Tuesday, November 8, 2016

An election day conversation with my five year old daughter

Mornings are a treasured time for my oldest daughter Marin and me. She takes twenty minutes to eat a cup of yogurt, and I stand on the opposite side of the counter, packing her lunch for Kindergarten, and we talk. Sometimes we talk about five-year-old things: "Mom, do you think there aren't unicorns any more because they were all living on Hawaii when the volcano erupted?" (where she comes up with these things, I have no idea, but damn I'm proud.) Sometimes we talk about more serious things, like how it's going with a classmate who pushes her around.

Today is election day, and I thought I'd fail as a parent if I didn't at least mention it, especially with a woman as a major party nomination. Whether you're #withher or not, this reality is pretty spectacular, as not too long ago women weren't allowed to cast a vote for an elected official, much less become one.

So I brought it up.

Me: Guess what today is honey? It's election day, which means our country is going to pick a new president.
Marin: What does a president do?
Me: Well, let's pretend your school is the whole country. The principal would be like the president. The teachers would come up with ideas for new rules, and if most of the teachers liked the rule, they would ask the principal if they could make those rules real for the students, and the principal would say yes or no.
Marin: Is my principal going to be the president?
Me: Well, no. It's just an example. But today is the first time that a woman is a choice for president.
Marin: My principal is a woman.
Me: that's true. We've never had a woman president before, though.
Marin: why not?
Me: well....

And then I stopped. How much can a five year old understand? And how much can I tell her without some really tough follow-up questions.

We haven't had a female president because not too long ago women couldn't even vote, or file charges against their spouse if the stick used to strike them was thinner than his thumb, or go to college, or expected to be anything outside the home.

Because women used to be considered lesser than by the majority.

Because in a lot of ways, we still are.

But my five year old doesn't know that. She thinks it's strange we're celebrating the fact that a woman is a major party nomination - because why couldn't a woman be a major party nomination? Why wouldn't my daughter have just as much an opportunity and expectation than the boy she sits next to in kindergarten to be whatever she wanted. To introduce the idea that this is a big deal because we as a country have had some serious hiccups in our commitment to "liberty and justice for all" also introduces the concept that women have been and are still considered less by some. That's a heady thing for a five year old.

I thought for a second, and tried again.

Me: It's exciting because it's the first time we've had a woman to vote for. And you know how the first time for new things is pretty exciting? Like the first time you rode your horse all by yourself? That was pretty exciting, right?
Marin: Yeah! Can I ride her after school today.
Me: Sure.
Marin: Hey mom, if it's this exciting, our silly country shouldn't have waited so long.
Me: You're right about that.

Personally, I'm not a Hillary Clinton fan. I felt the Bern - and was very sad when he lost the nomination. But Trump terrifies me as a woman, a mother, and a citizen of this country, which is already struggling with a divisive culture in many ways. Trump's more aggressive followers make me more nervous to be a woman out in public than maybe ever in my life. People are campaigning for him to lead the free world, when he has bragged about violating women, spewed fear speech regarding whole populations of people, and a host of other scarily familiar tactics a loud, white man used to rally a group of frustrated people. And almost every day since the nominations were decided, I wonder how we got here, how the majority of the Republican party chose this man, listened to his hateful nonsense and said that's our guy, or stood aside and let it happen. More than the idea of Trump as president, the fact that he has such a large fan base in this country scares me. Please, please don't vote for HIM just because you don't like HER. You'd be railing against one establishment to the benefit of another.

Likewise, I wouldn't vote for a woman just because she's a woman, and in fact I didn't vote for Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. (Yes, I did vote.) Still, seeing a woman's name on the ballot made me teary with pride, and with hope for my daughters' future as American women. I can appreciate this milestone, even if I don't appreciate the candidate.


Wednesday, November 2, 2016

My five year old hid under her desk today.

My oldest daughter has been sensitive to loud sounds since she was a baby. Back then, something as simple as someone laughing would send her into a fit of shaking, boogery hysteria. Four years later, when her pre-school had it's first fire drill, she cried every morning at drop-off for the next week out of fear that the siren would begin blaring again at any moment.

This year, she began Kindergarten, and I forgot to warn her teacher about what the alarm would do to my confident, rational, five year old. She came home today, chirping and laughing about her new school's "silly" fire drill. The conversation went something like this:

"Mom, fire drills are silly in Oregon."
"What makes them silly?"
"We don't go outside. And there's no alarm. I like it."
"That is silly. Where do you go?"
"Under the computer tables."
"Under the table? Are you sure it wasn't an earthquake drill? I think they have those here. We used to have tornado drills when I was a kid, and we had to curl in tiny balls in the hallway."
"I don't know. Maybe it was an earthquake drill."
"Well, what else happened?"
"Our teacher turned out the lights. And we had to go under the computer tables as far as we could go, and pull our chairs in after us. And we played the quiet game."

