When our five-year-old daughter fell down from a giant structure she had built with her friends in the school yard, she ended up with deep cuts and dark, multicolored bruises that covered exactly half of her face. She was back on top of the fortress when I came to pick her up fifteen minutes after the fall. I wanted to do what my mother had done when I had fallen flat on my face and broken my nose and teeth at the age of eight. I wanted to scream at the startling sight of my child’s mangled face, cry for the pain she must be feeling, mourn her soft, smooth skin that is almost always stretched to make room for her glorious smile.
But I remembered that my mother’s reaction to my injuries had scared and scarred me far more and for far longer than the broken bones and torn skin. I reminded myself that in this moment, as it often is with parenting, it was more important that I took the time to reassure my daughter than to express my anguish. So I greeted her the same way I always do. I told her that she was brave for continuing to play after she was hurt, that accidents are part of life, and that bruises heal. I told her it was okay. She was okay. Unless she felt the shaking of my soul while I held her in one of the day’s many hugs, she had no reason not to believe me.
It’s okay. This is perhaps the most frequently stated message of any parent to her child. It’s just a spill; we’ll clean it up. I know you are sad to say goodbye; goodbyes are difficult. You did your best; there is another game next week. There will be other girls; you’ll love again. It’s only a toy; we’ll buy a new one. It’s okay. It will be okay. In addition to being the number one tool in any parent’s first-aid kit, this phrase is also one that defines perhaps most accurately the resilience of the American spirit.
But remaining stoic and imparting this message to our children now is not sound parenting. How can that be a reasonable, just person’s response to a travesty of this caliber? Why should we mask our disdain, our anger, our need for fierce action when these are exactly the appropriate responses in the face of gross injustice, which the election of Trump to the presidency most certainly is? History will show this. And our children will wonder about our calmness. They will remember that we assured them we were safe and away from harm, soothed by the promise of democracy, even as her cradle shook.
Respecting diversity of thought and teaching our children to do the same are important. But let’s remember that this is not what we are facing today. Asking children to accept the beliefs of those who elected Trump is asking them to accept that half of our country prefers to be led not by a remarkably qualified, capable, presidential woman with thirty years of public service to our country, but by a racist, misogynist, homophobic, greedy, ignorant, xenophobic, hateful, unqualified man, who has built a fortune on the backs of working class people and given nothing back to them, even if only by paying his fair share of taxes. It is asking them to understand that putting this man in the White House is a direct response by millions of people who worship him because he embodies and legitimizes the articulation of their own hatred to eight years of leadership by one of the most dignified, honorable, intelligent presidents in our country’s history.
Asking our children to respect opposing views is asking them to accept that half of America is as against Obama as we are against Trump. This is not an acceptable fact simply because while we reject a Trump presidency for disdain of his bigotry and fear of the dire consequences sure to spur from a presidency shaped by his hatefulness and incompetence, the other half of America has rejected President Obama for no reason other than the color of his skin, and the unity and overcoming he represents.
For eight years, we have told our boys and girls that if Barack could do it, so can they. In the last three days since Trump was elected, children across our country have told their peers to go back where they came from, to start picking cotton, to go buy rope. They have slashed tires on the cars of brown children. They have grabbed girls by their vaginas and pulled off their hijabs. Each of these actions has been accompanied with this statement: If the president can do it, so can I. This is not okay. This will never be okay.
Let us not for a moment tell or show our children that any of this is okay because it’s how democracy works. Democracy is not only about fair elections and peaceful transitions. It is, above all, a measure of a people’s commitment to social justice, their collective compassion, and their respect for human rights and dignity.
Donald Trump might be the president, but he is not, and will never be our president. There is no greater patriotic sentiment than this: We pledge allegiance to the pillars of our democracy, the ideals and dreams that have been polished by waves of history’s many storms, and are the means and purpose of our presidency. The President Elect threatens to demolish these pillars and everything they hold, and because of this, he is not and will never be America’s president. This is my message to my own children. The burden of proof will be in the work I do in the coming four years to restore justice, reason, and hope in the America my children deserve to call home.
Let’s do what we expect our children to do, and what we hope they will grow up to embody. Let’s be honest. Let’s be reasonable. Let’s be fair. Let’s admit that this is not okay, and show them what we do when something is not okay. Let’s organize. Let’s educate ourselves and each other. Let’s support each other in the struggles that lie ahead. Let’s speak up. Let’s act up. Let’s roar with all the anger we can muster. Let’s come together in meaningful ways to find solutions, to plan, and to act. Sometimes, our job is not to tell children that things will be okay, but to work hard to make them okay. This is such a time.