When it started to go bad Tuesday night, I sat on the couch with gathering dread in the pit of my stomach, like millions of Americans. I was sobbing before the deal was sealed, already terrified and angry that it could be that close. The first coherent thought that crystalized within the fog of disbelief and terror was, “Oh my God, how will we tell the kids in the morning?”
At around 2:30 am, when clearly the only path was straight into our national nightmare, we turned off CNN to formulate a plan for telling the kids. Our boys are 6 and 10 and we talk a lot about politics in our family. I asked my husband, “If we had known this could actually happen, would we have talked about him differently?” We still would have talked about the intolerability of his bigotry, because we must, but I think we would have been a bit more measured about the whole thing. We weren’t, so we were faced with telling children who would know just how bad the news is.
How to tell the truth while being hopeful and developmentally appropriate for our kids’ ages? Oh, boy.
We would break the news by telling them we were disappointed and really surprised, but half of Americans (just over half, we would later find out) voted for Hillary Clinton and against bigotry and bullying. The other half are hurting, have been taught it’s the fault of other Americans, and thought Trump would be the answer to their problems. We would stress that while we don’t believe he is someone who should be president for all the reasons we’ve been talking about, the checks and balances in our government were set up to be prepared for a situation like this, and no one person has too much power. We would talk about disagreeing respectfully in conversations that may come up in school. We would talk about our faith in God and our country, and that we hope Trump will do more good things than expected while in office. We would continue speaking out for justice and equality, and doing our part to make sure we have leaders who respect all people in the future.
OK. We had a plan, the best we could come up with.
For the next three hours, I repeatedly fell almost asleep, then jolted awake with my heart pounding out of my chest, remembering. I got up at 5:30 and checked my phone to see if a miracle had occurred as the last votes were counted. It had not.
As soon as my 10-year-old son woke up, he excitedly asked “Who won the election?!” It was so hard to tell him. He cried. He was angry. He asked if he could be impeached right away. If we could move to Canada. How could he win? My 6-year-old was angry but understands less, so he was easier to reassure. With my 10-year-old, we had the discussion pretty much as planned, and it “worked” as well as it could have. He cried some more, but seemed OK by the time he left for school.
I’ve heard in some of my circles that our fear and anti-Trump rhetoric projected onto the children is what hurts them. Tell that to the parents of children who are being racially harassed at school and told they’ll be going back to Mexico—and their classmates who witness it—starting on Day 1 of Trump’s America.
And what’s the alternative to being candid about what has happened here? If we go overboard minimizing what a Trump presidency means, then either now, when they have some understanding of what’s going on, or later, when they will, we show them that we, their primary leaders, are complicit with his behavior and values.
It’s a no-win in terms of what to tell them. The best we can do is to keep our own values intact and central, try our best to keep the discussion developmentally appropriate, and keep hope alive in our families.
I made blueberry pancakes for their breakfast, which I never do on school days.
I said a prayer of gratitude that I was sending my son to a school that has diversity and inclusion as part of their mission, and backs that up with parent committees on addressing racism in our world. I knew his heart would be in good hands. I thought of the millions of parents who do not have that luxury and would fear for their children’s physical and emotional safety as they kissed them goodbye for the day.
With my 10-year-old off to school and my husband off to work, I was alone with my 6-year-old, who is homeschooled. With the task of breaking the news behind us, my next order of business was not crying all day in front of him.
My friend Sarah Whitehead wrote, “As in any personal tragedy, our focus will shift from the macro to the micro, and the little things we do today will finally seem as important as they are.” That’s what I hung onto during those hours. Pour the milk. Wipe the counter. Read the story. Walk to the park. Watch him run ahead on the way and hang upside down on the monkey bars, light and free of the collective weight.
By the afternoon, I couldn’t hold it in any longer and I didn’t feel like making another trip to the bathroom. I cried openly. He sat with me and I told him I was sad, that I knew everything would be OK, but sometimes we just need to cry. He said, “It’s hard. It’s hard to admit Donald Trump is the president.”
I am white. My husband is brown, an immigrant from India. He wears a turban as part of his religion, Sikhism. We’ve been together for 17 years, married for 12. For 15 of those years, since 9/11, I’ve been afraid for him. For the last three days since 11/9, and really over the course of the Trump campaign, my fear has increased exponentially.
My children, especially my younger one, “pass” for white. I am acutely aware of how this privileges them compared to other mixed-race children. My fears for them come from my nightmare-daydreams about having to tell them something unthinkable has happened to their father. I tell myself the odds of a car accident are higher.
The irony is, he is much less afraid in the face of this election outcome than I am. But then, I’ve always been more afraid for him than he is for himself. Partly it’s because he is a calm, steady, optimistic person by nature. Partly it is his faith in God. Sadly, it’s also partly that he is desensitized, having dealt with bigotry throughout his life—even in India, where Sikhs have been targeted in the past.
For whatever reason, and as backwards and unjust as it is, he is my rock in these situations. I’m the detail person. It was me who said, “We have to turn this off now and figure out what we’re telling the kids.” It was me who came up with most of the language for that plan. It was him who put the foundation of faith and hope under it. His rock solid strength and eternal optimism help me stay strong for our children.
Now what? I will attend an emergency “What’s next?” meeting in my community. I will donate to organizations whose missions and critical work will soon come under unprecedented attack. I will stay abreast of opportunities to participate in returning the Democratic Party, who owns this colossal, devastating failure, back to the people. I will stay open to whatever I’m called to do next.
My children will witness and participate in this process, as much as is appropriate for their ages. I expect that in four years, I will take a road trip with my older son, who will be fourteen at the time of the next election, to a swing state to canvass for whoever emerges—or returns—as our next candidate who stands for economic, environmental, and social justice.
With so many unknowns ahead, it seems the only clear lesson in this moment, both for us and for our children, is that things are not always as they seem.
© Copyright Camille Williams and Wake Up, Mama! 2016. All rights reserved.