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.


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