Immediately, I knew exactly what kind of drill they'd had at school: active shooter drill.

Even typing that makes me feel sick.

My tender, caring, playful, imaginative, chatty five year old, who has names for all eight of our chickens (Penny, Dollar, Elestia, Springtime, Bossy, Babs, Roo, and Fluff), was hiding under a desk in the dark to practice what to do in the event someone wants to murder a room full of small children.


I was in high school when Columbine happened. For the rest of that school year, we had to evacuate our classrooms about once a week for bogus bomb threats. Back then, the idea of someone actually committing an act of violence in our school seemed far away - impossible, even. Columbine seemed like a one-time act of utter insanity that would never happen again anywhere. And then it did. And then it did again. And now, as a thirty-three year old mother of three, the possibility - no - probability that it could happen to one of my kids during their years in school feels so close and so present I can hardly breathe, especially on days when my five year old daughter spent part of her morning playing the quiet game in the dark under a line of computer tables, which I remember now is against the closest wall, making it the hardest place in the room to see from the sliver of a window pane in the classroom door.

I'm glad her school is acknowledging the reality we're in, and I am devastated that we're in it. I won't quote you statistics. I don't know them, and any search engine can find them if you need to see them. If Columbine wasn't a wake up call, if the massacre of tiny children at Sandy Hook didn't permanently shake us as a country to our core, I don't know what it will take to initiate real, sweeping change on gun laws, and in how this country treats its mentally vulnerable and ill. I don't know what it will take for us to look at ourselves in the proverbial mirror and say: there is a problem, and I am going to help make this right. What can I do to take a step to make our children safer? How can we keep weapons less accessibly for violent and mentally ill people? How do we take steps to help mentally ill people and their families receive help or counseling? And how sad is it that I don't know every single shooting victim by name between Columbine and today because there are so many. Not one more is a pipe dream - a wish in a bottle cast into the sea - and I am the first to admit it. However, we can strive for better. We can take steps to stop someone. Because if a new law stops just one mass shooting in our country, isn't it worth it?

I am a gun owner. I am a tree-hugger. I am a mother. I am an excellent shot at thirty feet. And I believe in gun laws that expect responsibility and diligence on behalf of anyone who purchases a gun. 

Opponents would say: guns don't kill people, people kill people. Okay, I'll play that game. Cars don't kill people, drivers kill people. If we applied gun regulations to vehicle regulations, a person could walk onto a car lot and purchase a vehicle without ever having driven a car before. Their first time behind the wheel could be on the way home. In the hands of an inebriated person, we acknowledge that a car becomes a weapon. We have recognized the damage a driver can do to other people and property on the road, so we hold drivers responsible for maintaining tags, registration, and insurance. We have tests to make sure people know the rules of the road, and how to drive a car. The fact that people are against similar regulations for ACTUAL WEAPONS blows my mind.

As a gun owner, I do not feel the slightest bit threatened that someone is going to knock on my door and take them away. I feel very threatened by people who have a complete come-apart over the idea of regulating gun ownership. Sure, buy your guns. Keep your guns. So long as you've competed a set number of hours on a gun range with a licensed instructor, or passed a handling and safety test, purchased minimum liability insurance on the gun, and passed an extensive criminal history and background check. Is it perfect? No. But it's a start. And for the love of our children we have got to start somewhere. Step 1: Admitting there is a problem with gun violence in the United States of America. Can we agree on this? Can we start here?

My daughter just lost two bottom teeth. She sleeps with a purple leopard stuffed animal that she calls Tigey Rose. On a homework assignment for school, she listed one of her three wishes as being tall enough to reach everything she needs in the house. She fills shoe boxes with dirt, leaves, and sticks to make homes for worms and roly-poly bugs. And she was hiding under a desk this morning because we grown-ups can't accept responsibility or the concept of change, or because we get our backs up at the idea of the government encroaching on the second amendment. God, we're sad. 

I'm not telling you to take to the streets with signs and a bull-horn (or do, if that's what moves you). But as election day approaches, think about the power we do have as we decide who we will send to represent our interests - our children - in Washington. I'm a believer in stronger gun regulations, but I've never been much of an advocate. Today changed that. I am my child's advocate. I am her voice.

America, we are better than this.