"I don't know what to tell my kids," is all I kept hearing after Donald J. Trump was elected President-elect of the United States. I understood where this sentiment was coming from, but at the same time--I honestly found it quite odd. Whomever is the next President of the United States isn't going to change what I'm going to tell my kids. One person, regardless of their morals, good or bad, isn't going to change mine. It shouldn't change yours either.
"Be kind to everyone," I will tell my kids. "Don't be mean. Someone doesn't have to be elderly for you to offer them your seat on the subway. Hold the door. Talk to strangers in the elevator. You don't know how much a simple 'hello' can change someone's day. Contribute to the sunshine; it feels good. Or you can get mad, but people look so ugly when they complain."
"Stand tall, even if no one stands with you. I never understood what is characterized as 'normal' in society. But normal is just normal, and no one wants to be just normal. Love your crazy, your passions, what makes you weird. Weird is for the trailblazers and you're at the forefront. Get loud for what your gut tells you to scream about. Don't be a bystander and stand up to bullies, those cowardly dogs. Fight with passion, words, integrity - not with fists and hate. Helping others is a gift. Becoming selfless for others and yourself is one of the greatest secrets - I'm spilling the beans."
"Life isn't fair, and no one said it would be," I'll tell them. "Hard work doesn't always pay off the way you want it to, and that's why you need to push yourself even further. The little guy doesn't always come out on top like you see in the movies, but you have two options. You can sit and cry about it, or you can get up, swinging. Work even harder. Hustle, always. You should be the hardest working person you know."
"You're smarter than you think you are, and you should never underestimate yourself even if people underestimate you. They say we are our biggest enemies, and that's true. But flick the devil off your shoulder and shine. Shine so bright you blind people. Fight like hell in what you want to achieve."
"When you fall down, please, get back up. I know it's easy to stay low, and play victim, but the only person that can save you is yourself. So kids, do it. And when you're up, take a walk. Put down the phone, and interact. Everything's better in real life and everyone's got a story that's more than 140 characters. Along the way, you're going to be okay. I can't always protect you, but I can't wait to watch you soar. Your scars don't label you, but they should scare the hell out of you. They should remind you how dark that place is that you once were in, but also that you made it out. That you're here, alive and well."
"Most importantly, forgive. Forgiveness doesn't mean you become best friends with that person again, but you can forgive someone and go your separate ways. Hate is such a big burden to carry, and it will poison all aspects of your life. Forgiveness allows you to move on, and life is way too short to not move on when you're ready to. You can breathe as a weight is lifted off your chest, because you realize that maybe something happened and didn't work out, but that's okay. I'm not telling you forget, because I'm not raising a fool."
What we tell our kids is bigger than one politician in the oval office; it's bigger than all of us. If we all strived to be our own hero, imagine what we could do. United we stand and divided we fall, right? Well, let's stand up. You are a role model for your kids, for those around you, and for yourself if you want to be or not. All eyes are on you. Look up and pay attention.
(Artwork by my nephew Alexander Barrett, age 8)