What Do We tell the Children?

November 9, 2016, 4am.

I wake up having to go to the bathroom. My head is hazy. I feel anxious, but I don’t know why. I wake a bit more. I remember falling asleep around 12 midnight after watching in disbelief as Chuck Todd’s electoral map of the U.S. grew redder and redder. I take a deep breath, lean over the side of my bed, and look at my phone. And the image I see is burned into my brain forever: “Donald Trump has won the U.S. election.” With a circular picture of a smug orange face smiling back at me. I am overcome with more anxiety.

I walk to the bathroom, now wide awake. I stand quietly for a moment, listening to the rare quietude in my home. For once, everyone is asleep. And they don’t know. And as long as they don’t know, then perhaps it isn’t true?

Back in bed I’m wide awake. I tune into Facebook where I find others who are awake like me trying to grapple with the news. I reach out, trying to grasp at some sort of reality. “Are you serious? Am I suppose to go back to sleep now?” Several of my blurry eyed friends like my status immediately.

A friend has posted an article from the Huffington Post on her page. “What Do We Tell the Children?” I read it voraciously. I repost it on my page. “This is what I’ve been trying to figure out for the last 8 hours…what do we tell the children?”

I put my phone down and look over at the coinhabitants of my bed. My husband of 12 years, and my sweet sensitive 7 year old little boy who has been struggling with such severe anxiety that he cannot get through a night without climbing into our bed for “protection” despite countless efforts on all of our parts to remedy the situation. He doesn’t realize that there is only so much protection I can offer. And now less than ever.

What do we tell the children? My husband stirs. It has to happen. I need to shatter the peaceful quietude with a dose of reality. I can no longer shoulder this alone. For the first time I say the words aloud. “Trump won.”

What do we tell the children? Because in my house there is a 1:1 ratio of adults to children, we spilt forces in the morning and my husband is in charge of getting the sweet sensitive 7 year old to the bus stop. Early. Will he share the news? He decides, no, mornings are hard enough. Give him some time to live in the ignorant bliss we experienced just minutes prior. We can talk about it later. I know there will be plenty of talk at school.

The haze in my brain of early morning does not lift throughout the day, despite multiple cups of coffee. In that haze I drive my 4 year old to preschool. What do we tell the children? I go with my husband’s tact and tell him nothing. I forget to change the radio station away from NPR. He asks. “Did Donald Frump win?” Yes, he won. “Yay! I ruv Donald Frump!” Ok… that was easy.

I muddle through my haze into the preschool and kiss my preschooler goodbye. I walk back to my car and sigh a big sigh. And turn NPR back on. I need to hear it. I need to grasp this reality. I feel tired, depleted, hopeless. I cry.

Back home I go into a cleaning frenzy, clearing out the kids’ playroom. Organizing toys, eliminating clutter. I think about the “back school” I attended at physical therapy last week teaching me the correct way to bend to take care of my healing back after a bad car accident. It dawns on me: Physical Therapy! Don’t I have an appointment today?! I grab my google calendar. Sure enough. 10:30 appointment. It’s 10:20. I jump in the car and fly across town.

I’m still cloudy. Still confused. I walk into the now so familiar physical therapy building expecting something different. Something darker, more foreboding. But everything is the same. The same office manager smiling at me. The same kind physical therapist asking me about my weekend. And for a little while I forget what the reality is beyond their cheery door.

Back home I continue my cleaning frenzy and then leave to pick up my preschooler. What do we tell the children? He tells me that the kids were talking about Donald Frump at school. He’s the new president! Well, I say, not until January.

At home he watches Paw Patrol as I attempt to sew patches onto  my older child’s new cub scout uniform. My phone rings. I check the number but don’t recognize it. I ignore the call. Let them leave a message. And back to trying to sew.

Time goes by and I get curious about the missed call. I pick up the phone and check my messages. It’s the YMCA telling me that my older son has, for some reason, been dropped off to them by the bus and wondering if I am going to pick him up.

I PANIC. I look at the clock. It’s 3:50. The bus drops him off at 4:20….four days a week. But on Wednesdays he has a half day. And has for the past two years. And gets out of school at 1:30. And, again, it’s 3:50. What do we tell the children, indeed?

I’ve finally shaken the fog from my brain. In borderline hysteria I shout at my younger child. I abandoned his brother! Put your shoes on quickly!! I jump in the car and, again, fly across town, cursing myself as I do. How could I have done this? What is wrong with me? The results of this election have left me in such a state that my greatest responsibility was shirked.

