we were even planning to vote this year.
I don’t think I’d vote for either of them, mom.
I think a lot of grown ups feel that way, too, kiddo.
So many months of nightly he-said-that, she-did-this news was impossible to shield from our fledgling teens. Even if we had turned off the TV and la la la clasped hands over our ears, they would have heard it all at school, or seen it on their phones. Their friends are old enough now to order their own red trucker hats on line or change their Instagram avis to H-arrows. Their teachers were sensitive to the fact that these small-ish, non-voting citizens might have feelings to share on Wednesday. Brodie’s history teacher devoted time to field their questions about the whys and hows of the electoral college. I was happy to hear that none of the kids was a gloating asshole, and devastated that some of these 13-year-old boys were fighting back tears.
That morning, after asking us for the umpteenth time how we voted and if we were happy or sad or angry, we told them the truth: we’re exhausted.
But mom, are you sad that a woman wasn’t elected?
And that was sweet. I’m the only girl in this house of leave-socks-everywhere boys. And I answered honestly. Yeah, a bit. But I’m also looking forward to a less complicated, future female candidate that lifts us up, unites us in spirit, and wears Chanel. (I’m not wearing a pantsuit for anyone. Ever.) We told them that there would be some sadness at school that day—that many of their teachers and 60% of voters in their home state were devastated by the election results. I drove them in, reminding them to be extra kind and gentle with everyone.
The cutest post in my feeds was the reaction of an adorable 6th grader whose response to surprising results was this:
Since Hillary didn’t win, I could still be the first woman president… couldn’t I?
You betcha, cutie. I hope it happens sooner than that, though. Also, let’s be honest, even a 12 year old might have some problematic images in her Instagram feed that would preclude future presidential electability– yet another reminder that what we are posting in the interspaces is written with a Sharpie.
Aside: I think people should be fined one hour of community service or $25 dollars to a non-profit for every negative meme they post. Really, quit it with those. If Michael Moore is right (and I think he is), this sort of cut and paste righteous anger is only reaching your bubble-mates who already agree with you.
I hope most of you have experienced what I have in the past few days: people hugging each other and saying hello and sharing morning after stories with kindness and hope. There’s a kind of steel-your-girders attitude in my little circles: take a deep breath, and dive back into the work of making the world a little prettier, safer, more fair. Steve has offered to help Julie get press for her incredible nonprofit to offer an inspirational biology course to kids from low performing schools. Kyra wants to know if we can swap stories about our do-gooding efforts to see where they overlap—maybe we can do more, give more? Jenny, the director of the Brookline Community Foundation, wanted to know how my kids were processing all of this (lots of you have asked that), and had seven great ideas on how to raise more awareness that 13% of our affluent town is living in poverty… and how to better assist those kids living in public housing. Al made five strangers laugh in the supermarket.
Though it is entirely American (thanks, Veterans!) to peaceably protest right now, I do hope we’ll pop our bubbles and go make each other laugh in the supermarket no matter what bumper stickers adorn our minivans. If you cannot shake the feeling that dark times are ahead, but you knew there were so many outlets for change that need all of us, I return to the question I posed to my boys back in 2015:
What would you do?
What will you do? Here’s what Kyra wrote:
Between the blog, Facebook, church coffee hours, the various fundraisers that both of us attend, not to mention the intimate moments that we have with our friends over wine, I’m hoping that we can make a network of nourishment and light for the local causes that will desperately need us right now. Would you be willing to work with me on this?
You betcha, cutie.