My children are no strangers to politics. They have grown up campaigning, canvassing and learning to make their voices heard – something I did not know how to do until I was in my late 20’s, and something I need them to be equipped with from the start. (What’s that bit the Lorax always says? “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot…?”)
My nine-year-old claws at the mail during election season, eagerly looking for a campaign mailer from a candidate he inevitably will refer to as his friend, because he likely helped with their campaign in some way or another. They are no strangers to social justice and injustice, to how and why we must fight for equality as this is a racist country at its core. It is my duty as a parent to raise my white son to know his role in dismantling white supremacy, and my Black daughter will not have the privileges to be shielded from the ugly truths of this country and how she will be impacted as she grows. There’s no such thing as “not being political” – something they’ve likely figured out, considering my son kicked off his school career with the Stoneman Douglas massacre at our local high school and now, having been in strict quarantine since March in the COVID hotspot that is South Florida.
Despite the fact my nine-year-old can advise most adults on who to vote for on the November ballot – judiciary candidates included – I can’t help but feel I am at a loss with how to parent them during this pandemic. I am speechless when trying to explain away the atrocities they are witnessing from where they sit, locked up inside this home as COVID continues to wreak havoc outside in a world that now seems so far away. Here in Florida, under the rule of Governor DeSantis who has done his best to ensure that, despite us living in blue South Florida, this is deeply a blood red state – there seems to be no hope at all for normal life to occur in any capacity. The questions that my children ask me, I have no answer to these days. I am just as lost and confused as they are.
This is the part of the pandemic that I worry my children won’t come back from: witnessing how their educators are treated, the way science is denied at every turn, the way some (now former) family members boldly and proudly went on to choose a racist administration over them. The way humanity is at a crossroads with no decency whatsoever, made apparent by the fact our Governor has threatened our schools into opening by withholding funding if they don’t, despite the fact we – Broward County Public Schools, the sixth largest school district in the country — aren’t ready. Our educators were told to show up, take an unpaid leave or quit – an ultimatum, by every sense of the word – and then threatened into opening even earlier to appease a Governor who has repeatedly denied the need for masks, distancing or even acknowledging the pandemic’s existence. Our state is not being led, because we have no leader. We have a homicidal dumbass in charge of seemingly causing as many deaths as possible, all the while commending himself on how pro-life he is.
My nine-year-old let me know that he’s sad that, soon, he will no longer see his teacher’s face. She will be covered by an undeniably necessary mask and shield as she teaches over Teams while sitting in a classroom with the children who opted to return back – all one or two of them. It doesn’t matter that they will all still be e-learning the same as they would at home, with our teachers merely supervising them – our society has long since accepted teachers as babysitters, and that’s just what they’ll do.
“What about my teacher’s kids?” “What if my teacher gets sick?” “Why is the Governor opening everything?” “What if Mr. So-And-So dies?” He types up heartbreaking pleas via email to the school board members, reminding them that his teachers have children who love them and that there is still a pandemic — a fact that Floridians like to overlook, because we’re apparently really good at sticking our fingers in our ears, closing our eyes and ignoring away 15,000 deaths.
We’ve always been told to “look for the helpers” a la Mr. Rogers. I’ve always raised my children to know the value in using their voices, be it attending a rally, letter writing, phone calls or assisting a progressive candidate (a “helper,” if you will) with a campaign. I’ve always been able to point out the heroes leading the battle against evil as we rage, fight, vote on – but lately, as far as our schools are concerned, it seems we’ve all just run right into a brick wall and are lying here on the cement trying to regroup. I’m unsure how to answer my children if not just with a blunt “now we just sit here and wait and see what happens” – especially as Florida racks up thousands of new COVID cases per day. (It’s almost like a Governor who opens the entire state while shirking the necessity of masks and distancing means I’m not surprised by our numbers going up yet again.)
I’m worried that this is what has shown my children, especially my nine-year-old – a gifted student with a heart for politics, the law and more empathy than most adults I know – just how evil humanity can be, or how complicit people can be when it comes to something that might not involve them directly. At some point, the helpers lose. At some point, there are no more helpers because evil just wins. When he asks “who is going to stop this?” – the answer is “no one.” No one can stop this. When he asks “why doesn’t anyone care about other people than themselves?” – I don’t know how to do anything but shrug. I wish I knew. I agree to media interviews where I unleash my same rants and questions — why do our state-issued COVID numbers differ greatly from the ones Johns Hopkins publishes? — but there are never any answers.
It is the night before the school buildings reopen here in Broward County. With COVID cases rising (not that they’ve ever been low compared to many other states), flu season approaching, the holidays nearing and a Governor who wants to pretend play “the pandemic is over,” I am feeling helpless, depressed and out of energy. I am stuck somewhere between lying awake all night with dread churning in my stomach and wanting to sleep for days.
Yesterday, my youngest child’s teacher showed her Pre-K class over Teams what she would look like decked out in her PPE. She smiled and, in a sing-song voice, made it all sound like it wasn’t utterly heartbreaking. It’s all I thought about as I sat up all night.
It’s not enough that I get to keep my children home, because our educators have been robbed of that choice – for themselves, for their own children. I’m watching the public school system that I grew up attending lose amazing teachers who are being forced to jump ship in order to advocate for their own health and family – if they can afford to do so. The tears, the trauma, the fears, the multiple shipments of PPE I’m sending to my children’s teachers out of sheer helplessness – it’s a darkness for my children I can’t seem to make less daunting or scary. I’m terrified, too.
“I don’t want my teachers to get sick,” my son says. All I can do is agree with him: I don’t, either. “Why can’t anyone stop the Governor? Why won’t anyone help?”
I don’t have the answers. My hugs and reassurance don’t feel like enough, because they aren’t. This will be something they carry with them forever, and I am unsure how to make peace with that — or if it’s even possible.