I pull into the parking lot and breathe a sigh of great relief when I see the familiar puffy jacket and blonde hair bee bopping around the playground with dozens of other children. I walk the walk of shame toward the young African American man in charge of the group. Though I’ve never met him, he guesses who I am. I thank him for calling me and tell him that only every single Wednesday for the past two years has been a half day, yet somehow today I forgot. He is laid back  and forgiving and says not to worry, many parents had the same problem, that having the previous day off had thrown everyone and that my son was fine! I think him profusely and mutter that the election results didn’t help anything. He gives me a non-committal half smile and sends my abandoned child my way. What do we tell the children?

This is the moment I’ve been dreading all day. This conversation. The last brick in the wall of reality that I had been trying to come to terms with all day. And now, on top of it, I need to explain why the person that is supposed to care for and protect him simply forgot to pick him up for the last 3 hours.

Sweet, sensitive and forgiving he tells me it was no big deal. He figured I’d gotten confused because of the previous day off and it was like getting a third recess, playing outside on a different playground with all those kids. But, he hated to tell me. He has some bad news. “Mommy. Donald Trump won.” HE told ME. And the wall of reality collapsed on my head.

I ask how he’d found out. He says all of the kids at school were talking about it and everyone was upset…except Owen. (For some reason Owen voted for Trump.) I apologize for not telling him myself and explain that I had found out very early while he was still sleeping and wanted to let him sleep peacefully. Again, he is quick to forgive. I ask whether they had discussed the election at school. He tells me that the kids talked a lot about it, but the teachers didn’t say much. They just told the kids, upon coming in, that many kids might be feeling many things because of recent events and gave everyone a piece of paper to write or draw their feelings upon. He, my sweet sensitive 7 year old drew a picture of Donald Trump walking into the White House surrounded by two guards. Next to the White House was a picture of himself with tears pouring from his eyes.

What do we tell the children?

So that was it. The chunk of my day on November 9, 2016. Four days ago. And I still don’t know what to say. In three days everything has changed. The country is divided. Blue friends have invited me to join “Pantsuit Nation” where I read daily about personal accounts of workplace sexual harassment being ignored and the empowerment of its members feeling brave enough to “go high when they go low” and doing things such as paying for the meal of the family laughing at their Hillary bumper sticker in the drive thru and walking a woman being verbally abused on the sidewalk away from the abuser, instead of looking away. There is a picture trending on the internet of a swastika painted onto a Little League dugout adorned with the words, “Make America White Again.” There is story after story of middle school students chanting, “Build a Wall” to their Latin schoolmates or not allowing African American students to pass through the human wall made in the hallway of their school. There is a personal account from a white woman about her Muslim friend from New York who, on more than one occasion has been confronted by groups of white men who have yelled racial slurs at her and then grabbed her hijab and held a lighter to it, threatening to burn her in it. Red friends are shouting about cry-baby liberals and posting memes saying, “Donald Trump, making Christmas great again” surrounding a picture of Ralphie from A Christmas Story opening his Red Rider Air Rifle with glee.

And, what do we tell the children. My own children are small white Christian males. And, sadly, because of that they may face less discrimination or incrimination. But what about my other children? The children who are my livelihood? The 5- 10 year olds that I teach every week? The ones whose parents come from Portugal and India? From Egypt and Columbia? From Vietnam and the Netherlands? And what do I tell my children whose parents are from Saudi Arabia and Morocco? My sweet little girl who told her classmate that if she won the class raffle, she would give the prize to her friend who was having a bad day. And the adorable boy who asks me each day how my day has been and who does everything possible to help his classmates and teachers before anyone else. The one that came out of this classroom the other day in tears while the class held a mock election telling me that he didn’t want Trump to win because he, his mother, father, and two brothers wouldn’t be able to live in their home anymore and would have to leave the country. Even though his mother had grown up in France and dad Morocco and this had been their home for the past 10 years.

What do I tell the children? And why do I feel like I’m alone in this concern? Like I’m some weirdo that cares for my fellow man? Why are some of my “friends” calling me a “pussy” because I do care? And how on Earth can we look toward a positive future for our children when half of the country seems so empowered to engage in race wars, religious warfare and sexual harassment because they’ve been given the green light to do so? How will we explain this decision to our children when they are no longer children and want to know how this happened? What do we tell the children?

 

 

 

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