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03/07/2018

Yes, I teach my child to resist

by Jeremy Hooper

Even in the moment, as devastating and other-worldly as it was, I made note of the way she was looking at me. At age three, a child can have strange reactions to a parent’s emotions. Sometimes they nervously laugh. Other times they recoil in an outsized way. Savannah, someone who has always been hard on herself whenever she thinks she has upset someone, has (and had) a tendency to turn into a problem solver who throws out a million on-the-spot ways she might be able to help lighten the situation.

But this time was different. This time she was staring at me in a very deliberative way. She was studying me with a curiosity, each of us surprising ourselves with what instantly felt like a new chapter in life.

It was November 9, 2016—the day my child still remembers as the first time she saw me cry. It’s a day she still talks about on th regular. And she doesn’t talk about it as a self-contained memory. Instead, she casually drops in into conversation. As in,

“Hey Savannah, what are some things that make people cry?”

”Uhm, when you lose a balloon, when you fall in hurt your knee, when Hillary Clinton loses to Donald Trump, or when you don’t want to go to bed and your daddy makes you.”

We’re working on the last one. The third one, however, is known in our family as a perfectly reasonable, throughly logical, virtually duty-bound response to the election of a person whose character, values, experience, and temperament make him a threat to just about everything we hold dear.

We don’t portray the president as a monster, since we of course don’t want to scare her. We obviously don’t voice our global fears, as we take our role in allevativing rather than exacerbating her worry quite seriously. In fact, we don’t even bring up the subject of the Trump presidency unprovoked. It’s just that we have a very bright child on our hands, and she questions everything she hears. Like, seriously—ev. er. y. thing.

95BCE0E0-8990-463D-AE72-CDF2E6887930Since she does have questions, we have no choice but to empower her with facts. When she asks if we like them, the answer is a very direct, “No, based on everything we know about this person, we do not like him being our president.” When she asks if he is nice, the answer is a measured but certain, “No, sadly he has not shown himself to be a nice person.” When she wonders how long he will be president, we make it clear that we hope to get him out of office as soon as we possibly can, and we explain, in a way that a four-year-old can better understand, that this is because we care immensely about both the country that we love and the office that he holds. We essentially tell her that this person is a mistake who never should have found himself into the Oval Office.    

This then leads to a whole discussion about ovals and how they’re shaped liked eggs. Then she asks for eggs for dinner. Then she asks to crack them. Then she wonders if she can have a play date. And we move on. Kids’ attention spans, am I right?

Yet whenever the conversation returns, as it inevitably does, we again make it clear: we proudly resist this presidency, and we encourage you to do the same. In her movie, he is not frightening like Ursula or Maleficent. He’s kind of like a combination of Gaston and Le Fou: a misguided soul in need of further education, a few years of yoga, and a hug. For her, resistance means simply adhering to the basics that she learns in preschool everyday. In fact, she has kind of taught me a thing or to about how to resist. We talk about it.

This is not how I would have raised a child during the George W. Bush era, even as that administration was pushing a Federal Marriage Amendment that arguably threatened my family even more directly. Yes, I would have made it clear to my child that we rejected things that this person was promoting, and yes I would have ensured her that her daddies will always protect her. I don’t, however, believe I would have cared so deeply about her knowing that we are experiencing a time where those of us who know and want better must step up and make things better. In that and similar times, I believe I could’ve kept her fully detached from anything resembling political or governmental affairs. At this time, however, it feels like I would be neglecting my duty as a dad who wants my child to develop a strong conscience and values set if I just overlooked or sidestepped the things she hears and questions. I don’t want her remembering this time and wondering whether her parents were silent. Or worse, complicit.

Savannah has processed this information stream and come up with two takeaways that she will tell anyone who will listen:

  1. She will use her powers of niceness to change the president and better her country.
  2. More people voted for Hillary Clinton.

That feels like a parenting win.

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