Every morning, when I drop my 4-year daughter off at school, I leave her with this advice. “Be strong. Be smart. Be kind. Be happy.” It’s a routine of four short sentences to remind her that her attitude, her behavior, and her decisions matter, and that it’s just as important for her to stand up for others as it is to stand up for herself. We talk about everything, my 4-year old and I. Anything that she wants to talk about at least. Somewhere along the journey of parenting, I made the decision that I would be as honest with her as possible. When my grandparents passed away recently, she and I shared a conversation about death and what it means when someone passes away. She asked me a few months ago if God exists and I told her that I wasn’t sure but I think She does. These are usually short conversations, and she has been content with my answers, so there just hadn’t been a reason to lie to her.
Earlier this year, my daughter joined me in the polling booth during the primary election, curiously watching me press the button and vote for Hillary Clinton. On that day and over the weeks that followed, we spoke about the elections and what it meant to vote – having the right and privilege to vote and the responsibility that comes with it. Given the toxic nature of the campaign, my husband and I tried not to watch the news when our little girl was around. But my daughter knew that Hillary Clinton was running against Donald Trump and that I was going to vote for Clinton. “Is Trump a bad man, mummy?” she asked me once. My response to her was that he was not a bad person, but he had some bad ideas that we did not like and we liked Clinton’s ideas better. It was a simplified answer, but it was true.
The morning of the general election, we took our daughter to the polling station with us. She joined me again in the booth, and this time she insisted that she wanted to push the button for Clinton. After we voted, she wore a “Hillary” button to school and took with her a children’s book on American presidents, excited that Clinton was going to win.
That evening, as the polls started to close, we watched the results come in together. And when New Jersey was called for Clinton, I explained to her that Clinton won in our state and she said, “I think they said my name on the TV too because I voted for her!!” My optimism at the possibility of a president Hillary Clinton had clearly rubbed off on my daughter.
With that optimism, I put her to bed. Just before I kissed her goodnight, I said, “When you wake up, we may have our first girl president!!” She grinned a big smile and gave me tight hug.
Within a few hours, however, it was clear that I was wrong. A day full of optimism had crashed suddenly and so unexpectedly – not like a house of cards that was predictably unstable, but like a house built on solid foundation; not like the death of an aging relative, but like the death of a family member who was young and healthy. I could not cope with it.
The next morning, when my daughter woke up, I said to her “Clinton lost.”
To my surprise, she smiled and replied back immediately, “That’s ok. Can Obama still be president?”
Now I smiled and said, “No, honey. Trump is going to be president.”
She could not have known the sadness I was feeling but there was a pause, for one second, maybe two. I felt that I had to break that silence, for myself as much as for her.
And so I said, “But it’s ok. It’ll be ok.” And that was the first time I lied to my daughter.
“It’ll be okay.” Like she had spilled her milk, but we could wipe it up quickly. Like she could not find her teddy bear at bed time, but we would definitely find him the next morning. Like she had just gotten the flu shot, but the pain would be momentary.
“It’ll be okay.”
I used those three words like a blanket to wrap her in, to shield her from knowing that a man with racist, sexist, misogynistic, and prejudicial views had become the president of our country, which once welcomed the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free. I couldn’t explain to her my sorrow that my fellow citizens picked a man who incited violence over a woman who fought to protect children from violence. I couldn’t explain to her my fear that now there was a greater chance that my daughter would be harassed for being a minority or assaulted for being a women. I couldn’t explain to her my disappointment that President-Elect Trump would replace President Obama, whose message had been of positive change and hope for everyone.
So I went with “it’ll be okay.” And with that, I trivialized what had happened in the hours when she was asleep on her cloud-shaped pillow under her happy shark bedsheets. The truth was I didn’t know if it was going to be okay, but I could not get myself to tell her that.
A few days later, I still don’t know if it’ll be okay. There are street protests against the President-Elect, posts on social media about increased harassment against minorities, and calls for the Electoral College to choose Clinton over Trump when they officially vote in December – there is no shortage of sorrow, anger, and fear. As a parent who wants to set an example for my child, I’m torn – I feel compelled by my sense of morality to stand up against the rhetoric that the President-Elect used and spread but also compelled by my sense of civic duty to get behind the President-Elect because he was, after all, elected by the people. It has been a daily struggle in these first few days after the election. And so I continue to tell my daughter, “Be strong. Be smart. Be kind. Be happy.” Now more than ever, those words aren’t just a reminder for her, but for me as well.
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