Earlier this summer, I sent a note to Hillary Clinton via her website:
I expected that it would maybe be read by a staffer, likely eliciting a giggle, and that we might receive a form letter back, like the ones you get when you sign an online petition to your congressperson.
This past Thursday, a letter arrived in my mailbox. It was nestled into one of those direct-mail newspapers with classified ads. The thin envelope was, in its simplest form, just paper that I pulled out of a box. These days, we rarely get anything in the mail but bills, solicitations, the occasional newsletter or magazine. I saw an icon — an H, with its red arrow. Typed neatly, it was addressed to my daughter.
I took it inside, and in my kitchen, I held it up to the light. I didn’t want to give it to Lilly, having her think she got a personal letter, and then have it turn out to be a solicitation asking for money. (She has been planning to donate some of her allowance anyway.)
I couldn’t tell if it was a letter, so I opened it.
I saw the word “Lillary” and my hands started to shake. My eyes pulled back to the top of the letter: September 10, 2016. The day before September 11, when Clinton left the 9/11 memorial service in New York City and the media went bananas over her “hidden” illness. Saturday morning, with pneumonia, Hillary Clinton wrote to my daughter.
I texted the picture to my husband: LILLARY GOT MAIL. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.
My son Max and I drove to pick Lilly up from school. She’s in second grade. She has only one front tooth. Every day, she “hides” by the side of the car when we pick her up and then jumps in kamikaze-style and yells “Boo!” She shuffled in and started to put on her seatbelt.
Me: We have something to tell you.
Max: Lilly, you got a letter.
Me: And it’s from Hillary Clinton.
Her cheeks rose, rounding her face, her brown eyes bugging out huge, her mouth agape, snaggle tooth visible. I handed her the letter. “Read it out loud to us,” I said.
She’s an amazing reader for a 7-year-old. I’m not bragging because it’s all her. She reads with inflection. She’s a bookworm with a dramatic streak. She read that letter like it was speaking to her, and she spoke the words as though they were a prayer, or a poem.
People have asked me, “How did she react?” Well, she reacted like any 7-year-old. She smiled. She loved it. This letter made her feel as though she was listened to. She was important. It was developmentally appropriate, but it was also incredibly rich and nuanced.
The decision to make this letter public was not an easy one for my family or me. We are very active members of our community, but we are also very private. We didn’t want to expose Lilly to too much attention — negative or positive. We wanted her to still feel like this letter was for her, to her. It was, after all, a personal letter. That is what makes it special.
It’s not a political letter, per se. And let me be clear: It didn’t come registered mail. It didn’t come with instructions, prodding, a solicitation for money, an urging to make it public. We, her parents, decided to make it public because this is a message for every child. And it happens to come from the first female candidate from a major political party who is the nominee for president of the United States.
We released this letter because it leads with love, and that is what this country so desperately needs right now. We need level heads. We need compassion. We need to nurture our future.
As Hillary says in her letter, “If the space that you’re in doesn’t have room for your voice, don’t be afraid to carve out a space of your own.” My daughter loved that line. Her face broke into a jagged smile as she read it.
We, her parents, want other parents to read this letter to their girls and boys. Replace our child’s name with yours. By sharing this letter, we are carving out a space for our voices to be heard — voices that call for respectful challenge, for thoughtfulness, and for love.