On election night, I slept, for a brief few hours, in my 10-year-old son’s room. Under his Star Wars quilt, atop which the Rebel Fighters battle the Death Star, Jack’s warm, even breaths were a soothing counter to my shivering, jagged ones.
Jack is in fifth grade at a Quaker school in Washington, D.C. It is a school that grapples with big questions of morality and humanity in the context of community: how can each person honor his/her inner light and also those in all others? How can we best be in community with each other? Stewardship and justice are values that infuse the curriculum and daily life at school. The 2016 election was a hot topic in hallways, the lunch room, and in classes, too.
Neither my husband nor I work in politics, but we are both deeply interested in government and policy, and I blog frequently about issues of social justice, equality, racism, and the environment. We talk to our sons in age-appropriate ways about the issues of our time. Long story short, Jack is growing up in a politically-invested environment, and he very much wanted to watch with us as the election results rolled in.
Halfway through, as the printed-out electoral map he was earnestly coloring grew increasingly red, Jack looked at me with tears in his eyes and asked, “Will my Mexican and Muslim friends have to leave? Some of them are scared.”
It is difficult to articulate the feelings that coursed through me at that moment. Sadness, rage, disappointment, fear. What a heavy question for a little boy to ponder. What fright must be in the worry prompting it. What conversations he must be overhearing at school.
And he is white. Imagine how his friends feel. I know how mine do.
I hugged him close, and said, “Honey, we will do everything in our power to help make sure that does not happen. OK?” I’m not sure he completely believed that anything we could do would be enough. I’m not sure I do either.
Near midnight, in our living room now a silent, shell-shocked space, I looked over at the lap desk perched on Jack’s thighs. It resembled a bleeding quilt spread over his legs. His red pencil was dull. His blue one still boasted a sharp point. I suggested we go to bed.
“Mom, what are we going to do?” he pleaded, his blue crystal eyes wet.
“Sweetie, all I know to do is to try and be a bright light of goodness. To be kind and to always fight for what is right. Tomorrow, be sure to reach out to your friends who are frightened. Hug them and tell them how much they mean to you. Tell them you will stand up for them. I will do the same.”
During the nearly eleven years that I’ve been a mother to sons, I’ve thought a great deal about how feminized overt expressions of emotion and kindness are. Like pink and blue toys, basic decency is too often color-coded, its expressions channeled toward the feminine and masculine. I believe this is one reason “locker room talk” evolves and is accepted, that boys are often admonished for tears and gentleness, that we see relatively few men as early education teachers and nurses. With no emotional outlet, where else does hormonal competition go but into ugly talk and macho swagger? When we track kids based on genitalia, telling them what is manly and what isn’t, how do boys learn to cry without shame, learn to tend and care openly, proudly?
At my first ultrasound, when it was immediately clear that our baby was a boy, I mourned the daughter I’d hoped for and then realized what an opportunity and responsibility I was being granted: the chance to raise a boy in touch with his inner core, proud of his varied emotions, empathetic and not afraid to sit with someone in silence, tears, or worry.
I committed to raising the sorts of boys I’d appreciated meeting, the sort I’d considered marrying, the sort I chose to call my husband.
In the years since, I have demanded that my sons write thank you notes to pretty much anyone for anything. I have purchased a twirly dress for one and sewn a bikini top for the other. I’ve taught the correct name for their beloved private parts and have told them, in no uncertain terms, that respect for our own and others’ bodies is paramount. I have cried alongside them during Inside Out, the passing of our dog, the move to a new home, and in the face of bullying and injustice.
The morning after the election, Jack wandered downstairs in a sleepy haze. His blond hair looked electrified, and the dark circles under his eyes made him appear both haggard and much older than his ten years. He was wearing his I’m With Her shirt and some rumpled jeans.
“Honey, do you remember that she lost?”
“Yes, Mom, and I am so sad. But she would have been a really good president, and I am proud to wear this shirt, and so I will.”
Later, as I watched Mrs. Clinton concede with a strength and grace that made me gasp, my heart throbbed and my eyes spilled.
“Please,” she implored, “never stop believing that fighting for what’s right is worth it.”
I thought back to my boy, who wore a shirt that meant something to him even in the face of loss, who wiped his eyes, held his head high, and left for school with clear-eyed determination, and I knew that she was right. What’s right is always worth the fight.
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