One steaming hot day this past summer during a drive to kill time and cool off, my mom paid me a compliment: “No matter what she (she being my six-year-old) asks you, you always give her a real answer.”
I had never thought about it, but it’s true. And during a summer when nothing was normal and patience was in short supply, I happily took pride in that one small parenting victory. I may shout more than I’d like, have stopped tracking screen time, and serve the same five meals in repetition (that say organic on the label, but are straight from the freezer and packed with sodium). However, I do answer my daughter’s endless stream of questions with honesty and not “it’s too grown-up to explain!”
When she was nearly three years old, her dad and I took her with us to the polls to cast our ballots for Hillary Clinton. The morning after the election, shell-shocked, we told her that Hillary hadn’t won and who had. We told her why this upset us so much.
When our own grandparents and extended family have gotten sick or passed away, we’ve told her. After one such time, we even gave her the option of whether or not she wanted to attend the funeral.
And when our world was turned upside down in March, and I picked her up from kindergarten for the last time, I told her why and that I wasn’t sure when she would be back. Of course, it wasn’t just school – no more gymnastics, no more nanny (for a time), no more playdates, no more pizza nights at her favorite restaurant. She cried maybe twice. Now, she owns a face mask for every day of the week and rarely asks when it will end.
This past May, when a white policeman knelt on George Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, we told her (in appropriate terms) what had happened and why people were taking to the streets in protest. We made Black Lives Matters signs and stood during a peaceful protest. The protests continued; we kept talking about it.
The morning after Ruth Bader Ginsburg died, we told her the news and re-read her the children’s book I Dissent. I drove her to the Supreme Court, and in our masks, we put down signs decorated with fresh flowers on the Court steps.
And yet, when the news broke about the President’s COVID-19 diagnosis, I made a conscious effort to not discuss the news updates with my husband in front of her. I texted grandparents not to mention it when they came for a masked outdoor visit that weekend. When she read over my shoulder an Instagram post of his tweet about leaving Walter Reed at 6:30 p.m. Monday evening, I told her how proud I was of her new reading skills, crossing my fingers that would be the end of it. Of course, she asked why he was at a medical center, and almost immediately, I blurted out that he had had a check-up. I lied to her, and now I’m puzzling over why.
Why have I felt comfortable informing my curious and smart six-year-old of all these other political and traditionally adult topics and not this one? Is it because I don’t want her to be afraid our government is crumbling? Despite openly distrusting this President, does it feel too destabilizing to say out loud that he may be too sick to work? Am I afraid she will be even more afraid of the coronavirus? (Recently, she refused to accompany me just inside of a bagel shop on Yom Kippur for a pick-up order. “Are you kidding me?! We haven’t gone ANYwhere, and now we might get COVID getting bagels?!”)
Or am I simply too embarrassed to tell her that the President of our United States of America had every resource to protect himself and did not? That he, in fact, purposefully did harm after being exposed to and contracting the virus?
Or, most disturbingly, am I afraid of her reaction? After making a point for the past four years, that we do not support this President’s policies and that we do not believe in what he stands for, will she be outwardly happy to learn he has contracted COVID? Will she say what some adults are stopping themselves from saying out loud? And is it fair to put on a six-year-old having to separate out those complex emotions? Is it fair to make her parse out if she is a bad person for being happy about a bad person becoming sick? Or maybe she won’t second guess her feelings at all. What if she’s happy to hear it, says so, and moves right along, asking for her hundredth snack of the day?
Then how will I feel? What kind of mom (and person) does that make me? And more importantly, what the hell kind of country am I raising her in?
So tonight, I’ll lay awake, trying to resist refreshing CNN on my iPhone, wondering how much longer we can spare her just this.
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