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Tall Paul Photo

I cried myself to sleep last night. I cried for the people who have pre-existing chronic conditions. I cried for the Muslims. I cried for the people living with disabilities who just saw their most powerful bully get elected to the presidency. And I cried for all the women who were hoping the glass ceiling could be broken once and for all. However, of all the thoughts that swirled through my brain, here is what weighed the heaviest: How would I look my kids in the eyes and tell them about the election results? How would I deal with my own devastation to help them understand what I don’t fully understand?

Throughout the past few months my husband and I thought it was important to bring our children, ages 13 and 10, into the fray of the election. We watched the debates. We listened to the various soundbites and processed them over dinner. In the days leading up to the election my daughter watched me prepare my election-day pantsuit in honor of Hillary Clinton. I baked a victory cake, and we invited a handful of friends over to watch the election. This was going to be a big moment and our kids were coming along for the ride.

But it didn’t go as planned.

In all the excitement I forgot to prepare my children for an eventuality that I didn’t think was possible. And now, millions of parents are facing the stinging disappointment staring back at them in their children’s faces. It’s devastating.

But we can’t sit in the corner and cry over what happened. Life isn’t over, especially for our sons and daughters. Children have no historical reference for this election. When mine return from school today, I am going to tell them that, no, we are not doomed. There have been other times of great conflict and hate in this country. Slavery, internment and segregation are terrible atrocities that happened on American soil. And yet, when people came together, good eventually prevailed. The work of a democracy is never done. Many in our country don’t have equal rights and they experience prejudices on a daily basis. Millions of children still don’t have enough to eat or weather-appropriate clothes for school. Women still aren’t given the same opportunities as men. So we, the people of this democracy, will need to vote, protest, stand up for the vulnerable; will need to educate and reach across aisles of all kinds to address this nation’s issues. Strong and principled people did this in past times of darkness, and we can do it, too.

I’ll tell my children how government works, but in terms they can understand. One man cannot singlehandedly rule America. There are checks and balances. Laws are fluid and can be changed. People who are elected can be taken out of power through a well-defined process, if need be.

I will help my kids find their own voices and words for their feelings. I won’t leave them alone to process this on the schoolyard just because I am personally bereft. I will teach them how to use their voices to make change. I will show them examples of lawyers, doctors, teachers, social workers and politicians who dedicated their lives for the betterment of our country.

I will not be able to deal with the fallout of this election with one conversation with my children. They will need more and so, truly, will I. In the coming weeks and months (and maybe even years) I will continue to read books, watch documentaries, visit important museums and landmarks, and do what is in my power to do to keep the conversation going in our house and elsewhere. I will use my children as my boomerang to bring me back to a place of hope for the future.

And we will find a way, collectively, to move ahead.