Last week, an important election took place. You were only vaguely aware that it was happening – little girl, you knew, thanks to school, that something called an election was taking place and that Mommy hoped that Hillary would win. But you almost certainly didn’t comprehend much more than that. Little boy, you had no idea any of it was going on, because you’re not even two. You’re just happy to be here.
Little girl, you know that Donald Trump was elected and that Mommy wasn’t happy about that. You don’t know who Donald Trump is or why Mommy wanted the other candidate to win, and perhaps by the time you are old enough to understand, this election and the next few years will be an interesting chapter in your history book – about America losing its collective mind for awhile – and nothing more. Perhaps we will have succeeded in bequeathing you a better world. I hope so.
I have thought about what I would like to tell you – or the future versions of you – about this election. I thought about not writing anything at all. I thought about writing you something private, that I would share with only you. (Future you, again, of course.) But I think that I need to write this as much as you need to read it, so here it is.
First, some hard truths.
The 2016 election was a long and stressful season for everyone in America. That’s true no matter what candidate they supported. Ultimately, our candidate lost – but it was more than that. This wasn’t a sporting event. This wasn’t the Sabres (those poor Sabres) leaving us to console ourselves with another round of “maybe next year.” This was more than the disappointment of a normal election cycle when your candidate loses. The election of 2016 resulted in the elevation, to the highest office in the land, of a man who has openly bragged about sexually assaulting women, who has mocked the disabled and our veterans, who has built his empire on the backs of working people, who has gotten rich by refusing to honor his contracts with small business owners, who is proud of not paying federal taxes – that means he’s proud of not playing by the rules that Daddy and I have to play by and that you will one day have to play by – who has threatened to tear apart families, build walls, and turn away refugees (the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free” that our Statue of Liberty vows to welcome) because of their religion. These are not the values of our family.
We value honesty. We value work. We value respect. We value the dignity of every human soul. We value the right of our fellow Americans to speak freely and worship as they see fit. We value the humanity of every one of our neighbors, no matter the pigment of their skin tone. We value the marriages and families of our LGBTQ+ friends. We value the fundamental right of all to live in peace and without fear.
These are our family values, and it is more important than ever that we hold them tight.
That said, I don’t want you to read this and think that everyone who voted for Donald Trump is bad, and everyone who voted for Hillary Clinton is good. Lots of people who voted for Trump did so for reasons that have nothing to do with hate or bigotry. Many people feel discouraged or forgotten, or they’re worried about their jobs. I hope and believe that these people, who voted for Trump despite his rhetoric and not because of it, will speak up and tell him that they are going to hold him to the standards befitting the presidency. Trump says that he wants to be president for all Americans – and I do hope he means that, although I am not optimistic and I am still deeply worried about your United States, kiddos.
Next, some hard truths for you, little girl.
You are privileged in many ways. You are a white, upper middle class child in an affluent suburb. But you are also a girl, and someday you will grow up to be a woman and while I would love to shield you forever, there are certain things that will probably happen to you.
Let me give you an example. A few weeks ago, I was crossing the street in front of our family dentist’s office. I was in a hurry, because I was late for an appointment, and the light was about to turn – so I was rushing. As I crossed the street, a man shouted “Smile!” at me. I ignored him, because I am of the opinion that I do not owe smiles to every random stranger on the street. Not getting what he wanted, he yelled out “Be polite!” I (politely) continued to ignore him. He then snarled, “Bitch.”
You will grow up someday, and you will probably also encounter strangers who believe that you owe them your beautiful smile. You do not. And if you choose to withhold it, you may also hear a foul word thrown your way. You will probably do what I did – continue to ignore him, walk a little faster, and breathe easier when you reach the safety of the dentist’s office.
You may be mommy-tracked at work. You may see a man with less experience get promoted over you. You may be asked on dates by random guys on the street, guys who may get mean when you turn them down. You may have someone grab you, not even ask, and “just start kissing” – as the new President-elect has gloated he does. These are all things that have happened to me. This was why I was so upset last Wednesday. Because the election results made me feel as though half of my fellow Americans think that’s acceptable, and it is not.
Now, a promise for you. Or really, a renewal of a promise, because this is what I told you when you were born:
I am your mom, and I will always be here for you. I will smooth your path if I can. I know where the stumbling blocks and holes are, because I walked up ahead to do reconnaissance for you. I will hold your hand, I will be your guide if you’ll let me, and I will always have your back. If you want to walk on your own for awhile, I’ll let you, but know that I’ll be right there on the path too, if you need company later. I’ll never stop telling you that you are smart, and capable, and brave, and compassionate, and loved for the bright little person you are. When Daddy sings you songs he’s made up about the Mars rover, he’s telling you that you’re smart. When I read you stories about bold, brave, adventurous and independent girls like you, I’m telling you that you’re capable and strong and in no need of any prince to rescue you. And if you ever need me to, I’ll put on my spikiest stilettos and kick some ass on your behalf.
Your turn, little boy. I have some hard truths for you, too.
You have been born into a world where you are going to have many advantages based entirely on the fact that you are white and male. You are privileged beyond the wildest dreams of most of the rest of the world. Like your sister, you are a white upper middle class child living in an affluent suburb. But you have an advantage that she doesn’t: you’re a boy. You’re going to grow up to be a white American man (probably), and as Peter Parker’s uncle would say, “with great power comes great responsibility.” When you have privileges that you’ve done nothing to earn (and I say this with nothing but love in my heart for you, little one) you owe a duty to wield those privileges with compassion and honor.
So here’s my promise to you, again a renewal of the promise I whispered in your ear as I held you in my arms, only a few days old, watching snow fall outside of your nursery:
I will teach you to be a good, honorable, decent man. I will teach you to respect all people, to acknowledge the humanity of everyone you meet, to treat the planet and its inhabitants with kindness and to behave with dignity toward women, people of color, our LGBTQ+ friends, and those who cherish religious beliefs that are different from yours. In short, I will hold up Daddy as the example to follow. I will show you how to walk with responsibility on our Earth, and I will do the same – I will do my part in passing down to you a home that is clean, fresh, and filled with as many whales as possible (because I love whales). I will hold you accountable and I will demand that you be the best of men, because you are my son and I love you more than life.
It’s been a rough week for many of us, and we’re in for a rough time ahead. Our family is lucky in that we will probably emerge pretty much unscathed from this presidency. I wish I could say the same for other families, and for the environment. Close to home, I promise to do whatever I can to shield you from what the new President-elect represents (which shouldn’t be too terribly hard, because you’re babies). I can’t shake the feeling that we really messed this one up. Sometimes I catch myself wondering if I could have done more. Yes I voted, and I’m proud of my vote – but could I have helped out in some other way? I was so wrapped up in living, and working, and parenting, that perhaps I didn’t do enough. I won’t be asleep at the switch anymore – that I promise you both. We’re going to wake up tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, and we’re going to declare with every action that our family believes in a diverse America, that we want to live in an America where all are welcome and all are safe, and we’re going to insist that our leaders protect our wild places and respect our neighbors. Finally, we’re going to teach you to do the same, so that when you grow up, you can just look back on all of this and say, “that was weird.”