My sons are nine and twelve, and they since they were quite young, they have asked endless questions about what is happening in the news. Lately I am starting to feel as if I simply don't know what to say to them any more. The world they are growing up in was already so crazy, and now it feels as if all sanity has been lost. I have already had to explain what happened in Ferguson, and how it is possible that events like this can happen in our country over and over again. I've had to explain a young girl getting shot in the head for wanting to learn to read and write. I've had to explain why, although we live in one of the richest countries in the world, many children here don't have healthcare or enough to eat or a safe place to live. I've had to explain Lance Armstrong and Alex Rodriguez. I've had to explain Tom Brady's destroying evidence and then escaping scot free with no consequences for his actions. I've had to explain that life is really not just, and this is not really the land of opportunity. I have to explain that even if they work ten times harder than my sons work, the children living in Trenton, only twenty miles down the river from where we live, will simply not have most of the opportunities that my sons will have. More than anything, I have had to explain grown-ups behaving badly.
And now I have to explain Donald Trump. This feels like an impossible feat some days. I really can't explain why someone would say the racist, sexist, xenophobic and just plain mean things that he says, and it is even harder for me to explain that he is so beloved by a large group of people in this country. Explaining why fear can lead to hate just feels like too complex a topic to dive into some mornings before I've even had a cup of tea. I really have to be on my game to explain a grown man behaving in all of the ways we have taught them never to behave. Thanks to Donald, I feel like I have to be on my game every day lately. I have to explain to my children that values like compassion, kindness and fairness really still are the most important values, even if every day they see adults behaving in ways that go against these values in every way possible.
I may be sugar coating my childhood, but I have memories of a much more optimistic time. My father was a reporter in the South during the civil rights movement. He followed Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. from town to town in the South as he gave his speeches to crowds of people who hung on his every word--words of hope and love. He watched as peaceful demonstrators were attacked by police dogs and hoses. My father shared these stories with my older sister and me around the dinner table as we were growing up, and the stories were about the triumph of good over evil. Bad policemen kicked and stomped on young students and were then exposed to the world by the photos my father's collegues sent back to the papers. I was born in 1972, when the women's movement was in full swing. I grew up in Greenwich Village as the gay rights movement was gaining momentum a few blocks from my house. As a child, I had a wonderful sense that the world was changing, and it was all for the better. Little did I know that change is never linear.
So what can I do to stem the tide of negativity that surrounds my children? I can only do my best to model the values that mean the most to me. My husband and I have chosen jobs that value relationships and helping others over money. We include our children in the decisions that we make about which organizations we will donate money to every year, and we talk with our children about the great work that these organizations do to help people in this country and around the world. We focus on our children's compassionate behavior more than we do their accomplishments. We have chosen to raise our children in a community that values friends, family and supporting one another over achievement. Today the four of us walked to raise money for pediatric cancer research to support our friends who lost their beautiful, sweet daughter to cancer when she was in first grade with our older son. The crowd was filled with a sea of blue shirts bearing the name of our beloved friend. As we walked among thousands of people who had come to walk to support the people they love, my children were surrounded by adults who were showing compassion in the best possible way. My husband and I are just scratching the surface with our attempts to teach our children how to be decent people, and we have a long way to go. I know that tomorrow there will be more tough questions to answer. But, at least for today, I know my children understand what is most important in life. Donald can't take that away from us.