I lay in bed for hours before they finally woke up. I listened to them move around, go to the bathroom, sing little songs. I knew I had to get out of the bed. This is what I signed up for when I became a parent: be the person who gets out of the bed.
Still. It took me a while.
But I got up. I made the coffee. The children, eight and four, chattered on mindlessly. They made their opening pitches in the negotiation for Halloween candy; they needed help opening their yogurt. And I felt myself held in suspension, doing all the normal things — unloading the dishwasher, pouring the milk — feeling the end of their innocence approach like a slow-moving train.
The important thing is to project normalcy. I don’t want to scare them.
The important thing is to be honest, though, isn’t it? I don’t want to lie to them.
“Hey, listen,” I began. “I want to tell you something because you’re going to hear about it at school.” I was already in trouble. They could tell. I tried to keep my voice from shaking, but my kids are not dumb. My vision of myself as some calm, reassuring presence proved to be just another of my self-delusions.
“Last night, Donald Trump was elected president.” I only had eyes for my eight-year-old. His eyes widened and his face got small. “It’s gonna be okay,” I said, but that was self-evidently untrue. If it was going to be okay, why was I telling him like it was a death in the family?
“It’s gonna be okay,” I said, but that was self-evidently untrue. If it was going to be okay, why was I telling him like it was a death in the family?
My son knows about Trump. We had a few conversations about it. When he asked about him, we would tell him, Trump is a bully. We tried to explain that he said mean things about people of color and that he was supported by groups who think white people are better than other people. In that conversation, my son’s reaction was, “That’s still going on?” He’d learned about MLK in school, but as a historical figure, someone far removed from today.
Yes, we told him. That’s still going on.
Mostly, we’d talked about Hillary Clinton — how she would be the first woman president, how we voted for her and campaigned for her, how much she resembles his grandma. That was a much more optimistic and hopeful story.
I was not prepared for this conversation.
“It’s gonna be okay,” I said. “You’re gonna be okay. I know it’s not what we wanted, but the people voted and he won fair and square, and that’s how it goes in a democracy.”
Of course, that’s not exactly true, the “fair and square” part. How do I explain voter suppression to a third grader? How do I explain that laws were passed to explicitly target minority voters, that rolls were purged, that polling places were eliminated, that early voting was curtailed, all in an effort to make it easier for one party to win?
“But we’re still going to do what we’ve always done, which is practice loving kindness, and to stand up to bullies.” He nodded solemnly, and I picked up my coffee mug and walked calmly into the bathroom where I held toilet paper up to my eyes to catch the tears and tried to breathe my way through the sobs that were threatening to shake me apart.
I came out of the bathroom.
We spent the rest of the morning attempting good humor. I strove to keep my voice light; I gave in on all pleas for candy. We talked about video games, and he explained how Link has the worst luck in Legend of Zelda, and it all sounded aggressively normal, but our bodies betrayed us. My kids clung to me. They wrapped their legs around my waist and climbed onto my back. We had an impromptu cuddle party on the stairs.
Who was comforting who?
“Let’s be thankful for what we have, instead of mad about what we don’t have,” I say to them every morning, usually when they ask for yet another piece of candy. “No whining,” I say. “Focus on your behavior, not other people’s behavior.”
I am trying to teach them how to live with integrity.
They went to school, and I got back in bed.
A version of this post originally appeared on Medium.