I had a conversation with my three year old on Tuesday that I keep replaying in my mind.
I’ve never much cared for or about politics, but when I woke up that morning, it felt like Christmas. I knew lines would be shorter later in the day, but I didn’t care. I couldn’t wait to vote.
The previous afternoon, the Bug had climbed up onto my lap while I was watching Hillary Clinton’s final campaign commercial on my phone – a plea for unity, inclusion, and hope – and asked, simply, the way toddlers do, “Who is that?”
I replied, “That’s Hillary Clinton,” then with tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat that I would never have anticipated, “She’s going to be the President.”
I’m not sure, until that moment, that the magnitude of Hillary Clinton’s candidacy hit home for me. On Monday afternoon, in my blissful West Coast ignorance, it never occurred to me that there was any other outcome and I matter of factly told my son that a woman was going to be the President. It wasn’t a hypothetical conversation about how women can do anything that men can do. It wasn’t a dream of some distant future. It was an historic moment, happening right then and there (I thought), and it wasn’t until the words came out of my mouth that I realized how lucky I was to be able to say them.
But I was trying to tell you about Tuesday…so I guess, all that to say, that when I woke up on Tuesday morning and put on my suffragette white, the significance of what I was about to do had begun to sink in. I buckled my kids in the stroller and walked to our polling place where, while we waited, I cried behind my sunglasses watching little girls walk up, hand in hand with their mothers to vote in the election that we all thought would put the first woman in the Oval Office.
“Why do you like Hillary Clinton?” my three year old asked.
“I like her because she cares about people. I think we have a responsibility to care about everyone in our community – people who are like us and people who are not like us – and she thinks that too,” I answered. “God made us all and asks us to love everyone.”
“Do you love everyone?” he asked.
“I try,” I told him and was thankful that, for once, there wasn’t a follow-up question.
After an hour of waiting, we voted, took a few selfies, and went back to business as usual.
That afternoon, at the park, I watched the kids play frisbee…which was mostly the Bug throwing the frisbee and Babygirl squealing with delight as she raced to see if she could get to it before her brother which she, obviously, never did. At first, she didn’t seem to mind, and appeared happy to run after the frisbee and her lightning-fast brother, but as their game wore on, I saw her begin to feel frustrated. Discouraged.
I waited to see if she would ask for a turn. If she would demand one. But she didn’t, and the Bug was too consumed by his play to register what her body language could have told him.
On another day, I might have asked something like, “Do you think Babygirl might like a turn?”
But, that afternoon, I didn’t. I called him over and asked him to sit next to me on the bench.
“You are running so fast and throwing the frisbee so far,” I said, careful to observe without judgment. “When you are the strongest and the fastest, it feels good, doesn’t it?” He nodded. “But being the strongest and the fastest also means that you have a responsibility to make sure that everyone has a chance to play.”
He looked at me for a moment before saying, “Ok!” Then, he jumped down, ran over to his sister, and held out the frisbee.
“Do you want a turn?”
I smiled and then didn’t think much more about it until I woke up on Wednesday morning in Donald Trump’s America.
What I can’t stop thinking about is that I almost didn’t say anything at the park that afternoon. I like to let my children work out their own problems and try to step in only as necessary. The words had felt risky to say, as if they might somehow undermine our efforts to be the kind of parents who teach grace, empathy, and inclusiveness by example; instead, making those things a “responsibility.”
But what I didn’t realize, proudly wearing my “I VOTED” sticker and practically giddy with the hope that this election had come to represent, was how much riskier it was not to say them.
Today, he has the advantage because he is fast. He is strong, coordinated, and fearless. At three, gross motor confidence is social currency, and he has it in spades. But the older he gets, the more all of his other advantages will come into play – his race, his sex, our family’s financial security – and the lessons he learned on the playground will follow him into situations with much higher stakes, not just for himself but for those around him.
He will walk through life a step ahead of most and, while I never want him to be ashamed of the advantages he has, I want him to know that, when your voice is the one people hear, you have a responsibility to use it. In the face of the choice our country just made, I feel the urgency of that message more than ever. Everyone gets to play, and being the one who makes sure of that is his responsibility. And his privilege.