The other night, I had a big old nasty cry. Many of us have cried since the 2016 presidential election, some of us every day, some of us more sporadically, and some of us, Trump supporters or those more measured or those whose tear ducts no longer work, not at all.
I’d woken with a terrible cold, the kind that escalates from a mildly scratchy throat at four a.m. to aches, burning throat, and uncontrollable sneezing by nine. B was in Orange County for the day, had a six a.m. flight, so I handled the whole night with the babe myself, the babe who slept great until 4:00 and then barely at all. L was grumpy as we walked to school. B was not due home until 8:00. It was pouring down rain, a relentless, gray rain, and every time I had the baby close to falling asleep, I’d wake him up with a sneeze or because my nose was a fountain, running down my face and onto his blankets—I kid you not, it was disgusting. So circa 7:00 p.m., when he and I were both exhausted hot messes and I hadn’t managed to get dinner on the table yet, I crept into the bedroom and, all of a sudden, began crying like I haven’t cried in ages, big old wracking sobs (as silently as I could, because I was holding Baby S and doing the baby dance). I cried for my stupid day, sure, but mostly? I was crying because of the appointment of Scott Pruitt, a climate denier, to head the Environmental Protection Agency, an appointment that is more disastrous than the election of Trump himself. *
Eventually, I emerged from the bedroom. Putting the baby to sleep was futile, and L still hadn’t eaten, so I quickly put a bowl of soup on the table. Through tears, I called, “Bunny, dinner—” at which point he walked into the kitchen, took one look at my face, and said “Mumma, what’s wrong?”
“I’m okay,” I said. “I’m just having a hard day.”
“Oh, well, I’m sick—and the baby won’t sleep.” And then I paused and added, “and I’m still just really upset about Donald Trump.” As I said it, I wondered if I shouldn’t have. I don’t want L to worry too much about Trump. I want his childhood to feel intact, blissful, ignorant. But I also didn’t want to lie, so I said it. He ate dinner, and that was it.
Here’s the thing, I realized later: unfortunately, L’s childhood won’t be blissful, ignorant, intact. In the next 4-8 years—and who knows how much beyond—he may well see his national parks drilled and his Latino friends deported and his Muslim friends harassed. He’ll probably lose his affordable healthcare and we’ll somehow find $1,200 a month to put him on one of our plans instead. He’ll see his parents wringing their hands and writing letters to nowhere and slavishly following Rebecca Solnit and Bill McKibben and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie looking for someone we trust to make sense of this world for them. He may see his mom’s reproductive rights taken away. He may be raised in an era where there is no safety net if, God forbid, he gets a girl pregnant by accident. In eight years, L will be fifteen.
There have been so many articles this election season asking “what do we tell the children in the wake of the election?” Tell your kids, “You’re safe,” the articles say. “We won’t let you come to harm.” But what I wonder is, what do we tell the parents who feel, quite rightly, totally lost and deeply unsafe?
1. Don’t regret your children. A friend asked me the other day, “what’s it like having a new baby in the midst of all this?” I paused, and then told her something that I have been thinking but have been a little too ashamed to say: “I honestly don’t know, if Trump had been president, if we would’ve pursued having a second child.” I know how that sounds; I know my mom is freaking out right now as she reads this. She has seen our absolutely lovely baby, created with love and science and desire and more than a little hope. Of course he is precious to us. But when we created that baby, we didn’t live in quite the same world as we do now, and I feel so sorry for what we’ve brought him into. But regretting my children and despairing for their futures? That may be just what they want us to do, and damned if I’ll do it.
2. But don’t create an us versus them narrative. At least not towards your fellow citizens, and not in front of your kids. This is a hard one, I know: I feel such a wall of anger towards Trump supporters right now. But many Trump supporters liked his economic policies or were fed up with Hillary or disenchanted by Obama or were uneducated, or didn’t think it would be this bad. In the end (you know, when we’re in a nuclear war with Iran, and our water and air is too toxic to breathe anymore) it will be our commonalities—that we all love our kids, for one—that help us reunify this damaged country. I will not support or condone this government and the monsters who will be in charge of our environment or our bodies, but I will try to model openness and tolerance to my fellow citizens as much as possible.
3. Realize that if you’re a progressive, or even a conservative who believes in things like climate change and equal rights, that you’re raising your kids in an era of resistance. In fact, L needs to know that his dad and I are upset about Trump. I won’t shield him from the nasty realities of the world he’ll inherit; instead, it’s my job to prepare him for it and for the work that will inevitably fall to him to take on.
4. But keep it light. At all costs, assure your children your anger and depression are not about them. It’s hard to be emotional in front of kids, and harder to be measured when your world is falling apart. But your kids can bring you enormous joy, and in the end, your family and children are the people who will watch out for you and keep you whole. So make some time for watching movies, taking hikes, going to Berkeley Family Camp (can’t wait!), seeing friends. Your life still has light and life and value.
5. Model being an active citizen. This is the most important, parents. I know we’re all tired; the baby won’t sleep, the minivan needs a new carburetor, the school is harassing you to volunteer for the PTA. You have college essays to edit and kids to drive to sports practice. But you can’t put on Netflix just yet. You need to write, call, text, email, march, donate, and protest. And your kids need to see you doing it. We have to raise the next generation to raise hell, think critically, and protect their rights and the rights of their friends. Because apathy may be what got us into this mess in the first place.
* Footnote: I try my best to be an empathic person. In part because I teach to a very diverse population, I need to make space in my life for people from all political walks and belief systems. I’ve taught staunch right-wing gun nuts, people so far left they don’t make sense anymore, and, for the most part, a bunch of young adults whose lack of engagement makes me want to pull my hair out. We do alright together, and I care about all of them deeply (and urge them to vote!). But climate change deniers are beyond my empathy. Denying that climate change exists is like denying that the Holocaust existed. It’s morally reprehensible, and more than that, it’s stupid. Climate change will kill us all, but not before it makes our planet a hell of an awful place to live. Quite honestly, I don’t understand why it’s even a political issue, why climate change is not merely accepted and embraced as a bipartisan challenge to address, and I partly blame the fact that whoever—was it Al Gore?—used the phrase “global warming” for too long, giving people the false impression that if we had some bitterly cold winters, that meant we weren’t really experiencing climate change. I believe we all have our issues: some of us worry most about reproductive rights, some about human rights, some about healthcare. Me? It’s the environment, in part because I have spent time in some of the loveliest wild places on earth and know their value, but also because, let’s face it: all of our other rights will be totally irrelevant if the planet becomes uninhabitable.